Colonial Barriers to Supports: The Need For a Holistic Approach to Healing from Sexual Violence

National statistics suggest that Indigenous women are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts.  

In light of Indigenous History Month, we wanted to share our research findings on the unique experiences and barriers to supports and services Indigenous peoples face in regards to sexual violence. Indigenous experiences of sexual violence stem from colonization and mechanisms of cultural assimilation established through government policy such as the Residential School system and the Sixties Scoop which perpetuated abuse and loss of culture. These mechanisms have resulted in the current systemic racism and intergenerational trauma that continues to impact Indigenous communities today. 

We discovered the following barriers impacting Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan:


There is a definite lack of services available to survivors in northern Indigenous communities. Additionally, due to the small population of these communities, it is difficult to seek out services in a private and anonymous manner. Counselors may even be related to the survivor or perpetrator creating an unwillingness to seek help.

The services that do exist are often underfunded and understaffed, making it difficult to adequately meet the demand for support. Service providers explained that many rural and remote Indigenous communities face  disproportionately high rates of sexual violence with very few resources or supports. Additionally, high turnover rates of service staff prevents some individuals from seeking support as they are not able to establish and maintain strong rapport with service workers. Many find this necessary after negative experiences seeking help and require time to build trust within the client-professional relationship. 

There is also a need for historically informed practice and traditional healing methods for survivors of sexual violence. Services that lack consideration of historical violence and the impacts of intergenerational trauma can cause further harm to those seeking help because they fail to acknowledge the full experience of the individual and the root causes of the harm. Services need to be more culturally competent and inclusive, incorporating Indigenous traditions for a more holistic approach to healing.


The removal of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company has limited survivors in rural Indigenous communities from leaving abusive situations or accessing services outside of their communities. For many, the transportation company was their only option to seek safety. This is especially detrimental as they may not have the necessary services in their community or feel unsafe accessing them due to the lack of anonymity. In some areas, this also means they must disclose their reason for leaving to the band or local government in an application for transportation assistance, a requirement reminiscent of the pass system which required Indigenous people to obtain permission from an Indian agent to leave or return to their reserve. Today, the system of transportation restricts free movement and may force people to disclose their sexual assault or domestic abuse in order to access necessary services.


Many Indigenous individuals have experienced racism while seeking health care and justice supports making them hesitant to report their assault to police, seek medical attention, or obtain a sexual assault forensic kit. This results in survivors not receiving the medical support they may need and prevents referrals to mental health supports. Additionally, forensic kits are often the only physical evidence in sexual assault trials and can be crucial to the prosecution’s case should the survivor decide to report. However, fear and distrust of police prevent survivors from seeking justice, contributing to the extremely high underreporting rates of sexual violence offences.


Service providers explained that sexual violence has become normailized and intergenerational in many rural and remote Indigenous communities. Sexual violence has become so normalized in some communities that it is no longer treated as a crisis, but rather a fact of life. This is because of intergenerational trauma stemming from Canada’s history of colonization and cultural assimilation. 

Intergenerational trauma is when the trauma of one generation is passed to the next. Essentially, parents may pass their trauma to their children through learned beliefs and behaviours causing children to adopt parts of their parent’s traumas as their own. The original trauma often occurred outside of the family unit or community through acts of oppression. In the case of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, this original trauma encompasses the cultural assimilation and genocide faced during colonization.This is also known as historical trauma which is when a traumatic experience creates collective loss within a community and results in a legacy of social and psychological responses. This can sometimes manifest as stress, anxiety, PTSD, or unhealthy coping mechanisms. Intergenerational trauma can then combine with present traumatic experiences such as racism and violence. 

Services and supports that fail to recognize the impact of intergenerational trauma on the prevalence of sexual violence are complicit in said violence and will be inadequate to creating change.

Do you want to increase your understanding of racism and the impacts of colonization? Find out how to be a better ally with our Anti-Racism Resource Guide:

For more information about this topic, read the sources of our information:

Sexual Violence in Saskatchewan: Voices, Stories, Insights, and Actions from the Front Lines

Hidden Burdens: a Review of Intergenerational, Historical
and Complex Trauma, Implications for Indigenous Families

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