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Breaking the cycle of crime

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services

Fort Simpson (Dec 18/06) - When someone becomes a victim of a crime it's a difficult experience.

"In the beginning it's overwhelming," said Betty Bird, the coordinator of Victim Services with Liidlii Kue First Nation in Fort Simpson.
NNSL Photo/graphic

Betty Bird, the coordinator of Victim Services, bottom, and Anne Marie McGuire, the director of health and social programs for Liidlii Kue First Nation, both deal with many victims. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

By living in the Northwest Territories people have a good chance of finding out what it feels like to be a victim. Residents of the territories are three times more likely to be victims of crime compared to other Canadians according to a report by Statistics Canada released on Oct. 30

Victims feel like their whole world has fallen apart, Bird said. They are often in shock and can't believe it's happened to them.

Although victims are created from a wide range of circumstances, the people who come to Bird's office to seek help are primarily victims of spousal and sexual assault.

The main purpose of victim services is to listen to people and help them get the services they choose," Bird said.

"In order to support a victim you have to do what they want," she said.

Bird often sees people in abusive relationships who grew up in families who were abusive and are now exposing their own children to similar circumstances.

The problem is that family violence, and also substance abuse, have become normalized, said Anne Marie McGuire, the director of health and social programs for Liidlii Kue First Nation. These things are becoming everyday experiences so people don't realize they're wrong, she said.

People often need to have it pointed out that they are part of a cycle, McGuire said. Both women feel that part of the solution is breaking the pattern.
NNSL Photo/graphic

"Talking about it is breaking the chain of silence," said McGuire.

Just saying the name of the program, Victim Services, makes people consider if they might be a victim, Bird said.

"This job is part of the solution," said Bird

When a person deals with what has happened to them and learns how to not become a victim again it helps break the cycle, said Bird.

"One less victim is one less statistic," said Bird.

For Sgt. Cliff McKay at the Fort Simpson RCMP detachment, less alcohol abuse would mean fewer victims to join the statistics.

Many of the crimes reported in the area, including domestic situations, break and enters, youth crimes and bootlegging, all involve alcohol.

Having alcohol involved in crimes is a continuous trend, said McKay who's served in the North for 10 years.

"There isn't a policeman in the North who wouldn't agree that alcohol is a problem," McKay said.

If alcohol problems were addressed crime rates would go down, McKay said. The problem is finding a solution to the alcohol.

The drastic answer would be to ban alcohol but then people would turn to bootleggers making the problem worse, said McKay. In the end it comes down to a person's choices.

People need to recognize drinking isn't the right thing to do and find something else. Often drinking examples are set in homes.

The cycle needs to be broken, he said.

"As long as there is alcohol out people are going to make choices and some people will make bad choices," said McKay.

Robert Byatt agrees that the solution needs to start in homes.

Byatt, the principal of Thomas Simpson school in Fort Simpson, has found that the instances of underage drinking are growing in the village.

Parents need to take more responsibilities, Byatt said.

"That is probably the single biggest piece of the answer," he said

The community also needs to focus on where youth are getting the alcohol and parents are the only ones in a position to monitor that, said Byatt.

Part of the solution for crimes relating to young offenders and alcohol is keeping the youth engaged, according to Chief Berna Landry of the Deh Gah Got'ie Koe First Nation in Fort Providence.

"We have to keep our youth busy," said Landry.

Elders tell stories of the past when youth were physically active because they spent the day hunting and gathering wood. They came home as soon as it was dark and everyone was quiet, said Landry.

"Now it's different," she said.

Recreation programs need to be available for teens and youth so they have activities in the evening, Landry said. Parents also have a role to play in spending time with their children, she said.

When crimes occur it's up to the community to take a stance.

"To deal with crime people have to come forward," said Landry.

Crimes need to be taken seriously and need to be dealt with honestly, she said.

"It's about feeling safe anywhere you go in the community," Landry said.