Violence against Aboriginal Women and Media Coverage

November 20th 2014

The population of Canada is over 30 million people. 3.3 percent of the Canadian population are Aboriginal women. Aboriginal women are one of Canada’s most at risk minority groups to victims of violent crimes. 30 percent of all Aboriginal women are victims of violent crimes. In comparison, non-aboriginal women in Canada suffer less than half as many violent crimes.  A quarter of Aboriginal women suffer from domestic violence, more than three times higher than non-aboriginal women. While for the 30 percent of Aboriginal women living on reserves, their chances of being victims of a crime are significantly higher than non-aboriginal women living anywhere else in Canada. On reserves, Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be victims of assault, seven times more likely to suffer from sexual assault and six times more likely to be murdered than non-aboriginal women living in the rest of Canada.

Over the past few months, the Canadian media has increased its coverage over the growing issue of Aboriginal women across Canada disappearing. However studies show that the media coverage of news involving Aboriginal people does not properly represent the population.

Journalists for Human Rights conducted a study looking at Aboriginal news coverage in Ontario from June 1st 2010 to May 31st 2013. The study broke the period of study into three separate one year intervals each running from June 1st to May 31st of the following year. The study focused on the percentage of news stories involving Aboriginals. The study looked at what stories generated the most media coverage and caused peaks in the mainstream media. The study then analyzed all of the stories featuring Aboriginals to see if tone of the story was positive, negative or neutral.

In the first year of the study from June 1st 2010 to May 31st 2011, only 0.15 percent of stories in Ontario were on Aboriginal people. Of the 0.15 percent of all stories in Ontario, five percent were on missing Aboriginal women. However the first year of the study was the only where missing Aboriginal women received more than two percent coverage of all Aboriginal news stories. By the end of the third year in May 31st 2013, Aboriginal news stories peaked at 0.43 percent of all news stories. Over the entire three year period only 0.28 percent of stories were based on Aboriginal people.  Over the study period the tone of stories increased in negativity. In year one of the study, 24 percent of negative. By the end of year three of the story, 39 percent of all Aboriginal stories had a negative tone. The majority of stories that received attention and had negative tones were written about issues when Aboriginal people made noise about the issue, often in form of a protest or government discussions.

The Journalists for Human Rights study asked experts about what they thought about the results of their study. Aboriginal People’s Television Network journalist Jorge Barrera said the study points to how underrepresented the Aboriginal population is in the Ontario media. Barrera stated that because of the limited coverage, the average person will only notice Aboriginal stories when they receive peak interest. The missing Aboriginal women story would be an example of a negative story that has received mainstream attention in the media. Barrera says the media editors and reporters are undereducated in the stories they are reporting upon regarding Aboriginal people. Barrera believes since the mainstream media is undereducated, the media is unable to go into great depth when reporting, which often leads to a story receiving a negative tone.

University of British Colombia professor Duncan McCue who teaches journalism to indigenous students points out the larger issue regarding the Ontario coverage. In Ontario, the Aboriginal population represents two percent of the total population. However less than half a percent of all news stories are about the Aboriginal population.

The study recommends that more education should be given to journalists who are covering Aboriginal issues. Once journalists are educated on how to effectively report on the Aboriginal stories, it is the responsibility of the media outlet to repair relationships with the Aboriginal population. The study suggests that new sources are required to properly tell the stories of the Aboriginal people. The study also recommends that more media opportunities be given to Aboriginal people.

Since I only did secondary research on the crimes that Aboriginal people suffer and the media coverage I cannot add an education perspective to what I believe the proper government response should be. With that being said, I believe it would be unfair to past any judgement upon Prime Minister Stephen Harper after he decided not to launch a federal inquiry about the missing Aboriginal women. I will leave covering that issue to other members of the group whose research and interviews cover government response to write about their findings in their individual issue note.

Since my research was based upon media coverage, I feel it is appropriate that the media outlets provide population relevant stories. Since two percentage of the population of Ontario is Aboriginal, the news media should reflect that and have two percent of all their stories about Aboriginal people. The media should continue to reflect their population on a local level not just a provincial level. A city or town with a large Aboriginal population should receive an equal number of stories to their Aboriginal population.

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