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Written by Stefano Cisternino

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14 April 2021

Perpetrators or victims: Indigenous intimate partner violence against indigenous men

Indigenous Intimate Partner Violence is a form of physical, psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse which impacts many indigenous communities worldwide. It can lead to the violation of basic human rights and serious physical and mental health consequences, leaving behind broken relationships and affected children. 

Despite its damaging impact on indigenous communities, Intimate Partner Violence is still only partially understood. Research and interventions tend to focus mainly on women as the sole victims of this form of violence, stigmatising indigenous men as perpetrators and rarely considering them as possible victims.

In this regard, Rizkalla et al. reverse this representation, pointing out that even some First Nations men in Northern Ontario – the largest group of Canada’s indigenous peoples – despite being victims of intimate partner violence, do not receive effective medical and psychological support. 

The stigmatisation of indigenous men as perpetrators of violence masks the fact that they experience disproportionately high rates of violence – i.e. systematic racism, police brutality, harsher penalties in the criminal justice system, and high rates of death in custody – including intimate partner violence, compared to non-indigenous men.

This widespread and strongly held belief means that it is inherently difficult for indigenous men to find help from institutions, and especially to request and receive effective forms of physical and psychological support from the primary health care system. 

In part, the problem stems from the stigma experienced by indigenous men when reporting intimate partner violence. This would imply an unavoidable loss of their masculinity not only within the couple but also in the community: asking for help implies a high risk of being “discovered” by other indigenous members, causing, in addition to the damage of intimate partner violence, further consequences such as perpetual anxiety, stress and fear. 

This implies that only the most serious cases come to light while ‘milder’ forms, such as financial or spiritual abuse are mostly disregarded. 

This leads to increasing under-reporting and the consequent inability of practitioners to provide the right support, as they lack both the right information and training to help these victims.

Yet it is worth noting that both the assertion of this stigmatising narrative and the consequent lack of measures to help them derives from the previous colonial system. This  includes colonial policies and structures (such as the Indian Act and the Sixties Scoop) that have marginalised and harmed indigenous communities for generations.

In this regard, the scholars describe specific measures for the development of a culturally safe response in the primary health care for indigenous men experiencing intimate partner violence. These include:Create an effective education and training system for primary care students on the intimate partner violence experiences of indigenous men and women, as well as related unconscious biases and gender racism, with the aim of making the clinical environment a culturally safe space to disclose intimate partner violence.

  1. Create an effective education and training system for primary care students on the intimate partner violence experiences of indigenous men and women, as well as related unconscious biases and gender racism, with the aim of making the clinical environment a culturally safe space to disclose intimate partner violence.
  2. Expand research on men’s experiences of intimate partner violence, including Indigenous men’s experiences with other gender and sexual identities.
  3. Develop primary and secondary prevention measures and raise awareness in both the indigenous and settler communities in order to promote healthy relationship patterns and real understanding of all forms of IPV for both men and women
  4. Decolonising both knowledge and forms of intervention regarding intimate partner violence.

In conclusion, Intimate Partner Violence is a despicable act in all its forms, but to combat it effectively, it is essential to consider all victims, particularly indigenous men, in order to be able to define effective, decolonised and culturally-conscious prevention strategies, interventions and services. 


Read Rizkalla, Maar, Reade, Pilon and McGregor (2021) full research paper on ‘Improving the response of primary care providers to rural First Nation women who experience intimate partner violence: a qualitative study’ here.

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