Recognizing impacts of childhood trauma in the justice system

Lydia Bardak has worked extensively with male offenders involved with the criminal justice system for over a decade in Yellowknife. ‘We hear in the courts ‘your problem is alcohol.’ No, the problem is untreated trauma that they’re self medicating for,’ she says.


Trauma is something that Michael knows all too well. He says he was about four years old when he and his siblings were first apprehended by child protection services. 
“There was lots of violence in my home,” he says. After being removed from his home multiple times, he and his sister were sent to live at separate group homes 2,200 kilometres south in Regina. “I didn’t want to leave my family. I wanted to run away. I was down at the receiving home and they took me and I fought them. I fought them. Even the RCMP,” he says.

“They didn’t care about me and what I felt. It broke my heart. It broke my spirit.”

When he was 10 years old, he says city police pulled a gun on him after he and two older friends were caught stealing a car. He says he was physically assaulted by a staff member at the group home following that incident. He says the physical abuse reminded him of the abuse he endured at home and it fuelled his anger and rage. “That’s why I was a really angry man,” he says. “I still feel it.”

“I was just told I was bad. And it just stayed in my heart and my mind.”

He says he started stealing, drinking, doing drugs, and fighting. He eventually ended up in jail when he was 17 years old. He says he now has more than 100 convictions but lost track of how many times he has gone to jail. He says he sometimes has the urge to fight, and has randomly attacked friends and family, because of the pent-up anger he has carried for so long.

One third of Canadians report experiencing childhood abuse

According to the latest study from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics based on 2014 data, one third of Canadians aged 15 and older (33 per cent) reported that before age 15 they had been physically and sexually abused by an adult and/or they witnessed a caregiver being violent. Forty per cent of Indigenous people reported experiencing childhood physical and or sexual abuse, compared to 29 per cent of non-Indigenous people. Ninety per cent of childhood physical and or sexual abuse victims did not report it before they turned 15. And 67 per cent did not tell anyone.

Yellowknife psychologist Bruce Smith says “exposure to childhood neglect, childhood abuse has huge impacts on how the individuals relate to the world and engage with the world that not only cost the individual, they cost society.” He says it is important that the education and family support systems offer services to families and children that pays attention to their mental health and well-being early on before serious problems develop. Although there are some services for children and families, typically resources are focused on adult mental health services. “In some ways that [is] sad because had those resources been focused on services for children or families, in terms of childhood trauma, at a much earlier stage it’s possible that we wouldn’t have the same cost to individuals in society when they reach adulthood.”

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Free Yourself Global 

 Our approach to the issue of domestic violence is much more comprehensive and inclusive as compared to the purview of other campaigns/organizations. We acknowledge the important role of childhood trauma in shaping future relationships, which is why in our campaign Free Yourself Global, we are examining the enculturation of violence through families across the globe, and how does one, whether the abuser or the abused, interrupt the pattern of violence? Our initiative hopes to bring together all of the voices of the participants of domestic violence, so whether you are a recovering abuser, victim/survivor and/or professional who works to aid in this cause, we want to hear your story. You can share it with us on social media using the hashtag #FreeYourselfGlobal or anonymously here, via our website. 

For more info on how you can choose to tell story and how it will be used to help other people in need, or to learn how to become involved in other ways with this breakthrough campaign, email info@freeyourselfglobal.comTo simply keep up to date on our campaign and the latest news pertaining to domestic violence worldwide make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram

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