I Never Told Anyone
: An Exploration of Historical Child Sexual Abuse Cases and Complainant Interviews with Adults in Nunavut, Canada

  • Catherine Louise Chenier

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Historical child sexual abuse cases reported to the police present unique challenges for successful investigation and prosecution, as complainant interviews often constitute the only evidence. In Canada, historical child sexual abuse has contributed to the ongoing trauma inflicted on Indigenous people. To explore the investigation and prosecution of historical child sexual offences in an area with a predominantly Indigenous population, this research undertook five studies. Study 1 examined 231 cases of historical child sexual abuse reported to the police in Nunavut, Canada, to determine attrition patterns and explore complainant reasons for withdrawal. Overall attrition, where cases did not result in the conviction of a suspect, was 68.8%. In 39.6% of all cases, the complainant withdrew from the process, constituting the largest category of attrition. Complainant reasons for withdrawal showed two themes, ‘cold feet’ (n = 41) and ‘therapeutic’ (n = 22). Complainant continuation in the process was significantly associated with three factors: i) being one of multiple complainants, ii) older complainant age at report, and iii) previous disclosure to anyone. Using the same dataset as Study 1, Study 2 looked at factors associated with a) charges being laid, and b) convictions at trial. Of the 231 total cases, charges were laid in 135 cases. Factors found to be significant in the laying of charges included cases with multiple complainants or when complainants had made a prior disclosure to anyone else other than the police at the time of report. 75 of the 135 charge cases went to trial, and conviction at trial was 44%. Conviction at trial was significantly associated with multiple complainants, abuse by community members rather than family, older suspect age at offence, and a larger age difference between the complainant and suspect. As the interview is often the only evidence of the victim, Study 3 looked at the effect of questioning practices on information yield in police interviews with historical child sexual abuse complainants (N = 45) from the initial 231 cases. Overall, appropriate questions elicited descriptive answers that included relevant details and open questions elicited more general and abuse-related details. Thus, appropriate interviewing is essential to ensure quality of evidence. Complainants have to report sensitive accounts of what happened to them, so best practice guidelines highlight the necessity of building rapport within the interview environment. Thus, Study 4 coded instances of verbal rapport in 44 of the 45 interviews used in Study 3 Total rapport was found to be significantly associated with information yield for both general and abuse related details. Study 5 considered publicly available decisions from criminal and civil cases (N = 32) involving historical child sexual abuse in Nunavut and found that overall, the judiciary were well-meaning but lacked cultural awareness in some areas. Taken together, these studies give a comprehensive picture of the criminal justice process for Indigenous historical child sexual abuse complainants in this jurisdiction, and implications for practice are discussed.
Date of Award4 Oct 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBecky Milne (Supervisor) & Andy Williams (Supervisor)

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