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Sturm College of Law


Domestic violence, Women, Family violence, Sentencing, Canadian culture, Aboriginal justice


For Canadian Aboriginal women, domestic violence is pervasive. A report by the Ontario Native Women’s Association indicates that eighty percent of Aboriginal women surveyed had personally experienced family violence. In this context, Rashmi Goel looks at the use of sentencing circles to respond to wrongdoing by Aboriginal people. Current Aboriginal justice initiatives emphasize a return to traditional values and processes, manifested in one way in the sentencing circle. Yet, states Goel, such initiatives fail to restore Aboriginal women to their honored place. Contemporary Canadian sentencing circles exemplify this problem; they further injure victims in several respects. Hence, Goel argues that modern day sentencing circles are unacceptable for use in domestic violence cases. Goel pursues this argument by linking family violence in Aboriginal communities with colonial policies; outlining the dynamics of sentencing circles; focusing on the experience of Aboriginal victims of domestic violence; and suggesting possibilities for modifications of sentencing circles.

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Originally published as Rashmi Goel, No Women at the Center: The Use of the Canadian Sentencing Circle in Domestic Violence Cases, 15 Wis. WOMEN's L.J. 293 (2000).