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Thursday, July 7, 2005

General Social Survey: Victimization


A growing proportion of Canadians are satisfied with their personal safety from crime, according to new data on victimization from the 2004 General Social Survey (GSS).

Overall, the vast majority (94%) were satisfied that they were personally safe from becoming a victim. This proportion was up from 86% in 1993 and 91% in 1999.

However, despite the high levels of satisfaction with personal safety, Canadians indicated some fear of crime with respect to three specific situations: walking alone at night in their neighbourhood; waiting for or using public transportation alone at night; and being home alone at night.

Among Canadians who walk alone at night, 10% reported feeling unsafe while doing so. In addition, 20% feared for their safety when they were home alone, and 42% of those who take public transportation after dark felt worried when waiting for or using the transit system.

The survey also found that feelings of safety varied from province to province. Residents of the Atlantic provinces were most likely to report being "very" satisfied with their personal safety. Those in the remaining provinces were generally split between feeling "very" or "somewhat satisfied."

Women continue to be more fearful than men, but the gap is narrowing

Fear of victimization was still higher among women than men, but the gap between the sexes has narrowed since 1999.

Overall, 95% of men were satisfied that they were personally safe from becoming a victim, compared with 93% of women. The proportion for women rose by five percentage points between 1999 and 2004, while the proportion for men went up two points.

Note to readers

This report provides a first look at the results of the 2004 General Social Survey on victimization by examining perceptions among Canadians about crime and the criminal justice sectors. A second release from this survey, which will examine trends in victimization rates, will be available in the fall of 2005.

This telephone sample survey asks Canadians about their experiences of being a victim of crime and their perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system.

The target population included all non-institutionalized people aged 15 and older, that is, individuals living in households.

Data were collected each month from January to December 2004. Over this period, about 24,000 people were interviewed.

Previous cycles of the General Social Survey on victimization were conducted in 1988, 1993 and 1999.

However, there were substantial differences between the sexes. For example, 58% of female night-time transit users worried when taking it alone at night, twice the proportion of 29% among male night-time users.

Likewise, 27% of women worried for their personal safety when they were home alone at night, compared with only 12% of men. Women were almost three times as likely to be afraid for their safety when walking alone after dark.

A woman's fear of being victimized generally decreased with age. For example, 79% of women aged 15 to 24 felt safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark. Among senior women aged 65 and over, 87% felt safe. On the other hand, younger men felt somewhat safer than their older counterparts.

Nearly six in ten people feel crime levels are stable in their neighbourhood

In 2004, 58% of people believed that there had been no change in crime levels, while 30% felt that crime had worsened over the previous five years. These views were fairly consistent with those reported in the 1999 survey.

However, these perceptions on neighbourhood crime have improved since the 1993 survey when Canadians were more likely to say crime was on the rise. At that time, 46% felt it had increased.

Opinions of neighbourhood crime appear to have an impact on fear of victimization. Among respondents who felt that the crime rate was higher in their neighbourhood than in other parts of Canada, 18% were fearful of becoming a victim. In contrast, only 3% who believed that local crime rates were lower felt the same way.

This association also held true for activities taking place at night. For example, 17% of individuals who thought crime had increased felt unsafe walking alone at night, compared with 9% of those who thought crime had dropped.

Residents of Atlantic Canada less fearful of crime

Residents of Atlantic Canada were less fearful of victimization than those in other parts of Canada.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, 71% of the population was "very" satisfied with their personal safety, while 28% were "somewhat" satisfied.

The remaining provinces also experienced relatively high levels of satisfaction with personal safety. But the population tended to be evenly split according to the degree of satisfaction. In Manitoba, 46% of the population was very satisfied and another 47% was somewhat satisfied.

Less than one-half (46%) of people in Manitoba who took public transit at night said they were not at all worried taking it alone. This was far below the proportion of 83% of night transit riders in Newfoundland and Labrador and 74% in New Brunswick.

Residents of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador were least likely to believe that neighbourhood crime had worsened. Less than one-quarter (23%) of the population in these provinces felt crime had increased over the past five years.

In comparison, such feelings were highest in the two westernmost provinces. About 35% of individuals in Alberta and 36% in British Columbia felt crime had gone up over the past five years.

Most Canadians have a favourable opinion of the police

Individuals responding to the 2004 GSS were also asked about their perceptions of four sectors of the criminal justice system: police, courts, prison and parole. They were asked to assess each sector by rating the performance on particular activities or job functions.

Over time, there has been little change in the public's opinion on the performance of police. Overall, the majority of Canadians gave their local police a positive assessment. Just under two-thirds (61%) of Canadians thought their local police were performing well for ensuring the safety of citizens.

Young people were less likely to assess the police in positive terms. Just over one-half of those aged 15 to 24 thought the police did a good job of treating people fairly. This proportion rose to 62% among people aged 45 to 64, and 66% among seniors aged 65 and over.

Public attitudes toward the courts improving

Overall, public attitudes toward courts have improved since 1993. A greater proportion of people in 2004 than in both 1993 and 1999 felt that the courts were doing a good job in the areas of providing justice quickly, helping the victim and determining whether or not the accused is guilty.

Perceptions of the prison system have also improved. A greater proportion of Canadians in 2004 rated the prison performance as good and fewer gave it a poor rating. For example, in 1999, 28% of Canadians gave a negative assessment of the prison system's rehabilitative role. By 2004, this had dropped to 23%.

In general, the parole system received the lowest rating among the criminal justice sectors. Most Canadians thought that the parole system was either doing an average or poor job in releasing offenders and providing adequate supervision.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4504.

The reports General Social Survey on Victimization, Cycle 18: An Overview of Findings (85-565-XIE, free) and General Social Survey, Cycle 18 Overview: Personal Safety and Perceptions of the Criminal Justice System (85-566-XIE, free) are now available online. From the Our products and services page, under Browse our Internet publications, choose Free, then Justice.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Maire Gannon (613-951-7017), Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.

Perceptions of neighbourhood crime compared to five years ago, by province, 2004 
  Level of neighbourhood crime compared to five years ago
  Total (population 15+) Increased Decreased About the same Don't know/not stated
  (000s) % of population 15 years and older
Canada 25,906 30 6 58 7
Newfoundland and Labrador 441 23 7 68 2E
Prince Edward Island 115 32 4E 62 F
Nova Scotia 778 28 6 62 4
New Brunswick 622 26 5 64 4
Quebec 6,190 23 8 63 6
Ontario 10,014 31 5 56 8
Manitoba 918 33 4 56 7
Saskatchewan 788 31 4 60 6
Alberta 2,559 35 4 52 9
British Columbia 3,482 36 5 50 8
EUse with caution.
FAmount too unreliable to be published.

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Date Modified: 2005-07-07 Important Notices