Women in Canada: The criminal justice system

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The involvement of women and female youth in the criminal justice system has largely been as victims of crime rather than as offenders. While females accounted for about one-half of all victims of violent crime reported to police authorities in 2009, they represented a minority of offenders.

The analysis in this report is based on the third section of what will be the latest edition of the publication Women in Canada, which is published periodically by Statistics Canada. This chapter examines the prevalence and nature of female victimization and female criminality, as well as the processing of female offenders through the criminal justice system.

In 2009, females reported about 1.6 million incidents of violent crime (that is, physical assault, sexual assault or robbery) in the past 12 months, according to self-reported information on victimization from the General Social Survey (GSS). Men reported about 1.7 million incidents during the same period. Overall, females reported similar rates of physical assault and sexual assault in 2009 as reported in 1999. Females were slightly more likely to report being a victim of robbery in 2009 than they were 10 years earlier.

The most common offence perpetrated against women was common assault, which accounted for nearly half of all police-reported incidents.

GSS data also showed that rates of self-reported spousal violence have decreased during the past decade. While rates for men and women were similar, the scope and severity of the violence differed. For example, women were more likely than men to report a physical injury, chronic violence, and fearing for their lives as a result of the violence.

According to the annual Homicide Survey, rates of homicide have declined substantially over the past 30 years, particularly for females. Much of this decrease can be attributed to a drop in homicides committed by spouses.

In 2009, rates of spousal homicide against women were one-third of the levels in 1979. Even so, women were more than twice as likely as men to be killed by a spouse in 2009.

This study also examined trends in crimes committed by women. In 2009, females accounted for approximately one-quarter of youth accused and slightly more than one-fifth of adults accused by police of having committed a Criminal Code offence.

Youth crime rates among females (12 to 17 years of age) were on average triple those of adult women. Females are most likely to commit acts of violence against their spouses or other intimate partners, followed by an acquaintance, a stranger or other family member.

While charging for property crime has seen a steady decline, the rate at which women have been charged with violent offences has increased over the past 30 years. Rates more than doubled between 1979 and 1997, from 51 to 132 per 100,000 population, and continued to increase until 2001. Subsequently, they have remained fairly stable. Most of the increase in female rates of violent crime can be attributed to an increase in the charge rate for common assault.

The number and proportion of female adult admissions to provincial/territorial custody and federal custody have also increased in recent years. In 2008/2009, adult females represented 6% of admissions to federal custody and 12% of admissions to provincial and territorial custody. This was up slightly from 5% and 10% of admissions, respectively, in 1999/2000.

Note: Other chapters in the book Women in Canada scheduled for release in 2011 will examine demographic, education, health and living arrangements. Chapters related to Aboriginal women, immigrant women, women with activity limitations and visible minority women will also be published. The entire issue is scheduled for publication late in 2011.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey numbers, including related surveys, 3302, 3306, 3309, 3312, 3315, 3328 and 4504.

The chapter "Women and the Criminal Justice System" is now available in Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report, 2010-2011, Sixth edition (89-503-X, free), from the Key resource module of our website under Publications.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979; sasd-dssea@statcan.gc.ca), Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.