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Trends in reporting criminal victimization to police, 1999 to 2009

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Released: 2015-06-22

Reporting criminal victimization to police was generally highest for incidents of break and enter, or theft of a motor vehicle or parts, while police were rarely made aware of spousal violence incidents and sexual assaults, according to data from the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization.

About one in three self-reported victimization incidents came to the attention of police in 2009. Break and enter (54%), as well as theft of motor vehicles or parts (50%) had the highest rates of reporting to police. The proportion of incidents reported to the police climbs to 90%, when considering only completed thefts of a motor vehicle, that is excluding attempts and thefts of motor vehicle parts.

Police, however, were seldom called for sexual assaults committed by someone other than a spouse, making it the offence with the highest level of underreporting. Almost 90% of sexual assaults by a non-spousal perpetrator were never reported to police. Underreporting was most pronounced for unwanted sexual touching, with 93% of incidents going unreported.

Results from the 1999, 2004 and 2009 GSS on Victimization offer some insight into how reporting rates to police have changed over time. For example, while reporting of non-violent victimization and spousal violence to police decreased between 1999 and 2009, reporting of violence committed by someone other than a spouse remained stable.

Some of the most commonly reported crimes had some of the greatest declines in reporting to police over the 10-year period. Reporting to police for break and enters fell 8 percentage points, while theft of motor vehicles or parts declined 10 percentage points.

Another type of criminal victimization showing a downward trend in reporting was spousal violence, which saw reporting drop from 27% in 2004 to 22% in 2009. Reporting to police was higher for the most severe forms of spousal violence, as police were contacted in around half of the most severe forms of spousal violence in 2009. Specifically, 49% of spousal violence victims who were sexually assaulted reported it to police, as did 55% who were beaten, choked, or had a weapon used against them. It is noteworthy that the most severe forms of spousal violence decreased in prevalence between 1999 and 2009, falling from 19% of spousal violence victims to 15% over the 10-year period.

According to the 2009 GSS for non-violent forms of victimization, large financial losses were linked to higher levels of reporting. In 2009, about 7 in 10 household incidents with losses of at least $1,000 came to the attention of police. This compares with 27% of losses with less than $500.

Overall, reporting rates of household crimes, such as break and enter, theft of motor vehicles of parts and theft of household property, have dropped since 1999. Between 1999 and 2009, the likelihood of reporting household crime incidents with large financial losses of $1,000 or more fell from 84% to 68%. The prevalence of household criminal incidents resulting in losses of $1,000 or more decreased from 22% to 16%.


The Juristat article "Trends in reporting criminal victimization to police, 1999 to 2009" (Catalogue number85-002-X) is now available. From the Browse by key resource module of our website under Publications, choose All subjects, then Crime and Justice, and Juristat.

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