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Recent trends in police-reported clearance status of sexual assault and other violent crime in Canada, 2017 to 2022

Released: 2024-04-26

Sexual assault is a highly gendered crime, with women and girls accounting for 9 in 10 victims (90%) of incidents reported to police in 2022. The vast majority (96%) of accused persons were men and boys, and most victims (74%) knew the person accused of the crime.

Previously, in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey, criminal incidents were recorded by police as unfounded when there was not enough corroborating evidence. In 2018, a new definition of "founded" crime was implemented in the UCR Survey. This change in the standard practice reflects a shift to a more victim-centred approach, in which police record criminal incidents as founded—that is, the reported incidents had in fact occurred—unless there is evidence demonstrating that incidents had not taken place.

This change has a significant impact because more reported victim experiences are now captured by police data. For victims of sexual assault, this is particularly relevant because of the challenges that often exist in obtaining evidence for this type of crime.

The Juristat article "Recent trends in police-reported clearance status of sexual assault and other violent crime in Canada, 2017 to 2022," released today, examines trends following the implementation of revised coding practices. Analysis includes a focus on clearance status, as well as victim, accused person and incident characteristics, comparing results from 2017 with the years that followed revisions to the UCR Survey.

Unfounded sexual assault declines from 2017 to 2022, as do other selected types of violent crime

Following the implementation of the new definition of founded crime, which resulted in more criminal incidents being captured by police data, the number of unfounded incidents was expected to decrease, as more incidents were being deemed founded but uncleared (i.e., unsolved) by police. (Incidents may remain uncleared because they are still open and under investigation, evidence is insufficient to lay or recommend charges, or the victim or complainant declines to proceed where no accused was identified.) Recent trends in police-reported violent crime have confirmed these assumptions.

In 2017, 14% of all reported incidents of sexual assault were classified by police as unfounded, which dropped to 7% in 2022. This pattern was similar for other selected types of violent crime.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Unfounded police-reported sexual assault and other selected types of violent crime, Canada, 2017 to 2022
Unfounded police-reported sexual assault and other selected types of violent crime, Canada, 2017 to 2022

From 2017 to 2022, the rate of founded sexual assault among victims increased 38% (increases were similar regardless of the victim's gender), and the number of such incidents grew from 22,543 to 33,293. Multiple factors likely contributed to this increase, including the definition change for founded crime, changes in reporting practices among the population—such as increased reports following the awareness raised by the #MeToo movement—and changes in the actual level of crime in society.

A growing proportion of sexual assault incidents are uncleared by police, reaching 6 in 10 incidents in 2022

Uncleared incidents accounted for 48% of all police-reported sexual assault in 2017—the last full year of UCR data collection before the implementation of revisions—and increased to 59% in 2022. Relative to 2017, more incidents of sexual assault were cleared by the laying or recommendation of charges in 2022. However, the increase in uncleared incidents was much larger; therefore, the proportion of incidents that were cleared by charge decreased from 34% in 2017 to 31% in 2022. Meanwhile, the proportion of incidents that were cleared in some other way (for example, those in which the victim or complainant requested that no further action be taken [where an accused person was identified] and those cleared because of departmental discretion) declined from 18% to 10% over the same period.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Police-reported sexual assault, by incident clearance status, Canada, 2017 to 2022
Police-reported sexual assault, by incident clearance status, Canada, 2017 to 2022

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  Note to readers

In the Criminal Code, sexual assault is classified into three categories depending on the nature and severity of the assault:

  • Level 1 sexual assault (section 271): assault of a sexual nature that violates the sexual integrity of the victim
  • Level 2 sexual assault (section 272): sexual assault that involves a weapon, threats to a third party or bodily harm to the victim
  • Level 3 sexual assault (section 273): aggravated sexual assault involves wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of the victim.

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey collects detailed information on criminal incidents that have come to the attention of police services in Canada. Information includes characteristics of victims, accused persons and incidents. In 2022, trend data from police services covered 99% of the population of Canada.

The definition of founded crime in the UCR Survey was updated in January 2018 as such: "An incident is founded if, after police investigation, it has been determined that the reported offence did occur or was attempted (even if the charged/suspect chargeable [accused person] is unknown) or there is no credible evidence to confirm that the reported incident did not take place. This includes third-party reports that fit these criteria."

One incident can involve multiple offences. To ensure comparability, counts are presented based on the most serious offence related to the incident as determined by a standard classification rule used by all police services.


The article "Recent trends in police-reported clearance status of sexual assault and other violent crime in Canada, 2017 to 2022," is now available as part of the publication Juristat (Catalogue number85-002-X).

Contact information

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