Residents of Canada's shelters for abused women, 2008

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived information

Archived information is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact-us" to request a format other than those available.

By: Julie Sauvé and Mike Burns

Data on annual admissions to shelters are under revision due to incorrect reporting by a survey respondent. Revised data will be released when available.

Abused women turn to both transition homes and emergency facilities
Over half of abused women in shelters were admitted with their children
Psychological and physical abuse remain the main reasons women go to shelters
Most abused women in shelters were fleeing from spouses or common-law partners
Most abused women in shelters were under 45 years of age
A third of women went to shelters on their own
A quarter of abused women had reported the incident to the police
Most women leaving shelters did not plan to return to their abusive spouses
Fewer re admissions to shelters for abused women
Summary
Sources and methodology
Detailed data tables
References
Notes

According to results from the most recent national victimization survey,1 approximately 10% of violent crime victims sought assistance from formal agencies with mandates to provide a wide range of support services to victims of crime. In Canada, shelters are among the types of agencies that support victims. Their main objective is to offer residential services to victims who are escaping an abusive situation.

The Transition Home Survey (THS) provides an overview of shelters in Canada that offer services to abused women and their children.2 The THS also provides a profile of the persons who reside in shelters on a specific day of the year. This Juristat article focuses on the residents of shelters that assist female victims of violence and their children.3 The characteristics of women residing in shelters on April 16, 2008 are presented, as are the reasons that led them to seek such support services, and the types of shelters they sought to escape the abuse. Departures from shelters and re-admissions are also examined.

Abused women turn to both transition homes and emergency facilities

Between April 1, 2007 and March 31, 2008, approximately 101,0004 women and children were admitted to 569 various types of shelters in Canada. The number of admissions to shelters has remained relatively stable over the past ten years.

Among the women and children admitted over the course of the most recent survey cycle, nearly 9 out of 10 were admitted to transition homes (44%), women's emergency centres (25%) or emergency shelters (19%) (Table 1). Although transition homes remained the primary type of shelter for abused women in Canada, for the first time in 2008, as many women and children were admitted to emergency type facilities—women's emergency shelters and emergency shelters—as those admitted to transition homes.

The use of transition homes as a shelter type has been decreasing steadily since 20005 according to a sample of 354 shelters that have participated in five consecutive cycles of the survey. While admissions to transition homes represented 65% of admissions to all types of shelters in 2000, they represented 53% of all admissions in 2008. As a result of the increase in the number of emergency-type shelters providing services to victims, admissions to these types of facilities increased from 26% to 40% over the same time period.

Text box 1
Types of residential facilities for abused women and children in the Transition Home Survey

The term 'shelter' is used broadly to refer to all residential facilities for abused women and their dependent children. In addition, for the purposes of the THS, the following generic categories were developed to further define the various types of shelters. Referring to these definitions, those responding to the THS selected the facility-type that best described their shelter.

Second stage housing: Facility offering long-term (3 to 12 months) secure housing with support and referral services designed to assist women while they search for permanent housing.

Transition home or shelter: Facility offering short or moderate term (1 day to 11 weeks) secure housing for abused women with or without children; also referred to as first stage emergency housing.

Family resource centre: Residential services provided through an Ontario government initiative that serves a wide range of clients and provides an extensive array of information and referrals.

Women's emergency centre or shelter: Facility offering short-term (1 to 21 days) respite for women and their dependent children.

Emergency shelter: Facility offering short-term (1 to 3 days) respite for a wide population range, not exclusively abused women. Some facilities may provide accommodation for men as well as women. This type of facility may accommodate residents who are not associated with family abuse but are without a home due to an emergency situation (e.g., eviction for non-payment of rent). Other than room and board services, these shelters offer few additional client services.

Safe home network: A network of private homes in rural or remote areas where there is no full-fledged operating shelter. It offers subsidiary very short term (1 to 3 days) emergency housing.

Other: Includes all other residential facilities offering services to abused women with or without children, not otherwise classified. This category includes Rural Family Violence Prevention Centres in Alberta, Interim Housing in Manitoba, and other types of emergency shelters, such as YWCAs. These services may not be exclusive to abused women.

Over half of abused women in shelters were admitted with their children

On April 16, 2008,6 4,273 women were residing in shelters across Canada, and 3,222 of them were attempting to escape an abusive situation. These women brought nearly 2,900 children with them. The remaining women and children in shelters on snapshot day were seeking accommodation for reasons other than abuse.7

Nearly half the female victims of abuse seeking shelter had been admitted with their children (Table 2). Slightly more than one in five women did not have their children with them8 when they were admitted. The remaining 31% of women either had no parenting responsibilities or their situation was unknown. Women accompanied by their children were primarily transition home (39%) and second stage housing (31%) residents.

Over the last five cycles of the survey,9 the percentage of women who resided in shelters with children has decreased. In 2000, 56% of women brought their children with them to shelters, compared to 52% by 2008. In contrast, the percentage of women admitted to shelters who did not have parenting responsibilities increased slightly from 23% in 2000 to 25% in 2008.

Psychological and physical abuse remain the main reasons women go to shelters

Three-quarters of the women who were in shelters on April 16, 2008 were victims of abuse and it was the abuse that led many of them to seek assistance at shelters. On snapshot day, abused women residing in shelters10 were mainly there to escape psychological or emotional abuse and physical abuse (Table 3). Although psychological and physical abuse have been the principal reasons for which women have sought assistance at shelters over time, psychological abuse was cited more often in 2008 than in the past. In 2008, 68% of women wanted to escape situations of psychological abuse compared to 63% in 2000.

In addition to wanting to escape psychological or physical abuse, women residing in shelters on April 16, 2008 also reported that they wanted to escape threats (39%) or financial abuse (36%). About 1 in 4 women were fleeing harassment (28%) or sexual abuse (24%).

Not all women in shelters were attempting to flee abusive situations; about one third of shelter residents cited a lack of affordable housing as the main reason they were at a shelter.

Women who resided in shelters with their children on April 16, 2008 were at the shelter to protect their children. Among these women, 25% wanted to protect their children from witnessing the abuse they were experiencing. The women also wanted to protect their children from psychologically or physically abusive situations (Table 3).

Among the women using shelters, those escaping abuse were more inclined to select facilities that offered services and programs specifically designed for abused women. Abused women staying in shelters were most likely to use transition homes (42%) and second stage houses (24%) (Chart 1). By comparison, women residing in shelters for reasons not related to abuse were more likely to turn emergency type facilities (43%) (women's emergency centres [15%] and emergency shelters [28%]).
 
Chart 1
The types of shelters women seek vary according to their needs

Description

Chart 1 The types of shelters women seek vary according to their needs

1. 'Other' includes safe home networks, Ontario Family Resource Centres, and Manitoba Interim Housing as well as any other facilities not otherwise classified. This represents approximately 9% of all facilities.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2007-2008 Transition Home Survey.

Most abused women in shelters were fleeing from spouses or common-law partners

The majority of women who turned to shelters because of abuse were in spousal relationships. About two-thirds of abused women in shelters on survey snapshot day were fleeing the abuse of a current spouse or partner and 12% were there because of the abuse of a former spouse or partner (Table 2).

The picture was similar in most provinces. In New Brunswick, 89% of women in shelters were fleeing a violent current or former spouse, as was the case for more than 8 in 10 women in shelters in Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Alberta. In Nova Scotia, slightly more than two-thirds of women in shelters were there for reasons of spousal abuse (Table 4).

A higher proportion of residents were using a shelter to flee the abuse of a current or former common-law partner (45%) than a current or former husband (32%). Common-law relationships are associated with an elevated risk of spousal violence—one study found that individuals in a common-law relationship were three times more likely to have experienced spousal violence than were those in marriages (Mihorean, 2005).

While nearly two-thirds of women in shelters on the THS snapshot day were fleeing an abusive marital or common-law union, other women were there to escape the abuse of someone they were currently or had been dating (7%) or a relative (6%) (Table 2).

Most abused women in shelters were under 45 years of age

Approximately 28 per 100,000 women aged 15 and older in Canada were residing in shelters to escape abuse. Nearly 8 in 10 abused women in shelters on April 16, 2008 were under 45 years of age (Table 5). Age is one of the strongest risk factors linked to victimization, including spousal violence. In 2004, findings from the General Social Survey (GSS) revealed that people under 45 years of age were more likely to have been victims of spousal violence than those aged 45 and older (Mihorean, 2005).

A third of women went to shelters on their own

It is sometimes difficult for women who are victims of abuse to ask for assistance. In 2008, nearly a third (34%) of women who turned to shelters went there of their own volition and almost 30% were referred by either another transition home or another community agency. According to the 2004 GSS, only 34% of abused women turned to help agencies following a violent incident (Mihorean, 2005). Women sought help primarily from informal sources of support such as family members.

Not all women and children seeking assistance from shelters are admitted to those shelters, either due to lack of space in the shelter or due to alcohol, drug or mental health issues. The most common reason shelters turned away women and children on April 16, 2008 was the lack of space in these shelters. In all, 299 women and 148 children were turned away from a shelter. Thirty seven percent of these individuals were turned away from a transition home and 26% were turned away from an emergency shelter.

A quarter of abused women had reported the incident to the police

A quarter of abused women residing in shelters on snapshot day had reported their most recent incident to the police.11 This is similar to results from the 2004 national victimization survey, which revealed that among female victims of spousal violence slightly more than a quarter of victims had reported the violence to the police (Mihorean, 2005). The proportion of incidents reported to police by women may be related to the fact that they usually suffer more serious and more frequent abuse. In fact, charges had been laid against the abusers of 16% of the women residing in shelters on April 16, 2008.12 In addition, 15% of women in shelters had obtained a restraining or protection order13 against their perpetrator.14

Most women leaving shelters did not plan to return to their abusive spouses

Between midnight and noon on April 16, 2008, 101 women and 51 children departed from a shelter. Among the 101 women who left on this day, more than 9 out of 10 did not plan to return to live with their spouses. Nearly 4 women in 10 did not know where they would go after they left. Among these, half were leaving a women's emergency centre, that is; a facility offering short-term accommodation.

Fewer re-admissions to shelters for abused women

Not all women in shelters on April 16, 2008 were there for the first time. A quarter (25%) of them had previously turned to a shelter for abused women15 (Table 6). This was a decrease of 11 percentage points compared to 2006. Among the women who had previously stayed at a shelter, the largest proportion, 32%, had been to the shelter on one prior occasion in the last year. About one-fifth (23%) had two to four previous stays and 13% had resided there five or more times (Table 6).

Among women with multiple shelter stays, the length of time between stays was typically less than a year. In 2008, nearly three-quarters of re-admissions to shelters occurred within the last year. For 27% of women who had previously stayed in shelters, it had been more than one year since their last stay.

Among the most frequently used facility types, women's emergency centres, transition homes and emergency shelters, the proportion of residents who were repeat clients was similar (Chart 2). However, re-admissions were notably less common among second stage housing residents (7%).

Chart 2
Re-admissions were more common in emergency shelters

Description

Chart 2 Re-admissions were more common in emergency shelters

1. 'Other' includes safe home networks, Ontario Family Resource Centres, and Manitoba Interim Housing as well as any other facilities not otherwise classified.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2007-2008 Transition Home Survey.

Summary

More than 101,000 women and children were admitted in shelters in 2008. On April 16, 2008, over 7,000 women and children were residing in shelters to escape some form of abuse or for other reasons. On that day, three-quarters of women in shelters were fleeing an abusive situation, and for two-thirds of these women, the abuser was their common-law partner or spouse.

Of the approximately 4,000 women who were residing in shelters, two-thirds were fleeing a situation of psychological abuse and half were fleeing a situation of physical abuse. Some of these women were admitted with their children in order to protect them from abuse or prevent them from witnessing abuse inflicted on their mother. Nearly half the abused women and their children were admitted to transition homes that provide longer-term services, whereas women fleeing situations other than abuse turned to emergency type facilities. The majority of women leaving shelters for abused women did not plan to return to live with their spouses.

Sources and methodology

Transition Home Survey

The Transition Home Survey (THS) was developed under the federal government's Family Violence Initiative in consultation with provincial and territorial governments and transition home associations. The objectives of the survey are to collect information on the characteristics of residential services for abused women and their children during the previous twelve months of operation. In addition, the THS collects information on selected characteristics for the women and children residing in these shelters on a specified 'snapshot' day. In 1991/1992, Statistics Canada began collecting basic information on transition home services and clientele. A more comprehensive survey was developed and administered in 1992/1993 and was repeated, with some changes, in 1994/1995, and every second year from 1997/1998 to 2007/2008.

The THS is a biennial mail-out/mail-back census survey of all residential facilities providing services to abused women and their children. Shelters that serve a broader population, in addition to women escaping domestic violence, such as those providing residential services to male victims of spousal abuse and men and women seeking refuge for reasons other than abuse, are also included on the THS. Facilities that exclusively serve male victims of spousal abuse fall outside the scope of this survey. At the time of this survey, one such facility was known to be in operation. The THS does not include shelters that do not provide residential services.

Of the 569 residential facilities providing services to abused women and their children, 518 returned their questionnaires for a response rate of 91%. Across Canada, response rates were highest among shelters in Prince Edward Island (100%), New Brunswick (95%), British Columbia (95%) and Newfoundland-and-Labrador (93%). Response rates for Northwest Territories and Nunavut was 100% whereas the response rate in Yukon was close to the one of the provinces (Table 7).

Separate questionnaires were completed for facilities that had two or more residences under the same name or address. However, in a small number of cases it was not possible to obtain separate questionnaires for each shelter and information for more than one facility-type had to be included on one questionnaire. In these cases, the determination of facility-type was based on the main focus of the facilities' activities.

Imputation procedure for the 2006 THS

For a second time in 2007/2008, an imputation procedure was used to replace missing data for non-respondents on the THS. While the response rate for the THS has ranged from 87% to 92% since 1998, the use of a simple imputation strategy to treat non-response makes the THS estimates even more meaningful by having a complete micro-data file.

Potential THS respondents were grouped into three main categories based on the extent to which they had completed 12 key questions. Specifically, the three respondent groupings were defined as follows:

Complete respondent: submitted a questionnaire and there was a response for each of the 12 key questions. There were 506 complete respondents.
Partial non-respondent: submitted a questionnaire but did not answer all of the key questions. There were 12 partial non-respondents.
Complete non-respondent: did not submit a questionnaire and only the province and facility type of the shelter were known. There were 51 complete non-respondents.

After the procedure, the imputed data were tested for statistically significant differences from the data collected from respondents. The results from the test show no statistically meaningful differences between the imputed and respondent data.

Transition Home Survey Trend File

The THS trend files compiles data from facilities participating in each cycle of the THS starting in 2000, thereby controlling for non-response and the composition of facility-types. The THS trend file is based on a subset of 354 shelters or 62% of the shelters surveyed in 2008.

The General Social Survey on Victimization

The General Social Survey (GSS) is an annual survey that monitors changes in Canadian society and provides information on specific policy issues of current or emerging interest. Each year, the GSS focuses on various regular topics (including time use, social support, the family, technology and victimization). In 2004, Statistics Canada conducted the victimization cycle of the GSS for a fourth time. Previous surveys were conducted in 1988, 1993 and 1999. The objectives of the survey are to provide estimates of the prevalence of eight offence types (based on the Criminal Code definitions) and to examine factors related to the risk of victimization, victims' willingness to report crimes to the police, reasons for not reporting, and to measure public perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system. In 2009, the fifth cycle of the national victimization survey will be conducted.

The GSS is a telephone sample survey covering the non-institutionalized population aged 15 years or older in the ten provinces. In 2004, a total of approximately 24,000 people were interviewed with a response rate of 75%.

Please see the annual publication Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2005, for results from the 2004 GSS on spousal and family violence.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Annual admissions by facility type, Canada, provinces and territories, 2007/2008

Table 2 Selected characteristics of abused women residing in shelters on April 16, 2008, Canada

Table 3 Reasons for women for seeking shelters, Canada, April 16, 2008

Table 4 Rate of women in shelters to escape the abuse of a current or former spouse or common-law partner on April 16, 2008, Canada, provinces and territories

Table 5 Age groups of abused women residing in shelters on April 16, 2008, Canada

Table 6 Frequency of previous shelter stays within the last 12 months by facility type, Canada, 2007/2008

Table 7 Number of shelters in operation and of shelters that responded to the Transition Home Survey, Canada, provinces and territories, 2007/2008

References

Bressan, Angela. 2008. "Spousal violence in Canada's provinces and territories." Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2008, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224. p. 10–17.
/pub/85-224-x/85-224-x2008000-eng.pdf (accessed February 17, 2009).

Mihorean, Karen. 2005. "Trends in self-reported spousal violence." Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2005, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224. p. 13–32.
/pub/85-224-x/85-224-x2005000-eng.pdf (accessed February 17, 2009).

Taylor-Butts, Andrea. 2007. "Canada's shelters for abused women, 2005/2006." Juristat. Vol. 27, no. 4. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002.
/pub/85-002-x/85-002-x2007004-eng.pdf (accessed February 17, 2009).

Notes

  1. The 2004 General Social Survey on Victimization.
  2. Facilities that exclusively serve male victims fall outside the scope of the survey.  Admissions of men will be discussed in the publication Family violence in Canada: a statistical profile, 2009 to be released in the fall of 2009.
  3. The complete THS data will be released in the fall of 2009 in the publication Family violence in Canada: a statistical profile, 2009.
  4. An admission is registered each time a person is formally admitted, even if it is a repeat visit.
  5. In addition to presenting findings from the most recent cycle of the THS, this report also includes an analysis of time-series data from the THS trend file.
  6. In addition to gathering data on residential services provided to female victims of violence and their children during a 12-month period, the THS also produces a snapshot of the persons who received services on a given day. The data collected on April 16, 2008, the survey snapshot day, provides a reliable overview of the shelter residents.
  7. Includes housing issues, for example.
  8. Shelters were asked to report on whether residents were admitted to the shelter with or without their children. However, it is unknown whether women not accompanied by their children had legal and/or physical custody of those children prior to reporting to the shelters.
  9. According to the trend file.
  10. Shelters were asked to report the types of abuse women residents were fleeing. Shelters were instructed to report all types of abuse suffered by each resident. Therefore, multiple responses for one woman were possible and the percentages for each type of abuse will not total 100%.
  11. In almost half of cases, the incident had not been reported to the police and in 29% of cases, the information was unknown.
  12. In 45% of cases, no charges had been laid against the abuser and in 39% of cases, the information was unknown.
  13. Includes peace bond, restraining order, undertaking to keep the peace and have good conduct, conditions of probation, emergency intervention order, emergency protection order, victim's assistance order, order to abstain from persistently following a person about from place to place, etc.
  14. In 42% of cases, no order had been obtained for the abuser and in 43% of cases, the information was unknown.
  15. Figures from the THS on repeat admissions reflect re-admissions of clients to the same shelter and do not count women who may have previously sought shelter in a different facility.
Date modified: