Section 4: Responses to violence against women

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By Maire Sinha

Over the past thirty years, the criminal justice system and social intervention response to violence against women has shifted. Violent acts against women once considered private matters, such as spousal violence, are now considered serious violent crimes (Schneider 2007). One example of this shift was the creation of pro-charging policies for spousal violence in the 1980s, which removed the burden of the decision to lay a charge away from the victim and onto the police and Crown. The creation and growth of domestic violence courts was another notable specialized response to spousal violence (Johnson 2006).

Legislative changes have also been introduced to address specific types of crimes where women are predominantly the victim. Criminal Code amendments have included the repeal of the offence of rape and the creation of sexual assault offences in 1983, and the introduction of the offence of criminal harassment in 1993. The above procedural and legislative institutional changes have accompanied an emergence of services for victims of violent crime, notably shelters for abused women and sexual assault centres (Johnson and Dawson 2011).

Despite the changes in responses to the issue, victims of violent crime may still not turn to the legal system or formal sources of support for help. This section uses self-reported victimization data to explore the extent to which victims report their victimization to police, the reasons behind this decision, and victims' use of other services. These patterns are examined separately for spousal violence (including both current and previous spouses) and non-spousal violence. Information pertaining to spousal violence refers to violent victimization in the previous five-year period, while non-spousal violence is based on violent incidents that occurred in the 12 months preceding the survey. Therefore, comparisons between spousal and non-spousal violence should be made with caution.

Police-reported data collected through the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey are then used to examine how often violent incidents get cleared by police, with regard to both the relationship of the accused to the victim and the severity of the offence. Using administrative data from service providers, the availability and use of shelters and other government-based victim services are also examined.

Reporting violence against women to police

Decrease in reporting spousal violence against women to police

Victimization data suggest that violence against women often goes unreported to police. According to the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, less than one-third (30%) of female victims indicated that the incident of spousal victimization was reported to police.Note 1 This represented a decrease from 36% in 2004, the last time the survey was conducted (Chart 4.1). The same drop was not evident for male victims, who continued to be less likely than their female counterparts to state that the incident of spousal violence came to the attention of police (13% in 2009 and 17% in 2004Note 2). Gender differences in levels of reporting to police may reflect the finding that male victims experience less severe forms of spousal violence compared to female victims (see Section 1).

Chart 4.1
Reporting rates of spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 1993, 1999, 2004, and 2009

Description for Chart 4.1

Chart 4.1 Reporting  rates of spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 1993, 1999,  2004, and 2009

… not applicable
† reference category
* significantly different from reference category (p < 0.05)
Note: Includes legally married, common-law, same-sex, separated and divorced spouses who experienced spousal violence within the previous 5 years. General Social Survey data from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut were collected using a different methodology and are therefore excluded.
Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey, 1999, 2004, 2009; Violence Against Women Survey, 1993.

Prior to the decline in reporting of spousal violence against women, levels of reporting to police had increased between 1993 and 1999, followed by a period of stability from 1999 to 2004. Early increases in reporting to police were attributed to a rise in women's confidence in the criminal justice system's ability to respond to spousal victimization (Johnson and Hotton 2001).

In comparison to spousal violence, reporting violence against women committed outside of a spousal relationship to police has been relatively stable since 1999. In 2009, 28% of non-spousal violent incidents against women were reported to police, similar to the proportion in 2004 and 1999. Levels of police contact for non-spousal violence were virtually identical between women and men, contrasting the gender difference evident in spousal violence.

Reporting to police was similar among the provinces. This was the case for both spousal and non-spousal violence against women.

Police more often contacted in the most severe forms of violence

A number of factors can influence whether a violent incident gets reported to police. In the case of spousal violence, increased seriousness or severity of the violence heightens the likelihood of police involvement. More than half of female victims who experienced the most severe forms of spousal violence indicated that police were contacted, including 53% of women who were sexually assaulted and 60% of women who were beaten, choked or had a weapon used against them. This compares to 14%E of female victims of spousal violence who experienced less severe forms, namely being pushed, shoved or slapped (Table 4.1; Chart 4.2). Similarly, reporting to police was higher for female spousal victims who sustained physical injury, who feared for their lives and who experienced the greatest number of spousal violence incidents.

Chart 4.2
Reporting rates to police by type of spousal victimization against women, Canada, 2009

Description for Chart 4.2

Chart 4.2 Reporting  rates to police by type of spousal victimization against women, Canada, 2009

E use with caution
F too unreliable to be published
† reference category
* significantly different from reference category (p < 0.05)           
Note: Includes legally married, common-law, same-sex, separated and divorced spouses who experienced spousal violence within the previous 5 years. Data from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut were collected using a different methodology and are therefore excluded.       
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, General Social Survey, 2009.    

Somewhat contrasting these patterns were violent incidents committed by someone other than a spouse. Levels of reporting were similar for incidents involving physical injury to women and those without any injuries. Police involvement, however, was four times higher when a weapon was used against the female non-spousal victim compared to when no weapon was involved (64% versus 16%). Non-spousal violence against women was also more likely to come to the attention of police when it involved multiple offenders (51%) rather than a lone offender (18%).

The relationship to the perpetrator had no impact on whether police were contacted in non-spousal violence incidents. That is, violent incidents involving a stranger were equally as likely as those committed by someone known to the victim to have come to the attention of the police. This pattern was consistent for both male and female victims.

Non-spousal sexual assaults rarely reported to police

Police, who are responsible for responding to, investigating and substantiating all incidents of violent crime, were rarely made aware of sexual assaults committed by someone other than a spouse. Nine in ten sexual assaults against women (90%) by a non-spousal accused were never reported to police. This was most pronounced for the least severe forms of sexual assault, namely self-reported incidents of sexual touching, where 96% incidents against women were not reported to police. In comparison, 63% of sexual attacks,Note 3 60% of physical assaults and 53% of robbery incidents were not reported to police.

Women with lower levels of education more likely to contact police for spousal violence

Victim characteristics can also impact whether violence against women comes to the attention of police, though these characteristics differ between spousal and non-spousal violence victims. For spousal violence, women with the lowest levels of educational attainment and lower incomes (less than $30,000) were most likely to state that police were contacted (Table 4.2). Educational attainment and income did not impact whether non-spousal incidents were brought to the attention of police.

While the age of the female victim had no bearing on whether police were made aware of incidents of spousal violence, younger women who experienced non-spousal violence were less likely than older women to state that the incident was reported to police (Table 4.3). About 15%E of non-spousal incidents involving females aged 15 to 24 were reported to the police, compared to 39%E of incidents involving women aged 25 to 34 and 38% for women aged 35 and older.

Similar levels of reporting between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women, visible and non-visible minority women, and immigrant and non-immigrant women

While Aboriginal women differed from non-Aboriginal women in their risk of victimization, the likelihood of reporting victimization to police did not. Approximately four in ten Aboriginal women victimized by their spouse indicated that police were contacted, which was not significantly different from the proportion for non-Aboriginal women. Likewise, among non-spousal violent incidents involving Aboriginal women, about one-quarter were reported to the police, similar to the proportion for non-Aboriginal women.

Reporting spousal violence incidents to police did not vary between visible minority and non-visibility minority women (Table 4.2). Rates of reporting spousal violence against women were also similar between immigrant and non-immigrant women. It was not possible to examine gender differences among these populations for non-spousal violence due to small counts, though overall reporting rates to police were similar between visible and non-visible minorities, and between immigrants and non-immigrants.Note 4

Contacting police often related to women's desire to stop the violence

Reporting victimization to the police is a personal decision, one that involves the consideration of a number of factors. Most often, women reported the incidents of spousal violence to the police themselves (84%). When asked why they turned to the police, a desire to stop the violence and receive protection was by far the most common reason given, at 95% (Table 4.4). This was significantly higher than the proportion of male spousal violence victims who indicated this reason as a motivating factor (70%). A sense of duty was the second most common reason for contacting police among female spousal violence victims (47%). Stopping the violence and a sense of duty were also the leading reasons behind men's decision to report their spousal victimization to police.

Female victims of non-spousal violent crimes were also more likely than male victims to notify police to stop the violence and receive protection (83%). They were equally as likely as male victims to notify the police for other reasons (Table 4.5).

Visiting the scene was the most common police action in violence against women

Victims who said that the police were informed of the incident were asked what actions the police took when notified of the violent incident. The majority (85%) of female victims of spousal violence indicated that the police came to the location of the incident (i.e., visited the scene), which was similar to the proportion of male spousal violence victims (82%). Female victims of spousal violence, however, were more likely than their male counterparts to indicate that the police gave a warning to their spouse, took their spouse away, or arrested or laid charges against their spouse (Table 4.6). Gender differences in police actions may reflect the finding that spousal violence directed at women tends to be more severe than violence perpetrated against men.

Among women who reported non-spousal violence to police, 72% said that the police visited the scene and 73% said a report or investigation was conducted (Table 4.7). Similar police actions were taken in non-spousal violence incidents against men.

Most female victims satisfied with actions of police

Among female victims who indicated that the police were contacted, most were satisfied with the actions of police. About two-thirds (65%) of female spousal violence victims were either somewhat or very satisfied with the actions of police. For violence outside of a spousal relationship, 59% of female victims were satisfied. These levels of satisfaction were similar to those for male victims of both spousal and non-spousal violence.

The GSS also asked victims of spousal violence if the behaviour of their abusive spouse changed after police intervention. Almost half (48%) of female spousal victims indicated that the incidents of spousal violence decreased after police were involved (Table 4.6). Another 23%E said spousal violence stayed the same and 6%E said it increased.

'Dealt with another way' most common reason for not reporting spousal violence

Women have various reasons for not reporting their experiences of violence to police. Among the 69% of female victims of spousal violence who stated that the incident did not come to the attention of police, dealing with the situation in another way or feeling that the incident was a personal matter were among the most commonly stated reasons for not reporting (79% and 74%). While these reasons were similar to those for men, women were six times more likely than men to say that the incident was not reported out of fear from their spouse (19% versus 3%), and almost twice as likely than men to say that they didn't want anyone to find out about the incident (44% versus 26%)(Chart 4.3).

Chart 4.3
Reason for not reporting spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Description for Chart 4.3

Chart 4.3   Reason  for not reporting spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

† reference category     
* significantly different from reference category (p < 0.05)           
Note: Includes legally married, common-law, same-sex, separated and divorced spouses who experienced spousal violence within the previous 5 years and who indicated that the violence did not come to the attention of police. Figures do not add to 100% due to multiple responses. Data from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut were collected using a different methodology and are therefore excluded.       
Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey, 2009.  

For non-spousal violence, similar reasons for not reporting to police were given. Women were equally as likely to say the incident was not important enough or that they dealt with the incident in another way (60% each). As with spousal violence, fear of retaliation was a greater concern for female victims than male victims (18% versus 9%) (Chart 4.4).

Chart 4.4
Reason for not reporting non-spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Description for Chart 4.4

Chart 4.4   Reason  for not reporting non-spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada,  2009

† reference category  
F too unreliable to be published   
* significantly different from reference category (p < 0.05)           
Note: Refers to self-reported non-spousal violence within the previous 12 months that did not come to the attention of police. Figures do not add to 100% due to multiple responses. Data from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut were collected using a different methodology and are therefore excluded.           
Source: Statistics Canada, General Social Survey, 2009.  

Restraining orders

About one in seven female victims of spousal violence obtained a restraining order

Besides seeking help from police, victims can also turn to either criminal courts or civil courts for the additional protection of a restraining or protective order against the perpetrator. Restraining orders are intended to protect victims who fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them and can contain a number of measures, such as a no contact/no communication order, prohibiting the perpetrator from frequenting a specified place, and out-of-home placements for those accused of spousal violence.

The GSS collected information on whether victims of spousal violence obtained a restraining or protection order from their spouse. In 2009, 15% of female victims indicated that they had obtained this type of protection, three times higher than the proportion of male victims who obtained a restraining order (5%). Recurrence of violence, however, is not always prevented with these orders. One-third (32%) of women said that the terms of the order were breached. Two-thirds (65%) of these women reported the violation to police.

Women's use of social services

Most women disclose their victimization to family or friends

Women often rely on sources other than the criminal justice system for assistance following a victimization experience. In addition to asking victims whether or not they reported the violence to the police, the GSS asked victims if they turned to other sources of support. Eight in ten women victimized by their spouse told family, friends or another source of informal support about the incident. This was higher than the proportion of male spousal violence victims (56%).

Similar to spousal violence, most female victims of non-spousal violence (91%) discussed their victimization experience with someone. However, unlike spousal violence, male victims of non-spousal violence were equally likely as female victims to rely on others for support. Family and/or friends or neighbours were the most common sources of informal support for women, regardless of whether the incident was committed by a spouse or another type of perpetrator.

One-quarter of female victims of spousal violence used formal social services

A variety of social services are available to women who are violently victimized, including counsellors, crisis lines, community centres, shelters, women's centres, and support groups. According to the 2009 GSS, 38% of women who were victimized by their spouse used a social service, two times higher than for male victims (18%). Female victims most often turned to counsellors or psychologists (32%). The next most common services used by women were crisis centres/lines and community/family centres (26% combined) (Table 4.8).

For non-spousal incidents, 12% of women contacted some type of formal victim service, higher than the proportion of male victims (6%).

Start of text box 4.1

Text box 4.1
Reporting to police and use of social supports in the territories

Six in ten female victims in the territories reported spousal violence to police

Victimization data for the territories were collected using a different methodology. As a result, analysis of reporting to police and reliance on other supports is examined separately from the provinces.

Consistent with findings from earlier reports, the rate of reporting spousal violence to police in the territories was generally higher than in the provinces. About six in ten female victims of spousal violence (58%) in the past five years had contact with police as a result of the violence, compared to 30% in the provinces. Similar to the provinces, women victimized by their spouse in the territories indicated that police were contacted to stop the violence or receive protection.

According to female victims of spousal violence, the three most common actions taken by police were: conducting an investigation or making a report (84%), visiting the scene (82%) and giving a warning to the accused (81%). As in the provinces, most female victims in the territories were satisfied with the police response to their experiences of spousal violence (69%).

For non-spousal violence, rates of reporting to police in the territories mirror those for the provinces. While small counts prevented reliable estimates by gender, 31% of violent incidents committed against women in the territories were reported to police. Victims indicated that they chose to deal with the incident in some other way (61%), that they did not think the incident was important enough to warrant contacting the police (53%), did not want police involved (51%E) and/or felt that it was a personal matter that did not concern police (48%E).

When police were contacted in non-spousal violence incidents, 75% of all victims stated that the police visited the scene and 81% indicated that police made a report or conducted an investigation. It was not possible to look at gender differences due to small counts.

Informal supports often used by female victims

Female victims in the territories often rely on informal sources of support to cope with the violence. Almost nine in ten female victims of spousal violence (88%) turned to informal sources of support, higher than the proportion of male victims (58%E). However, when the violence involved someone other than a spouse, women were less likely than men to turn to someone for help (77% versus 94%).

Regardless of the type of perpetrator, female victims in the territories most often turned to family members and/or friends or neighbours for support or guidance. In 2009, 79% of women victimized by their spouse confided in a family member and 64% told a friend or neighbour. Similarly, when women were victimized by a non-spouse, more than half turned to family (59%) and/or friends or neighbours (55%E).

End of text box 4.1

Police-reported response to violence against women

Once an incident of violence against women reaches the attention of police and is investigated, the police may charge the accused or may deal with or clear the incident (i.e., solve) in another way, such as through departmental discretion (e.g., giving the accused a warning, caution or referral to a community-based program). Alternatively, the incident may not be cleared if an accused has not been identified in connection with the incident, or a suspect has been identified but there is insufficient evidence to lay a charge.

Most police-reported violent crimes against women were cleared

Data from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey show that police cleared 76% of all violent incidents committed against women in 2011. Of these, about seven in ten (71%) resulted in a charge being laid or recommended, with the remaining three in ten cleared by means other than the laying of a formal charge. The most common reasons to clear by other means included the female victim's request not to proceed with formal charges and the use of departmental discretion.

The likelihood of incidents being cleared varied regionally.Note 5 The Prairie provinces and the territories generally had the highest clearance rates for police-reported violent crime against women, which was consistent with regional patterns for clearing crime overall (Hotton Mahony and Turner 2012) (Table 4.9).

Different regional variations emerged when examining the proportion of cleared incidents proceeding with formal charges. In particular, the proportion of violent incidents against women resulting in a charge was highest in Ontario (77%) and British Columbia (77%) and lowest in Saskatchewan (57%), Prince Edward Island (57%) and Northwest Territories (51%).Note 6

Charges more frequently laid in violent incidents involving spouses and dating partners

The possibility of police solving or clearing an incident of violence against women differed depending on the woman's relationship to the accused. Clearance rates were generally highest when the offender was known to the women, such as a spouse (90%), dating partner (86%) or non-spousal family member (82%). By contrast, stranger-perpetrated violence had the lowest police clearance rates, with less than half (47%) of incidents being solved by police. This pattern is not unexpected given that identifying and apprehending accused persons are generally more difficult when incidents involve someone unknown to the victim.

Once the crime had been solved, the relationship between the victim and the accused also had an impact on whether charges were laid. Spousal and dating violence against women were most likely to result in criminal charges (84% and 83%), while violence perpetrated by non-spousal family members, friends, and casual acquaintances were least likely to proceed with charges (51%, 51% and 52%) (Chart 4.5). It has been suggested that the higher rate of criminal charges for incidents of intimate partner violence may be due to greater levels of injuries and physical assault associated with violence against intimate partners, combined with the existence of pro-charging policies (Sinha 2012).

Chart 4.5
Proportion of cleared incidents of violence against women resulting in a charge, by accused-victim relationship, Canada, 2011

Description for Chart 4.5

Chart 4.5 Proportion  of cleared incidents of violence against women resulting in a charge, by accused-victim  relationship, Canada, 2011

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

Another notable finding was the relatively higher rate of charging for stranger-perpetrator violence. Although this type of violence against women had the lowest clearance rates, it had the third highest rate of charging at 73% of cleared incidents.

Rate of charging higher for the most severe forms of violence against women

Clearance rates and rates of charging tend to be higher with more severe forms of violence against women. For instance, police solved 85% of incidents involving injury to the female victim, compared to 72% of incidents with no injury.

Among solved crimes, formal charges were pursued in 96% of incidents resulting in major physical injuries to the woman, 80% resulting in minor injuries and 63% with no injuries. Similarly, incidents where a weapon was used against the woman were more likely to result in charges than those incidents with no weapon present (84% versus 69%).

Another factor strongly linked to clearance rates is the type of offence (Hotton Mahony and Turner 2012). Certain offences against women are unlikely to be cleared by either a charge or other means. For instance, 44% of all sexual offences against women and 61% of robberies were unsolved in 2011, meaning that an accused was either not identified or there was insufficient evidence to lay a charge.

The type of offence also impacted whether charges were laid or recommended. In 2011, 83% of solved homicides of women resulted in a formal charge, 94% of solved attempted murders, 98% of level 3 aggravated assaults, and 86% of level 2 assaults with a weapon or causing bodily harm. Less commonly resulting in charges were uttering threats (61%), criminal harassment (60%), and indecent phone calls (17%).

Violent incidents against women more often result in charges than those against men

Violent incidents involving female victims were more likely than those with male victims to be solved and to proceed with formal charges. For instance, 71% of cleared incidents against women resulted in a charge, compared to 63% of incidents against men. These gender differences partly reflect differences in characteristics of violent crimes against women and men, including variations in the types of perpetrators (known perpetrators versus stranger-perpetrated violence) and the severity of the violent crime (e.g., frequency of injury).

Court response to violence against women

Following the laying of a charge, those accused of violent crimes proceed to either provincial court or superior court, depending on the severity of the offence (summary or indictable offence) (Justice Canada 2005). In addition to these traditional criminal courts, perpetrators accused of intimate partner violence can appear in one of the more than 50 dedicated domestic violence courts operating in almost every province and territory. These courts were created to address the unique characteristics of violence within the family and to remedy some of the challenges especially posed by reluctant victims and witnesses in cases of family violence (Johnson 2006). Often times, these courts are reserved for offences that are less serious in nature.

The specific models of specialized domestic violence courts differ between jurisdictions, yet the primary objectives are to:  

  • provide mechanisms designed to respond to the unique nature of family violence;
  • facilitate early intervention and prosecution of violence directed at family members;
  • provide appropriate support to victims; and,
  • increase offender accountability (Public Health Agency of Canada 2009).

An examination of conviction rates and sentencing patterns in cases of violence against women appearing in traditional criminal courts or dedicated domestic violence courts is difficult, since criminal courts do not routinely collect information on the sex of the victim. In particular, Statistics Canada's Integrated Criminal Court Survey (ICCS) receives data on the characteristics of those accused of violent crimes, including their sex and age, and does not receive any information on victims.Note 7 As a result, it is not possible to look at court processing and decisions specific to violence against women.

Treatment programs for abusive men

In some cases, participating in a treatment program is a component of sentencing for those convicted of violence against an intimate partner. A listing of these court-ordered programs for men who behave abusively, as well as community-based treatment programs, had been maintained since 1984 by Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. Based on these records, the number of treatment programs for violent men generally increased from 1984 to 1998, remained steady from 1998 to 2004, and have recently decreased (Chart 4.6).

Chart 4.6
Number of treatment programs for violent men, Canada, 1984 to 2008

Description for Chart 4.6

Chart 4.6 Number  of treatment programs for violent men, Canada, 1984 to 2008

Source: Health Canada, Canada's Treatment Programs for Men Who Abuse Their Partners, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2002, and 2004. Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada's Treatment Programs for Men Who Abuse Their Partners, 2008.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (2008), there were 165 treatment programs for abusive men in 2006, similar to the number in 1997. These figures are likely an underestimation, since they do not include many federal, provincial, and territorial correctional-based services.

Shelters for abused women

Outside the formal criminal justice system, there are a range of services for victims of violence against women. One such measure is the system of shelters for abused women, which provide residential services and other forms of support to women and their children leaving violent situations. Currently, shelters exist in every province and territory and provide services to women and child victims of various types of abuse. Shelters are intended to offer abused women and their children a temporary and safe place to live.

Drawing on data from the Transition Home Survey (THS), a biennial administrative survey of residential facilities in Canada that offer services for abused women seeking shelter, it is possible to examine trends and characteristics of clients served, including services for Aboriginal people.

Increase in the number of shelters for abused women

The number of shelters available for abused women has consistently increased over time. In 2010, 593 shelters were in operation across Canada, an increase of 4% since 2008 and 17% since 2000 (Chart 4.7). All provinces and territories providing data recorded either increases or no changes in the number of residential services in operation since 2008, with Nova Scotia reporting the greatest increase (13%) (Table 4.10).

Chart 4.7
Number of shelters for abused women, Canada, 1975 to 2010

Description for Chart 4.7

Chart 4.7 Number  of shelters for abused women, Canada, 1975 to 2010

Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Transition Home Survey.

The types of shelters that have increased over the previous decade have relied less on funding from provincial and territorial government sources and more from municipal governments, charitable donations and user fees (Burczycka and Cotter 2011). Reflecting the growth in the number of shelters, particularly high-capacity facilities, the number of beds available to clients has also increased. In particular, there was a 7% increase in bed availability between 2008 and 2010.

Admissions to shelters remain steady

The number of women using shelters has remained relatively stable in recent years. In 2009/2010, there were 64,500 women admitted to shelters across Canada or a rate of 452 admissions per 100,000 women. This was a 2% increase in the rate from 2007/2008. Rates tended to be highest in the west and the territories and lowest in the eastern provinces.

In most shelters, women with parental responsibilities can also be admitted with their children. In 2009/2010, 39,208 children were admitted with their mother or another caregiver, such as a grandmother.

Most women seeking shelter were escaping abuse

On the snapshot day of April 15th, 2010, there were 4,645 women residing in shelters. Most of these women were escaping abuse (71%). Other motivations for seeking shelters included an inability to locate affordable housing (30%), a desire to protect children from suffering from or witnessing abuse (24%), mental health issues (23%) and alcohol and drug abuse (19%).Note 8

Despite the increase in the number of shelters and bed availability, findings from the Transition Home Survey indicate that 426 women were turned away from residential facilities on the snapshot day. Half of these women were turned away because the shelter was full, while the remainder were turned away because of mental health issues, use of substances or other problems. In some cases, the client may be referred to another shelter or other type of victim service.

Most shelters provide culturally sensitive programming for Aboriginal women

Among the 593 shelters for abused women, 7% (39) were located on reserves and 25% (146) served people living on reserves. Alberta and Nova Scotia had the highest proportion of shelters on reserves (18% and 17%, respectively), while Manitoba had the highest share of shelters serving clients residing on reserves (48%).

In addition, most shelters reported that they offered some types of culturally sensitive programming for Aboriginal women, including traditional health methods, involvement of spiritual elders and access to materials in Aboriginal languages. In particular, 79% of shelters serving on-reserve populations and 59% not serving on-reserve populations provided Aboriginal culturally sensitive services.

Other victim services

In addition to shelter services, there are a range of other victim services available to women. These include police-based victim assistance programs, court-based services, community-based agencies, sexual assault centres and criminal injury compensation programs. According to the Victims Services Survey (VSS), an administrative survey of victim service providers, there were 911 victim programs in 2009/2010 throughout Canada offering services to both women and men.

Women represented the majority of victims assisted by these victim services. In particular, three-quarters of clients served between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010 were female.Note 9 Most women sought help to deal with a violent crime (86%), greater than the proportion of men (69%). Among female clients who were victims of violent crime, 35% were seeking help to deal with a sexual-based crime, 60% for other non-lethal violence, and 5% to cope with the loss of a loved one due to a violent crime (Table 4.11). Female clients who were victims of violent crime were also more than twice as likely as male clients to report that an intimate partner was the violent perpetrator (54% versus 24%).

Almost two-thirds of compensation applications were filed by women

Criminal injuries compensation programs are designed to provide monetary compensation to victims of crime to assist in financial hardships resulting from victimization. In 2009/2010, women represented the majority of applicants for criminal injury compensation (64%). Women who received assistance from a compensation or benefit program were most likely to request services in relation to a physical assault (44%) or a sexual assault (28%). In comparison, the proportion of men seeking compensation for a physical assault was 61% and for sexual assault was 11%.

Summary

The criminal justice response to violence against women has shifted over the previous thirty years. Despite these shifts, many women who self-report victimization still do not seek support from the criminal justice system, as evidenced by the recent decrease in reporting spousal violence to police and the stability in rates of reporting for non-spousal violence. Women are more likely to turn to informal sources of support, such as family and friends, according to victimization data.

When violence against women reaches the attention of police, it is most likely to result in criminal charges. Based on police-reported data, this was particularly the case when the violence involved an intimate partner, physical injury or a weapon.

Outside the criminal justice system, a range of services are available to women victimized by their spouse or other perpetrator. While the number of women accessing shelter services has been relatively stable in recent years, the demand for these services is still evident, as some women are turned away from shelters due to full capacity. Women also continue to be more likely than men to turn to formal social services, often seeking help to cope with intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

Detailed data tables

Table 4.1 Percentage of spousal violence victims whose victimization came to the attention of police, by sex of victim and incident characteristics, Canada, 2009

Table 4.2 Percentage of spousal violence victims whose victimization came to the attention of police, by sex of victim and other victim characteristics, Canada, 2009

Table 4.3 Percentage of non-spousal violence victims whose victimization came to the attention of police, by sex of the victim and other victim characteristics, Canada, 2009

Table 4.4 Reasons for reporting spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Table 4.5 Reasons for reporting non-spousal violence to police, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Table 4.6 Spousal violence victim's account of police-related involvement, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Table 4.7 Non-spousal violence victim's account of police-related involvement, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Table 4.8 Types of social services used by spousal violence victims, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009

Table 4.9 Clearance status of police-reported violent incidents against women, by province and territory, 2011

Table 4.10 Number of shelters for abused women, beds and admissions of women, by province and territory, 2010

Table 4.11 Clients served by victim service providers, by sex of victim and type of violent crime, Canada, May 27, 2010

References

Burczycka, M. and A. Cotter. 2011. "Shelters for abused women in Canada, 2010." Juristat. Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-002.

Hotton Mahony, T. and J. Turner. 2012. "Police-reported clearance rates in Canada, 2010." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002.

Johnson, H. and M. Dawson. 2011. Violence Against Women in Canada: Research and Policy Perspectives. Don Mills, ON. Oxford University Press.

Johnson, H. and T. Hotton. 2001. "Spousal violence." in C. Trainor and K. Mihorean (eds.) Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224.

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Ouimet M. and P.P. Paré. 2003. "Modéliser la performance : comment analyser les statistiques policières d'élucidation et d'accusation." Revue Internationale de Criminologie et de Police Technique et Scientifique. Vol. 56. p. 23-42.

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Notes

E use with caution

  1. Refers to spousal violence in the previous five-year period.
  2. Difference in proportions is not statistically significant.
  3. Includes forced or attempted sexual assault by being threatened, held down or hurt in some way.
  4. Due to sample size, it was not possible to look at specific visible minorities or details on immigrants, such as the period of arrival.
  5. Clearance rates are sensitive to the severity and distribution of crime in a particular jurisdiction (Hotton Mahony and Turner 2012). Provinces and territories with a higher share of "easier to solve crimes", such as offences involving known acquaintances and family members will have higher clearance rates, compared to those provinces and territories with a lower proportion of these types of offences (Paré et al. 2007, Ouimet and Paré 2003).
  6. In cases of domestic violence, every Canadian jurisdiction has implemented some form of pro-charging policies. The particular parameters of these pro-charging policies can vary regionally.
  7. Victim information is not entered into or maintained in the court information systems, and therefore, victim data are not captured within the ICCS.
  8. The total does not add to 100% due to multiple responses.
  9. Based on victims where the sex was known. The sex of 38% of victims was not reported.
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