Section 2: Intimate partner violence

by Pascale Beaupré

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Spousal violence, or more generally violence between intimate partners (see Text box 2.1), has serious physical, emotional, social and economic consequences for victims, their family and society, making this phenomenon a major public health issue (World Health Organization, 2013). Intimate partner violence often occurs as physical violence. However, there are many other forms of violence or abuse, including emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and financial abuse. Intimate partner violence also has a criminal component, as it can involve criminal offences such as assault, uttering threats or harassment, and can even lead to homicide.

The crime statistics presented in this section concern acts of intimate partner violence that are brought to the attention of police services in Canada. Intimate partner violence refers to violence against current or former spouses or dating partners, whether or not the individuals live together or have children.

Spousal violence and dating violence share various characteristics, including some degree of an emotional attachment between the partners (Donnelly and Burgess 2008) and the possible recurring nature of the violence (Cui and Gordon 2013). In addition, research has shown that the consequences of spousal violence and dating partner violence can be similar. For example, studies have shown that the consequences of dating partner violence can include drug and alcohol use and the risk of depression (National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 2014; Adam et al. 2011).

The analysis in this section covers forms of intimate partner violence that constitute a crime under the Criminal Code and have been reported to and substantiated by police. These include physical assault, criminal harassment, uttering threats, robbery, sexual assault, homicide, attempted murder, kidnapping and forcible confinement, and, since 2008, indecent or harassing telephone calls and intimidation offences. The following analysis does not include incidents that were not reported to the police,Note 1 or cases of emotional abuse and financial abuse that do not reach the criminal threshold.Note 2

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Text box 2.1
Definitions

Spousal violence: Violence committed against a spouse (married or common-law) or an ex-spouse (from a marriage or common-law relationship). This category includes victims aged 15 to 89.

Dating violence: Violence committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend (current or former), or by a person with whom the victim had a sexual relationship or a mutual sexual attraction, but who was not considered the victim's boyfriend or girlfriend. This category includes victims aged 15 to 89.

Intimate partner violence: Violence committed by spouses and dating partners, that is violence committed within an intimate relationship. This category includes victims aged 15 to 89.

Non-intimate partner violence: Violence committed by a family member (parent, child, other immediate or extended family member), a friend, an acquaintance, an associate (in business or in a criminal relationship), an authority figure, a neighbour or a stranger. Includes victims under 90 years of age.

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The majority of police-reported victims of intimate partner violence are victimized by a current partner

In 2013, approximately 336,000 persons aged 15 to 89 were victims of a police-reported violent crime. Among these, more than one quarter (27%) had been victimized by an intimate partner (Table 2.1). Of all victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, 53% were victims of dating violence, while 47% were victims of spousal violence.

The end of a relationship does not necessarily mean an end to the threat of violence. In some cases, the violence can intensify or even begin following a breakup (Johnson 2006). One third (33%) of victims of intimate partner violence were victimized by a former spouse or dating partner. Violence after a break-up was more common among ex-dating partners (20%) than among ex-spouses (13%), a tendency that was true for both men and women.

Two thirds (nearly 61,000) of victims of intimate partner violence were victimized by a current intimate partner. Police-reported data show that, in 2013, married and common-law spouses were as likely as dating partners to experience intimate partner violence (34% versus 33%).

Most victims of intimate partner violence are female

As is the case for violence against children and seniors, the majority of victims of police-reported intimate partner violence are female. In 2013, women accounted for nearly 80% of victims of police-reported intimate partner violence (Table 2.1).Note 3

In 2013, 175,000 victims of police-reported violent crime were women, accounting for just over half (52%) of all victims of violent crime.

About four in ten female victims (41%) were victimized by an intimate partner, a proportion which was 3.5 times higher than for men (12%). In contrast, men were more frequently victimized by a friend or acquaintance (40%), or a stranger (36%).

Individuals in their early twenties are at greatest risk of intimate partner victimization

As with violent crimes in general, young adults have the highest rate of intimate partner victimization. The risk of intimate partner victimization lessens as age increases (Chart 2.1).

Description for chart 2.1

The highest rate of police-reported intimate partner violence in 2013 was for victims aged 20 to 24 years (653.7 per 100,000 population), followed closely by victims aged 25 to 29 years (636.1 per 100,000). Those aged 30 to 34 years (569.6 per 100,000) and 35 to 39 years (485.7 per 100,000) had the next highest rates, while the rate for persons aged 15 to 19 years was similar to that for victims in their early forties (398.7 per 100,000 and 403.0 per 100,000, respectively).

Four in ten victims of intimate partner violence aged 30 to 54 are victimized by a dating partner

Most police-reported intimate partner violence among adults under the age of 25 occurs between dating partners (Chart 2.2). Among victims of intimate partner violence aged 15 to 19, slightly more than 80% had been victimized by a dating partner. The proportion of those victimized by a dating partner declined as the victims’ age increased, falling from 70% for the 20 to 24 age group to 57% for the 25 to 29 age group.

In contrast, the majority of intimate partner victims aged 30 and older were victimized by a spouse. This likely reflects the increase in the proportion of married and common-law spouses, and the decrease in the proportion of dating partners over time. Women and men in their thirties, for example, are more likely than those in their twenties to be married or living in a common law relationship (Milan, 2013). While dating violence as a proportion of intimate partner violence decreased with age, it still accounted for 40% of intimate partner victimization for those aged 30 to 54 years.

Description for chart 2.2

The dating relationships of teenagers and young adults tend to be, on average, less stable than those of older persons (Carver et al. 2003). However, this does not mean that youth and young adults are less vulnerable to violence when the dating relationship ends. Police-reported data for 2013 show that nearly one third (30%) of youth aged 15 to 19 years who experienced intimate partner violence had been victimized by a former dating partner (Table 2.2). In addition, one quarter (25%) of victims aged 20 to 24 years were victimized by a former dating partner.

Women aged 15 to 24 have considerably higher rates of intimate partner victimization than their male counterparts

Intimate partner violence is most likely to occur when individuals are in their twenties and thirties, for both women and men. Regardless of age, the rate of intimate partner victimization was higher for female victims than for male victims (Chart 2.3). The rate of police-reported intimate partner violence peaked for women aged 20 to 24 years, with a rate 6 times higher than that for men in the same age group (1,127.7 victims per 100,000 women compared to 197.3 victims per 100,000 men). The rate of intimate partner violence against women decreased with age thereafter, but remained 2 to 3 times higher than that for men.

Description for chart 2.3

More than 3 in 4 victims of intimate partner violence are physically assaulted

As in previous years, physical assault was, by far, the most frequent type of police-reported offence committed against victims of intimate partner violence. In 2013, 76% of victims of intimate partner violence were physically assaulted, with 62% being victims of common assault, the least serious assault category (Table 2.3)Note 4. This was followed by major assaultNote 5 (14%), threats (8%) and criminal harassment (7%). The distribution of offences was similar for both dating and spousal relationships. More specifically, 78% of victims of spousal violence and 75% of victims of dating violence were victims of assault.

Police-reported data indicate that the four most frequently committed offences against victims of intimate partner violence were the same regardless of sex: common assault, major assault, uttering threats and criminal harassment. A higher proportion of male victims than female victims were physically assaulted (85% versus 74%). Two thirds of male victims of intimate partner violence (65%) had experienced common assault and a further 20% were victims of major assault. This may be related to the fact that intimate partner violence against male victims more often involves the presence of a weapon (22% compared with 11% for female victims). In contrast, a higher proportion of female victims were threatened (9% versus 6%), and the proportion of victims of intimate partner violence who were criminally harassed was twice has high for female victims than for male victims (8% versus 4%) in 2013.

In general, police-reported sexual offences are committed more often against women. This is particularly the case with sexual offences against an intimate partner. The vast majority of victims of police-reported intimate partner sexual offences (98%) were female. This was also true for “other violent crimes” (94%), such as forcible confinement and kidnapping.

Physical assaults are more often committed by a current partner, while intimidation offences are more often perpetrated by a former partner

The type of offence committed against an intimate partner differs depending on whether the relationship is an existing or former one. Police-reported data for 2013 show that, among individuals victimized by their current spouse or dating partner, nearly 9 in 10 were physically assaulted. In contrast, half of those victimized by a former spouse or partner were physically assaulted (Chart 2.4).

Description for chart 2.4

In 2013, 73% of individuals victimized by a current intimate partner were victims of common assault, compared with 42% of those victimized by a former intimate partner. With regard to major assault, the proportion of those victimized by a current partner (16%) was nearly double that of those victimized by an ex-partner (9%).

Intimidation offences were more common among ex-partners than current ones. Police-reported data show that 42% of victims of a former intimate partner had experienced threats, criminal harassment, or harassing or indecent phone calls, 8 times the proportion for current intimate partners (5%).

Moreover, of all intimidation offences committed against intimate partners, the vast majority involved an ex-partner. Specifically, more than 90% of offences involving criminal harassment and harassing or indecent phone calls were committed after a separation.

More than two thirds of intimate partner violence incidents involve the threat of physical force

When considering the most serious weapon present during a violent offence, it is important to note that according to police-reported data any type of weapon or threat of force is considered to be a weapon, as such both physical force and verbal threats and/or gestures causing injury would be considered as weapons. In the majority of intimate partner incidents (71%), the threat of physical force was present while a firearm was present in 5% of incidents (Table 2.4). No weapon or physical force was involved in 16% of intimate partner violence incidents.

The proportion of intimate partner violence incidents involving a weapon increases with the age of the victim. In 2013, a weapon was present in 19% of incidents of spousal violence involving victims aged 65 and older, compared with 12% of incidents involving victims aged 15 to 19 (data not shown). The same pattern applies to victims of dating violence: a weapon was present in 15% of incidents of dating violence involving victims aged 65 and older, compared with 11% of those aged 15 to 19 (data not shown).

In 2013, male victims of police-reported intimate partner violence were somewhat more likely than female victims to be injured (56% versus 52%), similar to findings from 2012 (data not shown). This may be related to the fact that a weapon was more often involved when the victim was male (proportions given above). Previous studies have shown that women are more likely to use a weapon because of differences in physical strength that may exist between them and their male partners (Busch and Rosenburg 2004).

Charges are laid or recommended against the accused in more than 7 in 10 incidents of intimate partner violence

In 2013, 71% of police-reported intimate partner violence incidents resulted in criminal charges being laid or recommended against the accused (Table 2.5). This proportion was almost double the proportion of non-intimate partner violence (40%) (data not shown).Note 6 Among incidents of intimate partner violence, 15% were cleared by means other than a charge.Note 7 An incident may be cleared through other means if the complainant requested that charges not be laid, for reasons beyond the control of the police service, or through departmental discretion. According to police-reported data, the proportion of incidents cleared through other means in 2013 was slightly higher for spousal violence incidents than for incidents of dating violence (18% versus 13%). The remaining 13% of incidents of intimate partner violence that came to the attention of the police were not cleared.

Overall, charges were laid or recommended against the accused more often when the victim of intimate partner violence was female than when the victim was male (74% versus 61% - data not shown). There was virtually no difference from previous years in the proportion of spousal and dating violence incidents that resulted in charges being laid against the accused (72% in 2012 and 71% in 2013).

Saskatchewan recorded the highest rate of intimate partner violence among the provinces in 2013

The regional variations in intimate partner violence generally mirror those of overall violent crimes.

In 2013, seven provinces recorded a rate of intimate partner violence that was above the national rate of 310.3 victims per 100,000 population (Chart 2.5; Table 2.6). Saskatchewan (635.0 victims per 100,000 population) recorded the highest rate, at more than twice the national rate. Manitoba and Alberta had the next highest rates. In 2013, Ontario and Prince Edward Island had the lowest rates of police-reported intimate partner violence; both recorded rates below 300 victims per 100,000 population.

Generally, police-reported rates of intimate partner violence tend to be higher in the territories than in the provinces. The rate in Nunavut was approximately 6 times higher than in Saskatchewan, the province with the highest rate. The rates recorded in the Northwest Territories and Yukon were 2,103.5 victims and 1,247.0 victims per 100,000 population, respectively.

The regional differences noted in intimate partner violence may be related to a number of factors, including the population’s demographic profile, its socio-economic characteristics, the implementation of prevention programs to reduce individuals’ vulnerability, and the availability and extent of resources to assist victims and perpetrators (Sinha, 2013).

Description for chart 2.5

The intimate partner homicide rate for women peaks in the mid-twenties

Between 2003 and 2013, police services reported 960 homicides committed against intimate partners (Chart 2.6). Of these, 747 were committed against a female victim, representing more than three quarters of homicides against an intimate partner.

From 2003 to 2013, rates of intimate partner homicides against women were highest for victims aged 20 to 44, ranging from 6 to 8 victims per million population. The rate of intimate partner homicides for female victims was at its highest for those in their mid-twenties, with a rate of 7.68 victims per million population for this age group (Chart 2.3).

Description for chart 2.6

Generally, homicides more often involve married than common-law partners

Of intimate partner  homicides occurring between 2003 and 2013, three quarters (76%) were committed by a legally married or common-law spouse (from a current or former union)Note 8 (Table 2.7). The accused person was a dating partner (current or former) in 22% of homicides committed against an intimate partner. During this period, the vast majority (77%) of intimate partner homicides involved current intimate partners at the time of the incident.

Since 2003, there have been variations in the proportions of spousal homicides that were committed by a married spouse or a common-law partner (current or former). In some years, homicides against legally married spouses were more frequent, whereas in the other years, those against common-law partners were more frequent. In 2003, nearly 70% of spousal homicides were committed by a married spouse (from a current or former union). By contrast, in 2013, spousal homicides were fairly evenly distributed between married and common-law spouses (current or former): 49% were committed by a married spouse while 51% were committed by a common-law spouse. Most people in couples are married spouses, but the share has dropped over time. In 2011, four-fifths (80%) of individuals in couples were married spouses and the remaining one-fifth (20%) were common-law partners (Statistics Canada, 2012). A decade earlier, 84% of people in couples were married spouses while 16% were common-law partners.

The escalation of an argument is the most common motive for intimate partner homicide

While the Homicide Survey collects information on the reported “apparent” motive for the homicide, it is important to note that the “apparent” motive reflects the perceived reason for the violence by the accused and it should not be interpreted as causality. Data reported by police between 2003 and 2013 indicate that, among intimate partner homicides, the most frequently reported motive was the escalation of an argument or quarrel (nearly 40%). A feeling of frustration, anger or despair (26%) was the second most common reported motive, followed by jealousy (20%).

There was little difference in the reported motives for homicides against spouses (legally married and common-law) and those against dating partners.

Intimate partner homicide stable in recent years

Similar to homicide rates overall in Canada,Note 9 intimate partner homicides decreased from 1993 to 2007 (Chart 2.7). In 2008, the rate of intimate partner homicides increased slightly to 3.22, and held steady at 3.1 victims per million population for the following three years. Since 2012, these rates have been below 3 victims per million population. There were approximately 2.31 intimate partner homicides per million population in 2013, half the rate recorded 20 years earlier (in 1993, there were 5.18 intimate partner homicides per million population).

Intimate partner homicide rates were higher for female than male victims across all age groups. In 2013, the rate of homicides involving a female intimate partner was 3.74 per million population, 4.5 times higher than the rate for those against a male intimate partner. Over the past 20 years, the rate of homicides committed against female intimate partners has fallen by almost half, dropping from 7.25 female victims per million population in 1993. For male victims of intimate partner homicide, the rate fell from 3.04 homicides per million to 0.83 per million between 1993 and 2013.

Description for chart 2.7

The decrease in common assaults between intimate partners continues in 2013

Notwithstanding slight differences, most types of offences committed by intimate partners have been relatively stable since 2009. According to police-reported data, the number of common assaults, the most frequently occurring type of offence against intimate partners, has declined in recent years.

The rate of intimate partner common assault fell by 11%Note 10 (Table 2.8) between 2009 and 2013, driven by the drop in the rate of assaults against female intimate partners. The rate declined from 344.2 female victims per 100,000 population in 2009 to 298.2 female victims per 100,000 population five years later. Rates of common assault against male intimate partners decreased slightly throughout this period (-3 %). The decrease in common assaults may reflect changes in the incidence of this type of intimate partner violence or a change in the willingness of victims to report these crimes to the police.

For both men and women, rates of major assaults against intimate partners, including aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, decreased 6% between 2009 and 2013.

Rates of police-reported sexual assaults against female intimate partners rose 17% between 2009 and 2013, mainly because of an increase in level 1 sexual assaults defined as those in which the victim sustains little or no physical injury. For male victims, the rate of level 1 sexual assaults and the rate of levels 2 and 3 sexual assaults both dropped, by 3% and 34 % respectively between 2009 and 2013.

Attempted murders of intimate partners decreased 17 % between 2009 and 2013 with declines noted for both men (-20%) and women (-16%).

Summary

Consistent with earlier findings on family violence and crime in general, violence between intimate partners was more prevalent against women, especially younger women. Dating violence accounted for 53% of police-reported incidents of intimate partner violence, while spousal violence represented 47%.

The rate of intimate partner homicides has been fairly stable in the last few years, a trend that continued in 2013. The escalation of an argument was the most common motive leading to homicide against an intimate partner.

Charges were laid or recommended against the accused in most incidents of intimate partner violence.

Detailed data tables

References

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Milan, Anne. 2013. Marital Status: Overview, 2011. Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 91-209-X.

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. 2014. “Understanding teen dating violence fact sheet.” Centers for disease control and prevention http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/teen-dating-violence-factsheet-a.pdf (consulted November 7, 2014)

Sinha, Maire. 2013. “Measuring violence against women: Statistical trends.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

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World Health Organization. 2013 (October). Factsheet N° 239. “Intimate partner and sexual violence against women” http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/(consulted November 19, 2014).

Notes

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