Section 2: Police-reported family violence in Canada – An overview
by Marta Burczycka
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Family violence has wide-ranging impacts on the victim, the broader family unit, and society as a whole. Long term effects on individuals include increased risk of chronic illness, alcohol and drug use, job loss leading to economic vulnerability and social isolation (Department of Justice Canada n.d.; World Health Organization 2002). The Government of Canada, through the Family Violence Initiative, works to prevent, monitor and respond to the consequences of family violence in Canada (Family Violence Initiative 2010).
In the context of this section, ‘family’ refers to relationships defined through blood, marriage, common-law partnership, foster care, or adoption, and ‘family violence’ refers to violent Criminal Code offences that come to the attention of police, where the perpetrator is a family member of the victim. Although this definition of family violence does not include dating relationships, analysis of violence within dating relationships is presented in the section of this report titled “Police-reported intimate partner violence”. Current theories among family violence researchers situates dating and spousal violence within the broader spheres of intimate partner and family violence, irrespective of the living arrangements or formal relationship status of the victim and accused (Public Health Agency of Canada 2016).
Using police-reported data for 2015 from the Uniform Crime Reporting and Homicide surveys, this section presents an overview of key national and provincial findings on the nature and prevalence of police-reported family violence in Canada, including types of offences associated with family violence, the relationship between the victims and the accused, as well as some socio-demographic risk factors for family violence. Highlights in this section provide a general overview of family violence, as well as key findings related to specific victim characteristics that are examined in more detail later in this report.
This section covers all types of violent Criminal Code offences which came to the attention of police, ranging from uttering threats to physical and sexual violence to homicide. Non-violent crimes such as theft and fraud, all types of abuse which were not substantiated by police, as well as conduct which is not covered by the Criminal Code are not included in this section. Additionally, analysis based on Homicide Survey data excludes homicides which have not been solved by police. Although providing important contextual information on incidents of family violence which comes to the attention of police, this section may underestimate the true extent of family violence in Canada. For example, self-reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey show that 70% of victims of spousal violence and 93% of victims of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse never spoke to police about their experiences (Burczycka 2016; see also Section 1 of this report).
Unless otherwise specified, all rates shown in this section are per 100,000 population. Definitions and information on data sources and survey methodology can be found in the ‘Survey description’ section at the end of this publication.
Females twice as likely as males to be victims of police-reported family violence
- In 2015, there were over 86,000 victims of violence committed by a spouse, parent, child, sibling or other family member in Canada, representing over one-quarter (26%) of all victims of police-reported violent crime (Table 2.1).
- Just under half (47%) of victims of police-reported family violence were victimized by a spouse or an ex-spouse, while nearly one in five were victimized by a parent (17%). Females represented 79% of spousal violence victims and 56% of victims of parental violence (Table 2.1).
- Similar to previous years, close to seven out of ten victims of family violence reported to police in 2015 were young girls or women (67%). One-third (33%) of all female victims of police-reported violent crime had been victimized by a family member, a proportion almost double that of male victims (18%). Meanwhile, males were proportionally more likely than females to have been victimized by someone outside the family (82% versus 67%) (Table 2.1).
- Female victims of family violence were more likely to have been victimized by a spouse than male victims (55% versus 30%). Male victims were more likely to have been victimized by a parent (23% versus 15% among females) or an extended family member (19% versus 12%) (Table 2.1).
- In 2015, the rate of police-reported family violence against females was double that of males (325 per 100,000 versus 160). For women, those aged 30 to 34 recorded the highest rates of family violence (576 per 100,000), while men aged 15 to 19 years had the highest rates (228) (Table 2.2).
Nearly three-quarters of victims of police-reported family violence were physically assaulted
- Physical assault was the most common form of police-reported family violence in 2015 (73%). Among family-related physical assault victims, four out of five experienced common (level 1) assault (80%). Major (levels 2 and 3) assaults were experienced by 19% of family-related physical assault victims, and were more prevalent among males (25%, compared to 16% of female family-related physical assault victims) (Table 2.3).
- In 2015, sexual offencesNote 1 and criminal harassment were more than twice as common among female victims of police-reported family violence as male victims (10% versus 4% and 5% versus 2%, respectively). Equal proportions of male and female victims of police-reported family violence suffered violations causing deathNote 2 and attempted murder (0.2% of victims of both sexes for these violations) (Table 2.3).
- According to police-reported data for 2015, the proportion of incidents involving victims of family violence that were not clearedNote 3 by police (17%) was almost half that of incidents of non-family violence that went uncleared (32%). Compared to male victims, incidents involving female victims were more likely to be cleared by charge in instances of family violence (61% among females versus 46% among males) and in incidents not involving family violence (52% versus 43%) (Table 2.4).
- The rate of police-reported family violence declined by 18% between 2010 and 2015, marking the 6th consecutive year of decline. This was a slightly lesser decrease than the 22% drop in the rate of non-family violence reported by police over this same time period. In 2015, the rate of police-reported family violence against females continued to be twice as high as among males, and the decrease in the rate since 2010 was considerably smaller among males (-12%) than among females (-21%) (Table 2.5).
Saskatchewan reports the highest rate of family violence among the provinces
- Overall, Canada’s 2015 police-reported rate of family violence was almost unchanged from the previous year (-0.8%). Among the provinces and territories, increases were reported in Manitoba (+4%), the Northwest Territories (+3%), and Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and British Columbia (+2% each). Yukon recorded a 17% decrease in the rate of police-reported family violence between 2014 and 2015, while the rate in Nova Scotia declined by 11% (Table 2.6).
- As with police-reported crime overall (Allen 2016), the territories had the highest rates of police-reported family violence in Canada in 2015. Specifically, Nunavut (2,504 per 100,000 population) recorded the highest rate of family violence, followed by the Northwest Territories (1,938) and Yukon (731) (Table 2.6).
- As in the previous year, in 2015 the provinces with the highest rate of police-reported family violence were Saskatchewan (480 per 100,000 population) and Manitoba (374). Meanwhile, as in 2014, the lowest rates in 2015 were recorded in Ontario (150) and Prince Edward Island (154). Of note, the distribution of highest and lowest rates of family violence among the provinces loosely mirrored the provincial distribution of crime rates in general (Allen 2016) (Table 2.6).
- Looking specifically at police-reported family-related physical and sexual assault, rates declined in most provinces and territories between 2014 and 2015. The largest decline was recorded in Yukon (-17%), followed by Nunavut and Nova Scotia (-8% each). Meanwhile, the largest increases in the rate of family-related physical and sexual assault were reported in the Northwest Territories (+5%), Manitoba (+4%) and Newfoundland and Labrador (+4%) (Table 2.7).
- Canadians living in census metropolitan areas (CMAs) were generally at lower risk of police-reported family violence (199 victims per 100,000 population) than those living outside CMAs (333). In 2015, Saguenay recorded the highest rate among CMAs (348), followed by Trois-Rivières and Gatineau (336 each). The lowest rates among the CMAs were reported in Ottawa (85), Guelph (105) and Peterborough (117) (Table 2.8).
Rate of family-related homicide down by half since 1985
- Between 2010 and 2015, the rate of family-related violations causing death, attempted murder, and physical and sexual assault declined by 14% to a rate of 190 victims per 100,000, according to police-reported data. While the largest decrease was in sexual assault by a family member (-20%), police-reported spousal sexual assault increased by 4% while sexual assault by family members other than spouses declined by 24% (Table 2.9).
- In 2015, police reported a total of 163 family-related homicides in Canada, translating into a rate of 4.5 victims per 1 million population. The rate of family-related homicide has decreased by 49% since 1985, in line with the overall decrease in the Canadian homicide rate over the same time period (-44%) (Mulligan 2016) (Table 2.10).
- Family-related homicide rates have declined by about one-half for both males and females since 1985. However, as has been the case historically, in 2015 women remained at a higher risk of family-related homicide relative to men (5.3 female victims per 1 million population versus 3.8 male victims) (Table 2.10).
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Detailed data tables
Table 2.1 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2015
Table 2.2 Victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and age group of victim, Canada, 2015
Table 2.3 Victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of offence, Canada, 2015
Table 2.4 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim and type of clearance status, Canada, 2015
Table 2.5 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2009 to 2015
Table 2.6 Victims of police-reported family violence, by province or territory, 2014 and 2015
Table 2.7 Victims of police-reported family violence, by physical and sexual assault and province or territory, 2015
Table 2.8 Victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2015
Table 2.9 Victims of police-reported family violence for selected violent offences, by relationship of accused to victim and type of offence, Canada, 2009 to 2015
Table 2.10 Victims of family-related homicide, by sex of victim, Canada, 1985 to 2015
Allen, M. 2016. “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2015.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
Burczycka, M. 2016. “Trends in self-reported spousal violence, 2014.” In Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2014. Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
Department of Justice Canada. n.d. “About family violence.” Family Violence. Last updated February 5, 2013. (accessed December 10, 2015).
Family Violence Initiative. 2010. Family Violence Initiative Performance Report for April 2004 to March 2008. National Clearinghouse on Family Violence. Public Health Agency of Canada. (accessed November 19, 2015).
Mulligan, L. 2016. “Homicide in Canada, 2015.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
Public Health Agency of Canada. 2016. A Focus on Family Violence in Canada: The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2016. Public Health Agency of Canada Catalogue no. HP2-1DE-PDF.
World Health Organization. 2002. World Report on Violence and Health: Summary. World Health Organization. Geneva, Switzerland. (accessed November 19, 2015).