Section 5: Police-reported family violence against seniors
by Shana Conroy
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Abuse of seniors is defined as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person” (World Health Organization 2002). This type of abuse can take on many forms, including neglect and physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse (Public Health Agency of Canada 2016). In addition to economic difficulties and poverty, there can be serious psychological and physical implications for victims, such as anxiety, depression, isolation, stroke, heart attack, over- or under-medicating, and death (Royal Canadian Mounted Police n.d.).
According to population estimates, seniors aged 65 and older represent approximately 17% of the total Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2016) and are a demographic that is rapidly growing (Brennan 2012). In 2015, for the first time ever, the population over the age of 65 exceeded that of young people under 15 years of age. As the senior population in Canada continues to expand, the issue of senior abuse has emerged as an increasingly important issue: while an estimated 4 to 10% of seniors experience abuse, only 20% of incidents are reported to someone who is able to help (Public Health Agency of Canada n.d.). Certain challenges more common to the senior population may inhibit the ability of seniors to access the justice system and related services. These include language and cultural barriers, physical and mental conditions, transportation limitations, and inexperience with or limited access to technology (Government of Canada, n.d.-b).
Family violence against seniors, where the perpetrator is a family member or relative and there is an expected relationship of trust or dependence, can have especially serious consequences for victims (Government of Canada n.d.-a). Senior abuse is best detected by those who interact with seniors and are familiar with what is typical for any given individual. Shared living environments, either at home or in an institutional care facility, can increase the risk for senior abuse. The reliance of seniors on others for living arrangements and caregiving may create stressful conditions for family members and other care providers (Public Health Agency of Canada 2016). Family violence against seniors may go unnoticed by members of the public or police, thus increasing the isolation of victims. Further, as seniors continue to age, their activity outside the home might decrease over time and increase the likelihood that violence against seniors will remain undetected.
Using data from the 2015 Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and the 2015 Homicide Survey, this section presents information on police-reported family violence against seniors over the age of 65.Note 1 The following analysis highlights the prevalence of violent offences against seniors where the perpetrator is a family member. The information includes type of offence, relationship to the perpetrator and geographic location. Trend analysis of select police-reported violent offences against seniors is also presented to indicate changes over time.
The analysis of family violence against seniors includes all types of violent offences under the Criminal Code that were reported to police in 2015, ranging from uttering threats to physical and sexual violence to homicide. Non-violent crimes such as theft and fraud, abuses unsubstantiated by police, and other forms of conduct not covered by the Criminal Code are not included in this analysis. In addition, analysis based on the Homicide Survey excludes homicides that have not been solved by police. While this section provides important contextual information on the incidence of police-reported family violence, the true extent of offences against seniors in Canada may be underestimated since the data presented here include only incidents of violence that have come to the attention of police and that are covered by the Criminal Code.
Unless otherwise specified, all rates in this section are per 100,000 population. Information on data sources, survey methodology and definitions can be found in the ‘Survey description’ section.
Police-reported family violence against seniors most often perpetrated by an extended family member or a grown child
- In 2015, more than 9,900 seniors (65 years and older) were victims of police-reported violent crime in Canada. Of these victims, one-third (33%) were victimized by a grown child, spouse, sibling or extended family member (a rate of 60 per 100,000 population) (Table 5.1).
- Six in ten (60%) senior victims of family violence were female, with a rate 26% higher than that of male seniors (66 versus 52) (Table 5.1).
- Overall, senior victims of police-reported family violence were most likely to have been victimized by an extended family member (30%), a grown child (30%) or a spouse (28%) (Table 5.1).
- Among female senior victims of family violence, one-third (33%) were victimized by a spouse, followed by an extended family member (28%) or a grown child (27%). Among male senior victims of family violence, an extended family member (34%) and a grown child (34%) were the most common perpetrators (Table 5.1).
- More than half (55%) of police-reported family violence incidents against seniors were clearedNote 2 by the recommendation or laying of a charge against the accused. Another 30% of senior victims, incidents of family violence were cleared by other means, such as a complainant request for charges not be laid (19%). The remaining 16% of incidents of family violence were not cleared because of insufficient evidence to lay a charge in connection with the incidents (Table 5.2).
Physical assault most common form of police-reported family violence against seniors
- Common (level 1) assault was the most frequently reported form of family violence against seniors in 2015. This type of offence was experienced by more than half (55%) of seniors victimized by a family member, followed by uttering threats (19%), major assault (levels 2 and 3) (15%) and criminal harassment (4%) (Table 5.3).
- Most senior victims of police-reported family violence were victimized with physical force such as pushing or hitting (61%) or threats (21%). A weapon was present in family violence against 18% of senior victims, against whom a knife (6%) was commonly used, while a firearm was least common (1%) (Table 5.4).
- Two out of five senior victims of police-reported family violence sustained injuries: 39% sustained minor physical injuries that required no professional medical treatment, and 3% sustained major physical injuries that required professional medical attention or that resulted in death. Most (57%) senior victims of this type of injury were female (Table 5.5).
Highest rates of police-reported family violence against seniors in the territories and prairies
- In 2015, as with family violence overall, the territories had the highest rates of police-reported family violence against seniors in Canada. Nunavut (1,933 per 100,000 population) was the territory with the highest rate of family violence against seniors, more than 30 times the national rate (60), followed by the Northwest Territories (1,158) and Yukon (175). Saskatchewan (92), Manitoba (87) and Alberta (83) were the provinces with the highest rates of family violence against seniors, while Prince Edward Island (35) and Ontario (48) had the lowest (Table 5.6).
- While provincial and territorial rates of family violence against female seniors and male seniors were generally similar, there were some exceptions. For instance, in Prince Edward Island, female seniors were three times as likely to have been a victim of family violence compared to male seniors (50 versus 17). The opposite was true in Nunavut and Yukon, where male seniors were around two times as likely to be victimized by a family member (2,471 and 238, respectively) compared to female seniors (1,370 and 106, respectively) (Table 5.6).
- Overall, the rate of family violence against seniors living in CMAs (54) was lower than for those living in non-CMAs (70) (Table 5.7).
- Of the CMAs, Abbotsford–Mission (79) and Saint John (78) had the highest rates of police-reported family violence against seniors, followed by Brantford (74) and Gatineau (72). The lowest rates were reported in Guelph (17) and Barrie (22). Several other CMAs (Ottawa, Regina, Sherbrooke, St. Catharines–Niagara, Peterborough and Greater Sudbury) had rates that were approximately half that of the national rate (Table 5.7).
- In general, the rate of family violence for female seniors compared to male seniors was higher across the CMAs; however, there were some exceptions. Eight CMAs had a higher rate of family violence against male seniors: Gatineau, Barrie, Sherbrooke, Thunder Bay, Trois-Rivières, Windsor, Calgary and Abbotsford–Mission (Table 5.7).
Nearly half of senior victims of family-related homicide killed by a grown child, one-third by a spouse
- In 2015, police-reported physical assault was the most common form of family violence against seniors (a rate of 42 per 100,000 population). For female seniors, the rate of family-related physical assault increased by 2% from 2010 to a rate of 46 in 2015, and the rate against male seniors increased by 7% from 2010 to a rate of 37 in 2015 (Table 5.8).
- In general, the rate of family-related homicide against seniors gradually decreased over the past three decades, and the rates for female and male victims decreased in a similar way. In 2015, the rate was approximately half that of 1985 (3.8 per 1 million population versus 6.8) (Table 5.9).
- According to police records from more recent years, between 2005 and 2015, there were a total of 184 senior victims of family-related homicide. Nearly half (47%) of these victims were killed by a grown child and one-third (34%) were killed by a spouse (Table 5.10).
- Over six in ten (62%) senior victims of family-related homicides between 2005 and 2015 were women. Among female victims, a spouse was most often the perpetrator (49%) compared to 9% of male victims, while among male victims, a grown child was most often the perpetrator (69%) compared to 33% of female victims (Table 5.10).
- Over the past decade, arguments or quarrels (37%) and feelings of frustration, anger or despair (33%) were the most commonly reported motives for family-related homicides against seniors. Frustration, anger or despair was more common for homicides where the victim was a female senior (39%) than a male senior (23%), while an argument or quarrel was more common where the victim was a male senior (47%) than a female senior (31%) (Table 5.11).
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Detailed data tables
Table 5.1 Senior victims of police-reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2015
Table 5.2 Senior victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of clearance status, Canada, 2015
Table 5.3 Senior victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of offence, Canada, 2015
Table 5.4 Senior victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of weapon present, Canada, 2015
Table 5.5 Senior victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and level of injury, Canada, 2015
Table 5.6 Senior victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and province or territory, 2015
Table 5.7 Senior victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2015
Table 5.8 Senior victims of police-reported family-related physical assault, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009 to 2015
Table 5.9 Senior victims of family-related homicide, by sex of victim, Canada, 1985 to 2015
Table 5.10 Senior victims of family-related homicide, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2005 to 2015
Table 5.11 Senior victims of family-related homicide, by sex of victim and type of motive, Canada, 2005 to 2015
Brennan, S. 2012. “Victimization of older Canadians, 2009.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
Government of Canada. n.d.-a. Elder Abuse: It’s Time to Face the Reality. Last updated February 6, 2015. (accessed October 17, 2016).
Government of Canada. n.d.-b. Report on the Social Isolation of Seniors. Last updated July 20, 2016. (accessed December 13, 2016).
Public Health Agency of Canada. n.d. Elder Abuse. Last updated April 10, 2012. (accessed October 13, 2016).
Public Health Agency of Canada. 2016. The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada 2016 – A Focus on Family Violence in Canada. ISSN no. 1924-7087.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police. n.d. Elder Abuse. Last updated June 12, 2012. (accessed October 13, 2016).
Statistics Canada. 2016. Table 051-0001 - Estimates of Population, by Age Group and Sex for July 1, Canada, Provinces and Territories, Annual (Persons Unless Otherwise Noted). CANSIM (database). (accessed October 12, 2016).
World Health Organization. 2002. “World report on violence and health.” Abuse of the Elderly. Chapter 5 (accessed October 13, 2016).
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