Section 2: Police-reported family violence in Canada - An overview

by Marta Burczycka

Violence that happens within a family has many adverse consequences, both immediate and long‑term. Victims of all ages experience increased risk of chronic mental and physical illness, alcohol and drug use, economic vulnerability, social isolation, and risk for further victimization, all with significant social and economic costs to Canadians and in other parts of the world (Public Health Agency of Canada 2016). Additionally, long‑established research into the so‑called “cycle of violence” suggests that many adults accused of violence against family members experienced family violence themselves, as children (Widom 1989; Murrell et al. 2007). The Government of Canada, through the Family Violence Initiative, works to prevent, monitor and respond to the consequences of family violence in Canada (Government of Canada 2016).

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—in addition to current and former spousal unions—is presented in Section 3 of this report titled “Police-reported intimate partner violence.”

Using police‑reported data for 2016 from the Incident‑based 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 the types of offences associated with family violence, the relationship between the victims and the accused, as well as some socio‑demographic factors associated with family violence. Highlights in this section provide a general overview of police‑reported family violence, as well as key findings related to specific victim characteristics that are examined in more detail in later sections of this report.

For the first time in 2016, this section also includes an analysis of persons accused of family violence. Information on the sex and age of those accused of police‑reported, family‑related violent crime provides insight into the dynamics underpinning violent family contexts.  

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 not covered by the Criminal Code are not included in this section. Additionally, analysis based on Homicide Survey data excludes non‑culpable homicides and homicides which have not been solved by police.

Although providing important contextual information on incidents of family violence which come to the attention of police, the data presented in this section may underestimate the true extent of family violence in Canada. For example, self‑reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) show that 70% of victims of spousal violence and 93% of victims of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse never spoke to authorities about their experiences (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016; Burczycka and Conroy 2017). Research has shown that privacy concerns, fear of reprisal, and a desire to protect the offender are common reasons for why family violence victims do not report to police (Felson et al. 2002).

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 of this publication.

Family violence victims most often female, aged 30 to 34

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Self‑reported information about family violence in Canada

Since many instances of family violence go unreported to police, self‑reported information—information about the crime gathered from the victims—is essential to understanding family violence in Canada. Self‑reported information collected through the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) provides context to the police‑reported data presented in this section. Though important methodological differences exist between self‑ and police‑reported data (see the “Survey description” section), the 2014 GSS increases our knowledge of Canadians’ experiences with family violence, other kinds of violence, and perceptions of crime and safety.

For example, self‑reported data show 4% of Canadians aged 15 and older experienced violence by a current or former spouse or common‑law partner during the five years preceding the 2014 GSS—about 760,000 individuals (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016). In contrast to what is generally seen in police‑reported data, the prevalence of spousal violence was equal among men and women, according to self‑reported information (4% of men and 4% of women).

This key difference between police‑ and self‑reported data may be related to the fact that according to the 2014 GSS, male victims of spousal abuse were less likely than female victims to report that police had become aware of the violence (24% versus 35%). Differences in reporting to police, in turn, could reflect differences in the severity of spousal violence experienced by women compared to men. According to self‑reported data, women are more likely to experience the most severe forms of spousal violence (including sexual assault and being beaten or choked), experience injuries, and suffer long‑term psychological consequences such as those associated with Post‑Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In addition to self‑reported information on spousal abuse, the 2014 GSS provides data on abuse between dating partners, childhood physical and sexual abuse, and abuse of seniors. Many demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of victims are also collected, creating an important complement to police‑reported statistics.

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One in five male family violence victims experience major assault

Victims of family violence, especially females, more likely than others to see charges laid

Family violence rate stable from previous year, decreased since 2011

Increases in family violence in Nunavut and Quebec reflect rises in rates against males

Among Canada’s biggest cities, those in Quebec report highest family violence rates

Most serious family‑related offences decline while family homicide rates remain stable

Under one‑quarter of people accused of family violence are female, as with other crime types

Detailed data tables

Table 2.1 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2016

Table 2.2 Victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and age group of victim, Canada, 2016

Table 2.3 Victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of violation, Canada, 2016

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, 2016

Table 2.5 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2009 to 2016

Table 2.6 Victims of police-reported family violence, by province or territory, 2016

Table 2.7 Victims of police-reported family violence, by physical and sexual assault and province or territory, 2016

Table 2.8 Victims of police-reported family violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2016

Table 2.9 Victims of police-reported family violence for selected violent violations, by relationship of accused to victim and type of violation, Canada, 2009 to 2016

Table 2.10 Victims of family-related homicide, by sex of victim, Canada, 1986 to 2016

Table 2.11 Accused of police-reported violent crime, by sex of accused and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2016

Table 2.12 Accused of police-reported family violence, by age group of accused and type of violation, Canada, 2016

Table 2.13 Accused of police-reported family violence, by sex of accused and census metropolitan area, 2016

References

Allen, Mary. 2016. “Young adult offenders in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Allen, Mary and Samuel Perreault. 2015. “Police‑reported crime in Canada’s provincial north and territories, 2013.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Burczycka, Marta and Dyna Ibrahim. 2016. “Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Burczycka, Marta and Shana Conroy. 2017. “Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2015.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

David, Jean‑Denis. 2017. “Homicide in Canada, 2016.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Di Luca, Joseph, Erin Dann and Bresse Davies. 2012. “Best practices where there is family violence.” Criminal Law Perspective. Department of Justice Canada Catalogue no. J4‑32/2014E‑PDF.

Faller, Kathleen Coulborn. 2016. “Disclosure failures: Statistics, characteristics, and strategies to address them.” Forensic Interviews Regarding Child Sexual Abuse: A Guide to Evidence‑Based Practice.

Felson, Richard, Steven Messner, Anthony Hoskin and Glenn Deane. 2002. “Reasons for reporting and not reporting domestic violence to the police.” Criminology. Vol. 40, no. 3.

Government of Canada. 2016. Family Violence Initiative. (accessed October 12, 2017).

Keighley, Kathryn. 2016. “Police‑reported crime statistics in Canada, 2016.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Murrell, Amy, Karen Christoff and Kris Henning. 2007. “Characteristics of domestic violence offenders: Associations with childhood exposure to violence.” Journal of Family Violence. No. 22, vol. 7.

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.

Widom, Cathy Spatz. 1989. “The cycle of violence.” Science. p. 160‑166.

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