Section 3: Police-reported intimate partner violence
by Marta Burczycka
Intimate partner violence has been identified as a major global public health concern, linked to intergenerational violence and detrimental physical, emotional and economic impacts on victims, witnesses and society as a whole (World Health Organization 2010). Canadian research has shown that violence in spousal and dating relationships affects hundreds of thousands of people and results in both physical and psychological injuries (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016), and suggests that these impacts also affect children who witness violence between adults (Burczycka and Conroy 2017). In his 2016 Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer identified addressing intimate partner violence as being part of a strategy toward improving multigenerational health, social and economic outcomes of Canadians (Public Health Agency of Canada 2016).
Intimate partner violence includes violence against spouses and dating partners in current and former relationships. Spouses are defined as current or former legally married, separated, divorced and common‑law partners, while dating relationships include current or former boyfriends and girlfriends as well as “other” intimate relationships (sexual relationships or situations involving mutual sexual attraction which were not considered to be dating relationships). This section presents data and analysis of violence within this broad spectrum of intimate relationships.
In this section, intimate partner violence includes police‑reported violent Criminal Code offences committed against victims aged 15 years and older within an intimate relationship. Using data from the 2016 Incident‑based Uniform Crime Reporting and Homicide surveys, information provided in this section includes analysis of the sex and age of victims, the relationship between victims and accused persons, the types of violence committed, weapons present during the violent acts, as well as some comparisons between victims of spousal violence and victims of other forms of intimate partner violence. A geographic breakdown of intimate partner violence is also presented, as well as trend analysis of selected offences against intimate partners.
This section covers all types of violent Criminal Code offences that came to the attention of police in 2016, ranging from uttering threats and 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 non‑culpable homicides and homicides which have not been solved by police.
While the data presented in this section provide important contextual information on incidents of family violence which came to the attention of police, it may underestimate the true extent of intimate partner violence in Canada. For example, results from the 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) showed that when it came to spousal violence, seven in ten victims indicated that the police had never been made aware of the violence. Most often, victims of spousal violence indicated that they did not report the violence to police because they saw the abuse as a private matter. For those victims who did report spousal violence to the police, the majority did so because they wanted to stop the violence and receive protection (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016).
Unless otherwise specified, all rates shown in this section are per 100,000 population. The terms “woman” and “man” are used to refer to all persons aged 15 and older, and are used interchangeably with the terms “female” and “male.” Definitions and information on data sources and survey methodology can be found in the “Survey description” section of this publication.
Intimate partner violence was the leading type of violence experienced by women in 2016
- In 2016, just under three in ten victims (28%) of police‑reported violent crime aged 15 and older had been victimized by an intimate partner. This included current and former spouses (12%), current and former dating partners (15%), and other intimate partners (0.4%).Note In addition to intimate partner violence, 34% of violence victims had been victimized by a friend or acquaintance, 25% by a stranger, and 14% by a family member (other than a spouse) (Table 3.1).
- Of the over 93,000 victims of intimate partner violence reported in 2016, the vast majority (79%) were women. Specifically, women accounted for eight in ten victims of violence by a current spouse (78%), former spouse (79%), current dating partner (79%) and former dating partner (80%). Intimate partner violence was the leading type of violence experienced by women in 2016 (42% of female victims of violence) (Table 3.1).
- More often, victims of intimate partner violence were victimized by current, rather than former, spouses or partners. Among female victims, 35% identified a current dating partner and 32% identified a current spouse, while 20% identified a former dating partner and 12% identified a former spouse. These proportions were similar for male victims of intimate partner violence (Table 3.2).
- Not surprisingly, young people who were victims of intimate partner violence were most likely to have been victimized in a dating relationship. For example, a current or former dating partner was implicated by 82% of female and 79% of male intimate partner violence victims aged 15 to 19 years. Violence committed by a current or former legally married or common‑law spouse was more common among older intimate partner violence victims (Table 3.2).
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In general, violence of all kinds often goes unreported to police (Perreault 2015). In light of this, self‑reported data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) provides valuable insight into Canadians’ experiences of victimization, regardless of whether those experiences did or did not come to police attention. The GSS on Victimization also collects a large amount of information on other aspects of victims’ lives, including the impacts of victimization.
When it comes to intimate partner violence, three topics included in the 2014 GSS on Victimization are of particular interest: spousal violence, dating violence and stalking perpetrated by current and former intimate partners. According to self‑reported data collected by the 2014 GSS, about 4% of Canadians aged 15 and older had been victims of spousal violence—that is, physical or sexual violence committed by a current or former spouse or common‑law partner—during the five years preceding the survey (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016). Among victims of spousal violence, one‑quarter (25%) said they had experienced the most serious types of violence: sexual assault, being beaten, being choked, or being threatened with a gun or a knife. About 16% of victims reported having experienced psychological impacts consistent with Post‑Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Questions on physical and sexual violence in dating relationships were included in the GSS for the first time in 2014. The prevalence of dating violence was found to be similar to violence in spousal relationships. For example, 4% of those Canadians aged 15 and older who had been involved in dating relationships in the five years preceding the survey stated that during that time, they had experienced physical violence by a dating partner. Sexual violence in a dating relationship was reported by 1% of those who had dated (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016).
The 2014 GSS also included a separate series of questions specific to Canadians’ experiences with stalking during the previous five years. The GSS defines stalking as “repeated and unwanted attention that caused you to fear for your safety or the safety of someone known to you”, committed by a friend, stranger, intimate partner or any other person—behaviour that dovetails with the Criminal Code definition of criminal harassment. Stalking by an intimate partner—that is, by a current or former legally married or common‑law spouse or dating partner—during the previous five years was reported by 1% of Canadians 15 and older. While intimate partner stalking was somewhat less common than either spousal or dating violence themselves, it was linked to a higher prevalence of violence within these relationships. For more information, see Section 1 of this report.
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Intimate partner violence against men more likely to include major assault, weapons, injuries
- The most common criminal offence experienced by intimate partner violence victims was physical assault (77%), including common (level 1) assault (62%) as well as major (level 2 and 3) assault (14%). Physical assault was more common among male victims (87% versus 74% of female victims), including both major (22% versus 13%) and common (65% versus 61%) physical assault. These findings may reflect the fact that other, more serious, offences often occur in conjunction with assault in incidents of intimate partner violence, and are therefore retained in the police‑reported dataNote (Table 3.3).
- Among intimate partner violence victims, the most serious offences—violations causing deathNote and attempted murderNote —were comparatively rare (0.2% of intimate partner violence). However, as women made up the vast majority (79%) of intimate partner violence victims overall, they were also over‑represented as victims of these most serious crimes. For example, of the 81 intimate partner victims of violations causing death reported by police in 2016, 63 were female (78%) (Table 3.3).
- For the majority of victims of intimate partner violence, no weapon was present during the offence (85%).Note This is consistent with recent findings related to violent crime overall (Cotter 2012). More often, family violence incidents involved physical force (71%) or threats (14%). Firearms were the least common weapon present when the victim was an intimate partner of the accused (1% of victims) (Table 3.4).
- It was almost twice as common for weapons to be present in intimate partner violence involving male victims as when the victim was female (23% versus 12%), a finding consistent for both spousal and dating violence. Where weapons were present, a knife or a similar piercing or cutting instrument was more common when victims were male (37%) than when they were female (28%), while firearms were more often present with female victims (7% versus 2% among male victims) (Table 3.4).
- Over half (54%) of victims of intimate partner violence suffered an injury. Most (97%) of these injuries were minor, in that they did not require professional medical treatment. Injuries were more commonly reported in instances of dating violence (56%) than spousal violence (51%), and they were more prevalent among male victims of dating violence (60%) than their female counterparts (56%) (Table 3.4).
Clearance by charge least common in incidents involving male spousal violence victims
- A criminal incident is considered cleared when a charge is laid or recommended, or when it is dealt with by police or courts in another way (for example, through a diversion program). The majority (86%) of intimate partner violence victims saw the incidents in which they were involved be cleared, most often through the laying of a charge (72% of victims) (Table 3.5).
- For victims of dating violence, the incidents in which they were involved remained uncleared slightly more often than for victims of spousal violence (14% versus 12%). However, if the incidents were cleared (either through the laying of a charge or otherwise), dating violence victims saw charges laid more often than victims of spousal violence (75% versus 69%). Clearance by charge was least common in incidents involving male victims of spousal violence (55%) (Table 3.5).
Intimate partner violence rates lowest in Ontario, particularly St. Catharines–Niagara
- Among the provinces, the lowest rates of intimate partner violence were recorded in Ontario (224 victims per 100,000 population), Prince Edward Island (240) and British Columbia (284). Saskatchewan (680), Manitoba (616) and Alberta (403) reported the highest provincial rates, while Nunavut (3,790), the Northwest Territories (2,555) and Yukon (1,180) recorded the highest rates in Canada. In general, provinces and territories with the highest and lowest rates of intimate partner violence also reported among the highest and lowest rates of violent crime overall in 2016 (Keighley 2017) (Table 3.6).
- Canada’s rates of intimate partner violence were almost four times higher among women (483 victims per 100,000) than among men (133). This gap was similar among most provinces and territories, with the largest discrepancy reported in Nunavut (6,581 victims per 100,000 versus 1,237). The smallest difference between women and men in terms of intimate partner violence rates was found in Yukon (1,781 versus 597), where rates against women were nonetheless three times higher than those against men (Table 3.6).
- Among Canada’s largest cities (census metropolitan areas, or CMAs),Note intimate partner violence was highest in Thunder Bay (496 victims per 100,000 population), Moncton (435) and Regina (417). The lowest rates were recorded in St. Catharines–Niagara (137), Ottawa (163), Barrie (184) and Sherbrooke (184). Overall, the rate of intimate partner violence among those living in CMAs was considerably lower than the rate for the non‑CMA population (247 versus 464). In general, violent crime rates have historically been lower in population centres than in rural areas (Allen and Perreault 2015) (Table 3.7).
- As in Canada as a whole, the rate of intimate partner violence was almost four times higher for women living in CMAs compared to their male counterparts (386 victims per 100,000 population versus 103). Among individual CMAs, the largest difference in rates between female and male victims of intimate partner violence was found in Abbotsford–Mission (575 versus 89), while the smallest difference was in Kelowna (390 versus 139) (Table 3.7).
Rate of intimate partner sexual assault increases while overall sexual assault rate declines
- The combined rate of some of the most serious crimes reported against victims of intimate partner violence—attempted murder, physical assault, and sexual assault—decreased by 7% between 2011 and 2016. This decrease was driven by a decline in the rate against female victims (-9%), as the rate against male victims remained largely unchanged (-0.3%) (Table 3.8).
- Between 2011 and 2016, the rate of physical assault—the most common offence associated with intimate partner violence—saw an overall decrease (-8%), from 255 victims per 100,000 population in 2011 to 235 in 2016. This was largely due to a decrease in the rate among women, among whom the rate decreased by 10% (Table 3.8).
- Rates of intimate partner sexual assault rose between 2011 and 2016, mostly due to an increase in rates among women (moving from 16 victims per 100,000 women in 2011 to 20 in 2016). Of note, this increase in intimate partner sexual assault was in contrast to police‑reported sexual assault rates overall, which decreased by 9% over this same time period (Keighley 2017)Note (Table 3.8).
Male victims of intimate partner homicide most likely to be killed by a current or former common‑law spouse
- The rate of intimate partner homicide stood at 2.4 victims per 1 million population in 2016, slightly down from 2.8 victims per million recorded in 2015 and representing a continuation of general stability. The rate has remained near 2 or 3 victims per 1 million people each year since 2007, while the decade prior saw rates near 4 victims per million recorded most years (Table 3.9).
- Women made up 79% of intimate partner homicide victims in 2016, with a rate almost four times that of the rate among men (3.7 victims per 1 million versus 1.0). This ratio has remained fairly consistent over time, with rates among women ranging from being about two times higher in 2010 (4.4 per 1 million versus 1.9 per 1 million among men) to over five times higher in 2011 (5.5 per 1 million versus 1.0) (Table 3.9).
- Homicides involving spouses continued to be more common than homicides involving dating partners in 2016 (69% of intimate partner homicides versus 26%).Note While these proportions were similar among male and female victims, differences existed when it came to the kind of spousal relationship involved. Between 2006 and 2016, a much larger proportion of male intimate partner homicide victims had been killed by a current or former common‑law partner (47%) than by a current or former legally married spouse (15%). This gap was smaller among female intimate partner homicide victims, in contrast, and females were more often killed by a current or former legally married spouse (41%) than by a current or former common‑law partner (35%) (Table 3.10).
- Homicides between same‑sex partners—including current or former legally married, common‑law and dating partners—represented 4% of all intimate partner homicides in 2016. Between 2006 and 2016, 14% of all male intimate partner homicide victims had been killed by a same‑sex partner, compared to 1% of female victims. The majority (85%) of same‑sex intimate partner homicide victims over this time period were male—a significant departure from opposite‑sex intimate partner homicides (Table 3.10).
- While women made up the majority of intimate partner homicide victims between 2006 and 2016, young women were particularly over‑represented. During this time period, the rate of intimate partner homicide among women aged 15 to 19 years (3.0 per 1 million) was twelve times higher than that among men that age (0.2). Among women aged 20 to 24, the rate (6.1 per 1 million) was almost seven times higher than among their male counterparts (0.9) (Table 3.11).
Males aged 25 to 34 make up largest proportion of those accused of intimate partner violence
- Of the more than 71,000 people accused of intimate partner violence in 2016, most were aged between 25 and 34 years (34%) and 35 and 44 years (25%).Note In general, rates of younger people accused of intimate violence were higher when it came to dating violence, while rates of spousal violence were higher among those who were older—mirroring the distribution of marriage rates in the general population (Milan 2013) (Table 3.12).
- The majority of persons accused of intimate partner violence in 2016 were male (80%). Rates were highest for males aged 25 to 34 accused of dating violence, specifically (472 per 100,000 population). The highest rate of female accused was also associated with dating violence, though it peaked among a slightly younger group (18 to 24, with a rate of 134 per 100,000). Spousal violence rates were at their highest among men aged 35 to 44 (325 per 100,000) and women aged 25 to 34 (82 per 100,000) (Table 3.12).
- Charges against an accused were more likely when the violence was in a dating relationship than if it happened in the context of marriage or common‑law union. Overall, 87% of cleared incidents of dating violence resulted in charges being laid. When it came to cleared incidents of spousal violence, in contrast, charges resulted against 77% of accused (Table 3.13).
- Of the more than 1,800 intimate partner homicides that occurred between 1997Note and 2016, the majority (52%) were committed by people aged 25 to 44 and involved current or former legally married or common‑law spouses (78%). Current spouses were most often involved (60%), though this differed according to the sex of the accused. For example, among male accused aged 25 to 44, about half (53%) of intimate partner homicides were against current spouses, while 22% involved a former spouse. In contrast, among female accused in this age group, three quarters involved a current spouse (76%), with former spouses representing 9% of victims (Table 3.14).
Detailed data tables
Table 3.1 Victims of police‑reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2016
Table 3.2 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by type of intimate partner relationship and age group of victim, Canada, 2016
Table 3.3 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by sex of victim and type of violation, Canada, 2016
Table 3.4 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by type of intimate partner relationship, type of weapon present and level of injury, Canada, 2016
Table 3.5 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by type of intimate partner relationship and type of clearance status, Canada, 2016
Table 3.6 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by sex of victim and province or territory, 2016
Table 3.7 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2016
Table 3.8 Victims of police‑reported intimate partner violence for selected violent violations, by sex of victim and type of violation, Canada, 2009 to 2016
Table 3.9 Victims of intimate partner homicide, by sex of victim, Canada, 1996 to 2016
Table 3.10 Victims of intimate partner homicide, by type of intimate partner relationship, Canada, 2006 to 2016
Table 3.11 Victims of intimate partner homicide, by sex of victim and age group of victim, Canada, 2006 to 2016
Table 3.12 Accused of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by type of relationship, sex of accused and age group of accused, Canada, 2016
Table 3.13 Accused of police‑reported intimate partner violence, by age group of accused and type of clearance status, Canada, 2016
Table 3.14 Accused of intimate partner homicide, by age group of accused and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 1997 to 2016
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Burczycka, Marta and Shana Conroy. 2017. “Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2015.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.
Cotter, Adam. 2012. “Firearms and violent crime in Canada, 2012.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.
Keighley, Kathryn. 2017. “Police‑reported crime statistics in Canada, 2016.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.
Milan, Anne. 2013. “Marital status: Overview, 2011.” Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 91‑209‑X.
Perreault, Samuel. 2015. “Criminal victimization in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.
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.
World Health Organization. 2010. Preventing Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Against Women: Taking Action and Generating Evidence. ISBN 9789241564007.