Section 5: Police-reported family violence against seniors
by Shana Conroy
Abuse of seniors, defined as “a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action…which causes harm or distress to an older person,” (World Health Organization 2002) can take on many forms, including neglect and physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse (Department of Justice n.d.; Public Health Agency of Canada 2016). 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.). Further, as seniors continue to age, their activity outside the home could decrease over time and increase the likelihood that violence against seniors will remain undetected.
Family violence against seniors, where the perpetrator is a family member or relative and there is an expected relationship of trust, can have especially serious consequences for victims (Government of Canada n.d.). Senior abuse is best detected by those who interact with seniors and are familiar with what is typical for any given individual; thus, family violence against seniors may go unnoticed by members of the public or the police. In some instances, a family member may even limit or control contact with other family and friends, further increasing the senior victim’s isolation and vulnerability. Shared living environments can also increase the risk for senior abuse. The reliance of seniors on others (particularly due to illness or impairment) for living arrangements and caregiving may create stressful conditions for family members (Public Health Agency of Canada 2016). Violence against seniors may reflect an ongoing pattern of abuse, and different types of abuse may happen at the same time (Department of Justice n.d.).
Using data from the 2016 Incident‑based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey and the 2016 Homicide Survey, this section presents information on police‑reported family violence against seniors aged 65 and older.Note 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 selected police‑reported violent offences against seniors is also presented to indicate changes over time. For the first time in 2016, this section also includes an analysis of persons accused of family violence against seniors. Information on the sex and age of those accused of family‑related violent crime provides insight into the dynamics underpinning violent family contexts.
This section includes all types of violent offences under the Criminal Code that were reported to the police in 2016, 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 section. In addition, analysis based on the Homicide Survey excludes homicides that have not been solved by police.
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 of this report.
One in three senior victims of police-reported violent crime victimized by a family member
- In 2016, more than 10,300Note seniors (65 years and older) were victims of police‑reported violent crime in Canada. Of these victims, one‑third (34%) were victimized by a family member such as their child, spouse, sibling or another type of family member (a rate of 62 per 100,000 population) (Table 5.1).
- Six in ten (58%) senior victims of family violence were female, with a rate 19% higher than that of male seniors (67 versus 56) (Table 5.1).
- Overall, senior victims of police‑reported family violence were most likely to have been victimized by their child (32%), a spouse (27%) or another type of family member (other than their child, spouse or sibling) (29%) (Table 5.1).
- Among female senior victims of family violence, one‑third (33%) were victimized by a spouse, followed by their child (31%) and another type of family member (26%). Among male senior victims of family violence, their child (34%) and another type of family member (33%) were the most common perpetrators (Table 5.1).
- More than half (55%) of senior victims of police‑reported family violence saw the incidents in which they were victimized clearedNote by the laying or recommendation of a charge against the accused. For another 31% of senior family violence victims, incidents were cleared by other means, such as a complainant declining to lay a charge (18%). The remaining 14% of victims were involved in incidents that were not cleared (Table 5.2).
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According to population estimates, seniors aged 65 and older represent approximately 17% of the total Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2017a) and are a demographic group that is rapidly growing (Brennan 2012). According to the 2016 Census, the population aged 65 and older exceeded that of young people under age 15: 5.8 million children aged 14 and younger were recorded compared to 5.9 million seniors (16.6% versus 16.9% of the total population). This demographic shift is largely the result of increased life expectancy and continuous low fertility rates (Statistics Canada 2017b).
As the senior population in Canada continues to expand, 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 are more common to the senior population, such as language and cultural barriers, physical and mental conditions, transportation limitations, and inexperience with or limited access to technology (Government of Canada 2014). These challenges may inhibit the ability of seniors to access the justice system and related services.
While this section provides important contextual information on the incidence of family violence, the true extent of offences against seniors in Canada may be underestimated since the police‑reported data presented here include only incidents of violence that have come to the attention of police and that are covered by the Criminal Code.
Another important source of information on crime in Canada is the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization). The GSS on Victimization collects self‑reported information from those aged 15 and older on their experiences of victimization, whether the incidents were reported to the police or not. In 2014, the overall violent victimization rate—including incidents of physical assault, sexual assault and robbery that occurred in the 12 months that preceded the survey—for Canadians aged 15 and older was 77 per 1,000 population. Meanwhile, the overall violent victimization rate of seniors was significantly lower (13E), and it was higher for female seniors than male seniors (14E versus 11E).
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Physical force used against six in ten senior victims of police-reported family violence
- Common assault (level 1) was the most frequently reported form of family violence against seniors in 2016. This type of offence was experienced by more than half (54%) 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 (59%) and threats (22%). A weapon was present in family violence against 18% of senior victims. When a weapon was present, a knife or other piercing instrument (6%) was the most commonly used, while a firearm was the least common (1%) (Table 5.4).
- Two out of five (40%) senior victims of police‑reported family violence sustained injuries: 37% 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. Of the 110 seniors who sustained major physical injuries, half (49%) were female and half (51%) were male (Table 5.4).
Police-reported family violence against seniors highest in Moncton and Montréal, lowest in St. Catharines–Niagara
- In 2016, as with family violence overall, the territories had the highest rates of police‑reported family violence against seniors in Canada. Nunavut (1,860 per 100,000 population) was the territory with the highest rate of family violence against seniors, 30 times the national rate (62), followed by the Northwest Territories (1,173) and Yukon (353). Newfoundland and Labrador (91) and Saskatchewan (89) were the provinces with the highest rates of family violence against seniors, while Prince Edward Island (37) and Ontario (45) had the lowest (Table 5.5).
- Female seniors had higher rates of family violence victimization in the majority of the provinces and territories. The largest difference between females and males was noted in the Yukon, where female seniors had a rate of victimization that was nearly three times higher than their male counterparts (536 versus 182). The opposite was true in Prince Edward Island, where male seniors were nearly three times as likely to have been a victim of family violence compared to female seniors (56 versus 21), and in Nunavut where male seniors had a rate that was twice as high as female seniors (2,490 versus 1,235) (Table 5.5).
- Overall, the rate of family violence against seniors living in Canada’s largest cities (census metropolitan areas or CMAs) (53) was lower than for those living in non‑CMAs (78) (Table 5.6).
- Of the CMAs, Moncton (86), Montréal (77) and Saint John (71) had the highest rates of police‑reported family violence against seniors. The lowest rates were reported in St. Catharines–Niagara (23), Greater Sudbury (28) and Ottawa (30). Several other CMAs (Windsor, Thunder Bay, Regina, Halifax and Guelph) had rates that were approximately half that of the national rate (Table 5.6).
- In general, the rate of family violence for female seniors compared to male seniors was higher across the CMAs; however, there were some exceptions. Seven CMAs had a higher rate of family violence against male seniors: St. John’s, Moncton, Brantford, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Greater Sudbury and Barrie (Table 5.6).
Female seniors of family-related homicide most commonly killed by a spouse, male seniors by their child
- In 2016, police‑reported physical assault was the most common form of family violence against seniors (a rate of 43 per 100,000 population). For female seniors, the rate of family‑related physical assault increased by 3% from 2011 to a rate of 45 in 2016, and the rate against male seniors increased by 15% from 2011 to a rate of 39 in 2016 (Table 5.7).
- In 2016, the rate of family‑related homicide against seniors was 10% higher than the rate recorded in 1986 (4.6 versus 4.1 per 1 million population) (Table 5.8).
- According to police records, between 2006 and 2016, there were a total of 188 senior victims of family‑related homicide. Nearly half (45%) of these victims were killed by their child and one‑third (35%) were killed by a spouse (Table 5.9).
- Over six in ten (62%) senior victims of family‑related homicides between 2006 and 2016 were women. Among female victims, a spouse was most often the perpetrator (50%) compared to 8% of male victims, while among male victims, their child was most often the perpetrator (63%) compared to 33% of female victims (Table 5.9).
- Over the past decade, arguments or quarrels (35%) and feelings of frustration, anger or despair (34%) 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 (38%) than a male senior (28%), while an argument or quarrel was more common where the victim was a male senior (45%) than a female senior (29%) (Table 5.10).
Nine in ten persons accused of family-related homicide against seniors are male
- In 2016, one‑third (34%) of those accused of police‑reported family violenceNote against seniors were a spouse to their victim, while 30% were their child and 26% were another type of family member (other than their child, spouse or sibling). Nearly three‑quarters (73%) of accused were male, and relationship types were similar for female and male accused (Table 5.11).
- Incidents of family violence against seniors were more commonly cleared by charge where the accused was male, regardless of age group. The largest difference was for accused aged 65 years and older, where 65% of male accused were cleared by charge compared to 49% of female accused (Table 5.12).
- Between 2006 and 2016, senior victims of family‑related homicide were most commonly killed by an adult aged 18 to 44 years (41%), while smaller proportions were killed by someone aged 65 years and older (31%) or someone aged 45 to 64 years (27%). Nine in ten (90%) of all accused were male. Motives varied by age group of accused persons; however, an argument or quarrel, and frustration, anger or despair, were common in general (Table 5.13).
Detailed data tables
Table 5.1 Senior victims of police‑reported violent crime, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2016
Table 5.2 Senior victims of police‑reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of clearance status, Canada, 2016
Table 5.3 Senior victims of police‑reported family violence, by sex of victim and type of violation, Canada, 2016
Table 5.4 Senior victims of police‑reported family violence, by sex of victim, type of weapon present and level of injury, Canada, 2016
Table 5.5 Senior victims of police‑reported family violence, by sex of victim and province or territory, 2016
Table 5.6 Senior victims of police‑reported family violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2016
Table 5.7 Senior victims of police‑reported family-related physical assault, by sex of victim, Canada, 2009 to 2016
Table 5.8 Senior victims of family‑related homicide, by sex of victim, Canada, 1986 to 2016
Table 5.9 Senior victims of family‑related homicide, by sex of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2006 to 2016
Table 5.10 Senior victims of family‑related homicide, by sex of victim and type of motive, Canada, 2006 to 2016
Table 5.11 Accused of police‑reported violence against seniors, by sex of accused and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2016
Table 5.12 Accused of police‑reported family violence against seniors, by age group of accused, sex of accused and type of clearance status, Canada, 2016
Table 5.13 Accused of family‑related homicide against seniors, by age group of accused, sex of accused and type of motive, Canada, 2006 to 2016
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