Violent victimization of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Canada, 2014

by Laura Simpson

Release date: May 31, 2018

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Highlights

  • According to the 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), Canadians aged 18 years and older who identified as lesbian or gay (142E) and bisexual (267E) were much more likely than their heterosexual (69) counterparts to be victims of violent crime.
  • Even after controlling for other factors such as age, marital status, past history of homelessness, and childhood abuse, the odds of being a victim of violent victimization were two times higher among lesbian, gay or bisexual Canadians than among their heterosexual counterparts.
  • Compared with heterosexual Canadians, bisexual individuals were almost nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted (151E versus 17 incidents per 1,000 population) in the previous 12 months.
  • The rate of self‑reported violent victimization of lesbian and gay individuals decreased by 67% between 2009 and 2014. This is compared to a decrease of 30% for heterosexual individuals.
  • Among those who reported experiencing discrimination in the five years preceding the survey, lesbian and gay individuals were significantly more likely (79%) than their bisexual (35%E) and heterosexual (2%) counterparts to perceive the discrimination as being based on their sexual orientation.

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Research has shown that the rate of violent victimization among individuals who self‑identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) continues to be significantly higher than among their heterosexual counterparts (Beauchamp 2008; Conroy and Cotter 2017; Teasdale and Bradley‑Engen 2010).

Using self‑reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), this Juristat article presents information on violent victimization—incidents of sexual assault, robbery and physical assault—committed against lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals aged 18 years and older in Canada, along with their individual experiences of discrimination.Note  Perceptions of the police and feelings of personal safety are also explored. Where possible, analysis of data collected in the 2004 and 2009 GSS on Victimization cycles is included to allow for comparisons over time.

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Brief history of lesbian, gay and bisexual rights in Canada

Beginning in 1969, successive Supreme Court of Canada rulings and Acts of Parliament have enshrined in law the rights of those who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual and protection from discrimination, harassment and violence motivated by hate (Government of Canada 2017).

Before 1969, same‑sex sexual activities between two consenting adults were considered criminal and were punishable by imprisonment. In 1969, the Government of Canada passed a bill decriminalizing same‑sex sexual activities between two people over the age of 21.

The Canadian Human Rights Act in 1996 was amended to include sexual orientation as one of the prohibited grounds of discrimination and in 2005, the Civil Marriage Act was enacted, allowing same‑sex couples to be married anywhere in Canada.

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Demographic profile

Individuals who self‑identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual were younger and more often lived in census metropolitan areas

Individuals who self‑identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) tended to be younger, with two in five (40%) bisexual individuals and over half (54%) of lesbian and gay individuals reporting that they were between the ages of 18 and 34. This compares to 29% of Canadians who reported their sexual orientation as heterosexual.

In 2014, almost eight in ten (78%) LGB Canadians reported living in one of Canada’s largest cities (census metropolitan areas),Note  compared to seven in ten (70%) heterosexual Canadians.

Experiences of violent victimization

Lesbian, gay and bisexual Canadians more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to report experiencing violent victimization

The General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization measures violent victimization with respect to three offences—sexual assault, robbery and physical assault (Text box 2). In 2014, approximately one in five (19%) Canadians aged 18 years and older reported experiencing at least one incident of violent victimization in the 12 months preceding the survey.

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Definitions

Sexual orientation: Refers to how a person perceives and defines their sexuality, which is whether she or he considers herself or himself to be heterosexual, lesbian and gay, or bisexual. The past few decades have been marked by a significant amount of public debate and legislation regarding issues pertaining to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two‑spirited (LGBTQ2) community. The need to collect data on sexual orientation stems from issues related to human rights including experiences of victimization and discrimination. This information is required to better understand a wide range of issues that affect this population. The 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) collected information on sexual orientation from respondents aged 18 years and older. This was limited to heterosexual, lesbian and gay, and bisexual orientations.

Violent victimization: Includes incidents of sexual assault, robbery and physical assault.

Sexual assault: Includes forced sexual activity; attempted forced sexual activity; unwanted sexual touching; unwanted grabbing, kissing or fondling; and sexual relations without being able to give consent due to drugs, intoxication, manipulation or being forced in other ways than physically.

Robbery: Includes thefts and attempted thefts in which the offender had a weapon or there was violence or the threat of violence against the victim.

Physical assault: Includes attacks, face‑to‑face threats of physical harm and incidents with a weapon present.

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According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, those who identified as lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) were significantly more likely to report experiencing violent victimization than those who identified as heterosexual. In 2014, overall, there were more than 100,000E incidents of violent victimization involving a bisexual victim and more than 49,000E incidents involving a lesbian or gay victim, corresponding to rates of 267E and 142E incidents per 1,000 population, respectively (Chart 1).

Chart 1 Rate of violent victimization, by sexual orientation, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Sexual orientation (appearing as row headers), rate per 1,000 population (appearing as column headers).
Sexual orientation Rate per 1,000 population
HeterosexualData table Note  69
Lesbian or gay 142Note E: Use with caution Note *
Bisexual 267Note E: Use with caution Note *

While rates of violence were higher among LGB people in general, findings show that bisexual individuals were particularly over‑represented as victims of violent crime. For example, in 2014, bisexual Canadians were almost nine times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to report experiencing sexual assault (151E versus 17 incidents per 1,000 population).Note  There were no statistically significant differences between the rates of physical assault for heterosexual and LGB individuals (Table 1).

While the GSS is designed to produce overall victimization rates and risk factors for personal victimization, many specific details about the victimization incidents (i.e. injuries sustained, number of perpetrators, relationship to the perpetrator) specific to certain sub‑populations of interest can be challenging due to insufficient sample sizes (Brzozowski and Mihorean 2002).Note  As a result, analysis of some incident characteristics is limited for the LGB population due to overall sample size, despite LGB Canadians being at greater risk of violent victimization.

Research to date has found that age is a factor related to higher rates of victimization. Young people are more often associated with a lifestyle that involves greater exposure to risky situations and behaviours (Perreault and Brennan 2010; Cohen and Felson 1979). When looking at all Canadians 18 years of age and older, after controlling for other factors of interest, the odds of violent victimization decrease by 4% with each additional year of age (Model 1). When considering the age distribution of the Canadian population, LGB individuals tend to be significantly younger than their heterosexual counterparts (Table 2). In 2014, the median age for heterosexual Canadians was 47 years old while the median age for LGB Canadians was 36 years old. More specifically, the median ages for lesbian and gay individuals and bisexual individuals were 41 and 32 years old, respectively.Note 

After age‑standardizing, the overall rate of violent victimization for LGB Canadians was more than double that of heterosexual Canadians (165 versus 69 incidents per 1,000 population), with a rate of 125E for lesbian and gay individuals and a rate of 191E for bisexual individuals.Note  In other words, the fact that LGB Canadians are, on average, younger than heterosexual Canadians explains some, but not all, of the difference in victimization rates between these two populations.

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Police-reported crime against the lesbian, gay and bisexual population

While results from the General Social Survey (GSS) consistently show that most incidents of victimization are not brought to the attention of the police (Perreault 2015; Perreault and Brennan 2010), it is important to use self‑reported data from the GSS as a complement to police‑reported data collected through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey to have a more complete picture of the nature and extent of crime in Canada.

Results from the 2016 Incident‑based UCR show that police‑reported hate crimes targeting sexual orientation rose 25% from the previous year, accounting for 13% of all hate crimes reported to the police during that year (Gaudet 2018). Incidents motivated by a hatred of sexual orientation were more likely to be violent (71%) and were more likely to result in injuries to the victim (44%). Most (82%) of the victims were male and almost half (43%) of all victims were under the age of 25.

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Bisexual women at higher risk of sexual assault than heterosexual women

According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, overall, women aged 18 years and older experienced violent victimization at a higher rate than men, regardless of their sexual orientation (81 versus 64 incidents per 1,000 population). Notably, women were more likely than men to be sexually assaulted and, unlike other types of violent crime, the self‑reported rate of sexual assault has remained unchanged between 2004 and 2014 (Table 3). Prior analysis of the 2014 GSS shows that even when controlling for other factors, individuals who identified as LGB were more than twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as those who identified as heterosexual (Conroy and Cotter 2017).

Further, bisexual women were four times more likely to report experiencing violent victimization (327E versus 75 incidents per 1,000 population) and seven times more likely to report experiencing sexual assault (208E versus 29 incidents per 1,000 population) than their heterosexual counterparts in the 12 months preceding the survey.Note  However, bisexual women were significantly younger than their counterparts, with almost two‑thirds (64%) being between the ages of 18 to 24 (31%) and 25 to 34 (33%) (Table 2). The age‑standardized rate of sexual assault for bisexual women was 112E incidents per 1,000 population.

After controlling for other factors, the odds of violent victimization are higher for lesbian, gay and bisexual Canadians

To account for certain characteristics and experiences that can influence the odds of violent victimization, a regression model was created. The model accounted for different factors related to victimization, such as age, history of childhood abuse, history of homelessness, visible minority status, and marital status, in addition to sexual orientation. Even when controlling for these other factors, the odds of violent victimization among LGB Canadians were 2 times higher than among heterosexual Canadians (Model 1).

Rate of violent victimization among lesbian and gay Canadians down from 2009 but remains unchanged for bisexual individuals

Police‑reported crime has been declining in Canada since the early 1990s. Despite the fact that not all crime comes to the attention of the police, this downward trend is similar for self‑reported victimization rates, which were lower in 2014 than in 2009 (Perreault 2015). The rate of violent victimization among lesbian and gay Canadians decreased by 67% between 2009 and 2014 (434E incidents per 1,000 population in 2009 to 142E incidents in 2014) (Table 3). Further, the rate of victimization for heterosexual individuals also declined between 2009 and 2014 (98 versus 69 incidents, respectively), representing a decrease of 30%. The difference in the rate of violent victimization for bisexual Canadians between 2009 and 2014 was not statistically significant.

Characteristics of violent victimization against lesbian, gay and bisexual Canadians

Among those who reported living in census metropolitan areas, bisexual and lesbian and gay individuals were over three times and two times more likely, respectively, to report experiencing violent victimization than their heterosexual counterparts (241E and 157E versus 71 incidents per 1,000 population).

Characteristics of violent incidents were generally similar, regardless of sexual orientation. Overall, the large majority (86%) of victims who were victimized by a single offender reported that the offender was male. Most (69%) violent incidents did not include the presence of a weapon.

Bisexual individuals more likely to report engaging in more than 30 evening activities per month

In previous research, an increased number of evening activities has been linked to a higher risk of violent victimization (Cohen and Felson 1979; Miethe and Meier 1990; Perreault 2015; Stein 2013). According to the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, bisexual individuals were significantly more likely than heterosexual individuals to report having over 30 evening activities (for example working, attending night classes or participating in social activities) per month.Note  This relationship was shown even when accounting for other factors, as with each additional evening activity, the odds of violent victimization increased by 2% (see Model 1).

Bisexual individuals more likely to have been homeless

Prior research suggests that people who experience homelessness in their lifetime are more likely to experience violent victimization (Wenzel et al. 2001). In 2014, bisexual individuals were significantly more likely than their heterosexual and lesbian or gay counterparts to report experiencing hidden homelessnessNote  at some point during their lifetime (18%E versus 8% and 12%), and they were three times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience living in a shelter, on the street or in an abandoned building (6%E versus 2%).Note 

Model 1 shows that the odds of violent victimization are about three times higher among those who reported experiencing homelessness at some point during their lifetime.

Majority of violent incidents against bisexual individuals not reported to the police

According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, bisexual individuals were far less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to report their violent victimization to the police. Almost nine in ten (85%) bisexual victims stated that they had not reported the incident to the police, versus 64% of heterosexual victims. However, lesbian and gay Canadians were as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to report the same to police (58% versus 64%).

Reasons for not reporting to the police were similar regardless of sexual orientation. There were, however, two exceptions: bisexual individuals were the most likely to say that they did not report the incident because they did not want the hassle of dealing with the police (68%) and that they believed the offender would not be adequately punished (59%).Note 

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Lesbian, gay and bisexual experiences of discrimination

Lesbian and gay individuals most likely to experience discrimination based on sexual orientation

According to the 2014 General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), around one in seven (13%) Canadians aged 18 years and older reported experiencing some form of discrimination in the five years preceding the survey. However, discrimination was far more common among lesbian and gay (31%) and bisexual (39%) individuals, compared to their heterosexual (13%) counterparts (Table 4).

Of those who reported experiencing discrimination in the five years preceding the survey, lesbian and gay individuals were significantly more likely (79%) than their bisexual (35%E) and heterosexual (2%) counterparts to perceive the discrimination as being based on their sexual orientation.Note  Other common reasons included discrimination on the basis of physical appearance and sex (Table 4). Overall, Canadians most commonly reported the work environment (50%) as the place where their discrimination took place, followed by at a bank, store or restaurant (39%). These were the most common environments in which discrimination was perceived, regardless of sexual orientation.

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Feelings of personal safety

Bisexual individuals less likely than others to feel a strong sense of belonging to their local community

The large majority (92%) of Canadians aged 18 years and older believed that they live in a welcoming community, and most (75%) felt a "strong" or "somewhat strong" sense of belonging to their local community. However, while three‑quarters (75%) of those who were heterosexual and seven in ten (71%) of those who identified as being lesbian and gay reported a "somewhat strong" or "very strong" sense of belonging to their local community, a significantly smaller proportion of those who were bisexual reported these levels of belonging (59%).

Satisfaction with personal safety from crime similar for heterosexual, lesbian and gay individuals, lower for bisexual individuals

Overall, the large majority (88%) of Canadians reported being either "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with their personal safety from crime. However, bisexual individuals reported lower levels of satisfaction than their heterosexual and lesbian and gay counterparts, and were less likely to rate their satisfaction with their personal safety as being either "very satisfied" or "satisfied" (77% versus 88% and 86%). Meanwhile, those who identified as bisexual were slightly more worried about their safety when home alone at night, walking alone in their neighbourhood at night and using public transportation alone at night. Further, bisexual individuals were almost twice as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to report staying home at night as a way of making themselves safer from crime (11%E versus 6%).Note 

Perceptions of the police

Bisexual individuals expressed lower levels of satisfaction with local police

Overall, the vast majority (91%) of Canadians aged 18 years and older had either a great deal (45%) or some (46%) confidence in local police. Heterosexual and lesbian and gay individuals reported fairly similar levels of confidence in their local police (91% and 90%, respectively).Note  In contrast, confidence levels among those who identified as bisexual were markedly lower (82%). Bisexual individuals also expressed lower levels of satisfaction when it came to local police and were less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to rate the local police as doing a good job at treating people fairly (47% versus 62%), providing information on ways to prevent crime (45% versus 56%), enforcing the laws (52% versus 62%), being approachable and easy to talk to (57% versus 67%), ensuring safety of citizens in the area (57% versus 67%) and promptly responding to calls (49% versus 57%) (Table 5).Note 

Summary

The 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) found that just under one in five (19%) Canadians experienced some type of violent victimization (sexual assault, robbery and physical assault) in the 12 months preceding the survey.

The current study found notable differences in the rates of violent victimization between lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) and heterosexual Canadians, in addition to differences between LGB groups. In 2014, the self‑reported rate of violent victimization for heterosexual individuals was 69 incidents per 1,000 population, which was much lower than the rate for LGB Canadians. Bisexual individuals experienced violent victimization at a rate nearly double that of lesbian and gay individuals (267E versus 142E). Even after controlling for other factors, the odds of experiencing violent victimization were two times higher among LGB Canadians compared to heterosexual Canadians.

The LGB population tends to be much younger than the heterosexual population, and young age has been consistently associated with a higher risk of violent victimization. While controlling for differences in age somewhat narrowed this gap, rates of violent victimization remained higher among LGB Canadians. The age‑standardized rate of violent victimization for LGB Canadians was 165 incidents per 1,000 population. When broken down further, the age‑standardized rate for lesbian and gay Canadians was 125E incidents per 1,000 population and the age‑standardized rate for bisexual Canadians was 191E incidents per 1,000 population.

Regardless of sexual orientation, women reported experiencing violent victimization at a higher rate than men (81 versus 64 incidents per 1,000 population), which may largely be attributed to women experiencing self‑reported sexual assault at far higher rates than men (33 versus 5E). Of note, bisexual Canadian women saw markedly higher rates of sexual assault compared with all other groups (208E). Once age‑standardized, this rate dropped to 112E incidents per 1,000 population.

Canadians who identified as bisexual were less likely than their heterosexual counterparts to: report being satisfied with their personal safety from crime; report feeling a strong sense of belonging to their community; and rate the police as doing a good job in their communities. It is important to note that along with higher rates of violent victimization seen among bisexual Canadians, they were more likely to report experiencing some form of homelessness during their lifetime, which may in itself pose as a risk factor for violent victimization (Perreault 2015).

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Rates of violent victimization, by sexual orientation, sex and type of offence, Canada, 2014

Table 2 Age distribution, by sexual orientation and sex, Canada, 2014

Table 3 Victimization rates, by sexual orientation and type of offence, Canada, 2004, 2009 and 2014

Table 4 Experiences of discrimination, by sexual orientation, Canada, 2014

Table 5 Perceptions of the criminal justice system, by sexual orientation, Canada, 2014

Model 1 Logistic regression: Risk of violent victimization, by characteristics, Canada, 2014

Survey description

General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization)

In 2014, Statistics Canada conducted the victimization cycle of the General Social Survey (GSS) for the sixth time. Previous cycles were conducted in 1988, 1993, 1999, 2004 and 2009. The purpose of the survey is to provide data on Canadians’ personal experiences with eight offences, examine the risk factors associated with victimization, examine rates of reporting to the police, assess the nature and extent of spousal violence, measure fear of crime, and examine public perceptions of crime and the criminal justice system.

This report is based on Cycle 28 of the GSS on Victimization conducted in 2014. The target population was persons aged 15 and over living in the Canadian provinces and territories, except for people living full‑time in institutions.

Once a household was selected and contacted by phone, an individual 15 years or older was randomly selected to respond to the survey. An oversample of immigrants and youth was added to the 2014 GSS for a more detailed analysis of these groups.

Data limitations

As with any household survey, there are some data limitations. The results are based on a sample and are therefore subject to sampling errors. Somewhat different results might have been obtained if the entire population had been surveyed. This article uses the coefficient of variation (CV) as a measure of the sampling error. Estimates with a high CV (over 33.3%) were not published because they were too unreliable. In these cases, the symbol "F" is used in place of an estimate in the figures and data tables. Estimates with a CV between 16.6 and 33.3 should be used with caution and the symbol "E" is used. Where descriptive statistics and cross‑tabular analyses were used, statistically significant differences were determined using 95% confidence intervals.

Methods for multivariate analysis

The influence of a factor is indicated by the odds ratio, which should be read in relation to the reference category. To make the results easier to read, these regressions model the probability of being a victim of violent crime. An odds ratio greater than 1 indicates that the characteristic increases the odds for the variable of interest (in this case, being a victim of violent crime) and an odds ratio lower than 1 indicates that the odds decrease.

One regression model was conducted to examine characteristics influencing the odds of experiencing violent victimization among Canadians aged 18 years and older. Only variables that proved significant in the multivariate analysis were retained in the final model presented in this report. The discarded variables included sex, immigrant status, aboriginal status, main activity and drug use. These variables did not increase or decrease the odds of experiencing violent victimization.

References

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Cohen, L. and M. Felson. 1979. "Social change and crime rate trends: A routine activity approach." American Sociological Review. Vol. 44, no. 4. p. 588‑608.

Conroy, S. and A. Cotter. 2017. "Self‑reported sexual assault in Canada, 2014." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Gaudet, M. 2018. "Police‑reported hate crime in Canada, 2016." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Government of Canada. 2017. "Rights of LGBTI persons." (accessed on February 20, 2018).

Miethe, T. and R. Meier. 1990. "Opportunity, choice and criminal victimization: A test of a theoretical model." Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency. Vol. 27, no. 3. p. 243‑266.

Perreault, S. 2015. "Criminal victimization in Canada, 2014." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002.

Perreault, S. and S. Brennan. 2010. "Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85‑002‑X.

Statistics Canada. 2017. "Age‑standardized rates." The Daily. Behind the Data. (accessed on April 12, 2018).

Stein, R.E. 2013. "Opportunities for property victimization: Fixed and random effects models in a cross‑national scope." International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice. Vol. 41. p. 343‑357.

Teasdale, B. and M.S. Bradley‑Engen. 2010. "Adolescent same‑sex attraction and mental health: The role of stress and support." Journal of Homosexuality. Vol. 57, no. 2. p. 287‑309.

Wenzel, S.L., B.D. Leake and L. Gelberg. 2001. "Risk factors for major violence among homeless women." Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Vol. 16, no. 8. p. 739‑752.

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