Police-reported violence among same-sex intimate partners in Canada, 2009 to 2017

by Dyna Ibrahim

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Highlights

  • Between 2009 and 2017, there were a total of 22,323 incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence in Canada—that is, violence among same-sex spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, or individuals in other intimate partnerships. This represented approximately 3% of all police-reported incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) over this time period.
  • The proportion of current same-sex married or common-law partners, in particular, who were involved in police-reported spousal violence over the nine-year period (3%) was higher compared to the share of couples in Canada who reported being in same-sex spousal relationships (1%), for whom national data are available.
  • More than half (55%) of police-reported same-sex IPV between 2009 and 2017 involved current or former boyfriends and girlfriends, almost two in five (38%) involved spouses (current or former), and the remaining 8% involved partners in other intimate relationships.
  • While the majority (82%) of police-reported IPV involving opposite-sex partners most often involved female victims and their male assailants, just over half (55%) of police-reported same-sex IPV involved male partners.
  • Common assault (level 1—the least serious form of assault) was the most common police-reported form of violence among male (59%) and female (64%) same-sex partners. Major assault, which includes assault levels 2 and 3, was more common among males (18% compared to 12% among females).
  • Presence of a weapon such as a knife was more common in police-reported same-sex IPV involving male partners (17%) than female partners (12%).
  • Physical injuries were reported in about half (49%) of incidents of police-reported same-sex IPV—a slightly smaller proportion than in opposite-sex IPV (54%)—and the vast majority of these injuries were minor, not requiring any medical attention.
  • Most (87%) police-reported incidents of same-sex IPV came to the attention of police on the same day as they occurred. A delay of more than three months was fairly uncommon (1% among male and female same-sex intimate partners). Consistent with findings for the general population, delays in reporting same-sex IPV incidents to police most often involved sexual offences (19% were reported more than three months after the incident occurred).
  • Charges were laid or recommended considerably less often in incidents of police-reported IPV involving same-sex partners (65%) compared to those involving opposite-sex partners (82%).
  • Victims of police-reported same-sex IPV living in rural areas were the most likely to request that no further action be taken against their accused (35%).
  • Between 2009 and 2017, there were 36 homicides involving same-sex partners, representing 5% of all intimate partner homicides over this time period.
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Intimate partner violence is a serious issue which continues to negatively affect victims long after the abuse has ended (McGarry et al. 2017; Campbell et al. 2002). This complex issue, broadly, involves physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, between current and former partners (Northcott 2012; Coker et al. 2002). While, presently, there are no legislated offences in the Canadian Criminal Code specifically related to intimate partner violence, Criminal Code offences of general application, such as physical and sexual assault, criminalize intimate partner violence. There are Criminal Code provisions which consider the fact that an offender abused their intimate partner an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes (Heslop et al. 2016).

Even with ample tools, programs and policies at the national, provincial and community levels dedicated to reducing and preventing intimate partner violence in Canada (McCormick and Irwin 2016; Gill and Fitch 2016; Hilton and Eke 2016; Beaupré 2015; Benoit et al. 2014; Northcott 2012), there remains much to be done in the area. In particular, while many studies (Simpson 2018; Calton et al. 2016; Parry and O’Neal 2015; Perreault 2015; Sinha 2013; Beauchamp 2004) have shown that people who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are at increased risk for victimization in general, there is little quantitative research on the extent and nature of violence which takes place within same-sex intimate relationships in Canada (Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2016; Ristock 2011). Related studies suggest that individuals in same-sex partnerships who experience intimate partner violence may face special barriers when it comes to disclosing their experiences or seeking help. For example, the threat of exposing one’s sexual orientation to others and fears about other people’s misguided beliefs that abuse among same-sex partners is mutual have been identified as obstacles which are often unique to victims in same-sex relationships. Moreover, individuals who are in same-sex intimate partnerships are vulnerable to “minority stress”, the psychological pressure from being a member of a minority group that is stigmatized or marginalized. Additionally, previous negative experiences such as discrimination and harassment, and perceptions or anticipation of stigma and negative stereotypes—all of which are particularly prevalent among individuals in same-sex partnerships—may lead to beliefs that these experiences will occur in various other facets of life (Calton et al. 2016; Baker et al. 2015; Edwards et al. 2015; Parry and O’Neal 2015; Benoit et al. 2014; Overstreet and Quinn 2013; Brown 2008; Rostosky et al. 2007). All these factors can reduce the reporting of violence to police and help-seeking among this share of the population.

This Juristat article aims to help shed light on the nature of violence which is experienced within same-sex intimate partnerships. Using data from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, this article will examine, for the first time, the characteristics of police-reported violence among same-sex intimate partners in Canada. In order to increase the scope of analysis and allow for a more detailed examination of incident, victim and accused characteristics, data from 2009 to 2017 are pooled.Note 

In addition, data from the most recent (2014) General Social Survey on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) is included in order to examine the self-reported experiences of various forms of intimate partner violence whether it was reported to the police or not (Text box 3).

While the focus of this article is violence among individuals in same-sex relationships, information on gender-diverse individuals is not included (see Text box 1). Research has shown that people who identify as transgender or non-gender conforming are especially vulnerable to violence in general, as well as violence within an intimate partner setting (Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2016; Mitchell-Brody et al. 2010; Stotzer 2009). However, the data sources used in this article do not allow for the examination of the experiences of individuals belonging to this segment of the population.Note 

In this article, intimate partner violence is often abbreviated as IPV.

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Measuring police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence

The Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey collects information on all types of Criminal Code offences which come to the attention of police. This article defines same-sex intimate partner violence (IPV) as police-reported incidents of violent Criminal Code offences committed among individuals of the same sex who are in spousal, boyfriend, girlfriend, or other intimate relationships.

For the purpose of this analysis, only incidents which involved one victim and one accused person are included.Note  Similarly, for consistency, where comparisons are made to opposite-sex intimate partner violence, only incidents involving one victim and one accused person are included in the analysis. Incidents involving children under 15 years are excluded from the analysis.Note 

Analysis presented in this article is based on sex as determined by what appeared on a government issued identification or documentation of the persons involved, when available, or by the observation of the attending police officer. Therefore, individuals whose sex was unknown or could not be determined are excluded from the analysis.Note 

Of note, this report focuses on incidents of violence which occurred between same-sex intimate partners, regardless of whether they identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual. However, references are made throughout this article to information on whether individuals identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, as this information is the most readily available for comparison. Of note, police-reported data collected through the UCR do not include information on whether victims or persons accused of crime identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual.

Definitions

Spouse: includes current husband or wife through marriage or common-law, and former husband or wife, where the couple was separated or divorced at the time of the incident.     

Boyfriend or girlfriend: includes current or former boyfriends or girlfriends with whom there is an intimate relationship, including people who are dating and those who are living together but may not be identified as common-law.

Other intimate partner: includes a person with whom there is a sexual relationship or a mutual sexual attraction but to which none of the above relationship options apply. For example, a “one-night stand” or a brief sexual relationship.

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Decline in police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence between 2009 and 2017

Each year between 2009 and 2017, more than 2,300 incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) involving same-sex partners were reported by police in Canada (Chart 1; Table 1). Over this nine-year period, there were a total of 22,323 incidents of same-sex IPV, representing about 3% of all police-reported IPV incidents reported during this time. Of note, current same-sex spouses (current married and common-law partners only) represented approximately 3% of police-reported spousal violence—that is, violence involving current married and common-law same-sex and opposite-sex partners. This is higher than the share of couples in Canada who were in same-sex spousal partnerships (1%) (see Text box 2).Note 

Chart 1 Incidents of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, by same-/opposite-sex status, 2009 to 2017

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 Year (appearing as row headers), Same-sex and Opposite-sex, calculated using number units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Same-sex Opposite-sex
number
2009 2,611 74,046
2010 2,706 74,926
2011 2,508 72,454
2012 2,530 70,599
2013 2,430 66,833
2014 2,303 65,383
2015 2,455 67,069
2016 2,453 68,608
2017 2,327 69,243

Recent research has noted that, in some incidents of violence among same-sex partners which are reported to police, the true intimate nature of the relationship between the victim and the accused may not have been disclosed to the police. Reluctance to report the actual relationship to the police may be due to victims’ fear of hostility or belief that the police may not take the crime seriously (Israel et al. 2016). As a result, the number of police-reported same-sex IPV incidents is likely an under estimation of the true magnitude of IPV among this population group.

Consistent with recent trend analysis of rates of intimate partner violence in Canada (Burczycka et al. 2018), the number of police-reported same-sex IPV incidents declined by 11% between 2009 and 2017 and was fairly consistent for both male and female victims (-10% and -12%, respectively). The decline among opposite-sex intimate partners, however, was of a smaller amount (-6%).

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Same-sex spouses in Canada, 2016 Census of Population

Following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada in 2005, the Census of Population began collecting data on same-sex legally married and common-law couples in 2006.Note Note  Ten years later, the census reported a total of 72,880 same-sex spouses in Canada, more than double the number reported in 2006 (Statistics Canada 2016b). This number represented about 1% of all legally married and common-law couples in Canada in 2016. While the number of same-sex couples reported on the census has significantly increased, studies have shown that these numbers may be underreported due to some people’s reluctance to disclose their sexual orientation (Ferlatte et al. 2017; Holtzman et al. 2016; Hottes et al. 2015). Nonetheless, according to Statistics Canada (2016b), the proportion of same-sex couples in Canada in 2016 was in line with the proportions reported in the United Kingdom and Australia, and slightly lower than the proportion reported in the United States.

Census data indicate that people who reported being in same-sex marriages or common-law partnerships were generally younger compared to opposite-sex couples. In 2016, the average age for people in same-sex couples in Canada was 46.4, compared with 51.6 for people in opposite-sex partnerships (Statistics Canada 2016b). The proportion of male same-sex spouses was slightly larger than female (52% and 48%, respectively) and the age distribution of males and females in same-sex couples were similar. Also, common-law relationships were more prevalent among same-sex spouses (67%), while the majority of opposite-sex couples were married (79%). A slightly larger proportion of female than male same-sex spouses were married (36% versus 31%).

Data presented in this text box do not reflect counts of Canadians by their sexual orientation.Note  To estimate counts of the population by sexual orientation, other sources of data at Statistics Canada can be used. For example, the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) both collect information on sexual orientation: According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, about 1.2% of the population aged 18 and older reported being lesbian or gay, and 1.3% reported being bisexual (Statistics Canada 2019).

Increasing availability of information on Canadians with diverse sexual backgrounds, identities and behaviours, including information on same-sex couples, is a reflection of the extent to which Canadians’ attitudes and sense of inclusiveness have shifted. It is therefore possible that, with time and more willingness to report, counts of same-sex couples in Canada may continue to grow.

It is important to note that statistics presented in this textbox are based on data collected through the census, and reflect counts of individuals who reported that they were in a couple relationship within a household—however, this does not include individuals in dating or other intimate relationships where partners are not living within the same household. Therefore, while this information may serve as additional context to the diversity of marital and common-law partnerships in Canada, caution should be taken when making comparisons between census data and police-reported figures on same-sex intimate partner violence presented elsewhere within the report.

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More than half of police-reported same-sex IPV is between males

More than half (55%) of incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence between 2009 and 2017 involved a male victim and a male accused. Close to 10,000 incidents (or 45%) of same-sex IPV involved female partners. Said differently, accused persons in police-reported same-sex IPV are more than twice as likely to be female (45%) when compared to incidents involving opposite-sex partners, where 18% of those accused are female. This in part, however, may be attributable to the fact that, in the general population, male victims are less likely than female victims to report incidents of partner violence to police (Straus 2014; Felson et al. 2002).

Female victims of police-reported same-sex IPV generally younger

Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships were often adults between the ages of 18 and 44. About three-quarters of both female victims (77%) and male victims (72%) of same-sex IPV were within this age range (Table 2).Note  However, there were more female victims of same-sex IPV than male victims under the age of 18 (8% compared to 4% among male victims). The median age of female victims of same-sex IPV was 29, while for male victims it was slightly higher, with a median age of 33 years.

Overall, similar to incidents involving opposite-sex partners, same-sex IPV often involved partners who were close in age. According to police-reported data, among both males and females, the majority (69% among males and 78% among females) of same-sex IPV incidents involved partners whose age difference was 10 years or less.Note  Therefore, the overall age distribution of persons accused of same-sex IPV was generally similar to the victims. The median age for accused females in same-sex IPV incidents was 29, and for males accused the median age was 31.

Overall, victims and persons accused of police-reported incidents of same-sex IPV were proportionately slightly younger than those involved in opposite-sex IPV. However, this may be reflective of the fact that in the Canadian population overall, people who report being in same-sex unions tend to be younger (at least when it comes to spousal relationships, for which Census data are available), and younger people, in general, are at increased risk for violent victimization, even after taking other risk factors such as sex and history of drug or alcohol use into account (Perreault 2015).

Same-sex IPV more common among boyfriends and girlfriends

More than half (55%) of police-reported incidents of IPV within same-sex partnerships involved boyfriends and girlfriends (current and former), and nearly four in ten (38%) involved spousal relationships. About one in twelve (8%) incidents involved same-sex partners in other intimate relationships.Note Note Note 

In comparison, among opposite-sex intimate partners, just over half (51%) of incidents of IPV involved those in boyfriend and girlfriend relationships, 48% involved spouses and 1% involved other intimate relationships.Note  Violence among same-sex boyfriends and girlfriends was more common for females than males, while males were more likely to experience violence in other intimate relationships (Chart 2).

Chart 2 Incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex and type of relationship, 2009 to 2017

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 Females and Males, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Females Males
percent
Current boyfriends or girlfriends 35 31
Current spousal partners 22 28
Former boyfriends or girlfriends 25 20
Former spousal partners 12 12
Other intimate partners 6 9

More than half (58%) of incidents of same-sex IPV were between partners who were in a current relationship, while about one in three (34%) incidents involved former partners. Among opposite-sex partners, 68% of incidents of police-reported IPV involved current relationships.

Major assault more common among male same-sex partners

The types of violence reported among same-sex partners remained consistent between 2009 and 2017. Physical assault, the most commonly reported form of violence in general, accounted for the majority of all incidents of same-sex IPV reported by police.Note  Over the nine-year period, three out of four incidents of same-sex IPV reported by both women (77%) and men (78%) were physical assault—which includes common, major and other assaults (Table 3). While the majority of these incidents were common (level 1) assault, the least serious form of assault, for both female and male same-sex partners, the proportion was larger among females (64% of all female same-sex IPV incidents compared to 59% among males).Note  Instead, males were more likely to have reported major assault incidents (18% versus 12%), the more serious forms of assault (levels 2 and 3).Note  This was consistent with previous findings of major assault being more common among male victims, especially in family-related incidents of violence (Burczycka and Conroy 2018; Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016).

Uttering threats was the second most commonly reported offence in incidents involving both female and male same-sex IPV. This type of offence accounted for 9% and 12%, respectively, of same-sex IPV incidents reported among females and males. Females were slightly more likely than males to have reported criminal harassment (8% versus 5%), or indecent or harassing communications (3% versus 1%).Note 

Types of crime committed by males and females in same-sex relationships different from those by their opposite-sex counterparts

When the type of violence in same-sex IPV incidents is compared with incidents involving opposite-sex partners, differences were noted. For example, while common assault was the most frequently reported type of offence in both same-sex and opposite-sex IPV incidents, males accused in same-sex intimate partner incidents (59%) were somewhat less likely to have committed this offence than males accused in opposite-sex incidents (63%). Major assault (18%) and uttering threats (12%) were more common among same-sex males accused than opposite-sex males accused (12% and 8%, respectively).

The types of offences involving females accused also differed between those in same-sex and those in opposite-sex partnerships, but to a lesser extent. Specifically, females accused of same-sex IPV did not commit the same types of crime as females accused of opposite-sex IPV. For example, females accused of same-sex IPV were less likely than females accused of opposite-sex IPV to have been involved in a major assault (12% versus 22%), but were almost twice as likely to have been accused of uttering threats (9% compared to 5% among opposite-sex females accused) or criminally harassing their partner (8% compared to 4%).

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Self-reported experiences of intimate partner violence

Every five years through the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), Statistics Canada collects self-reported information from Canadians aged 15 years and older on their experiences of criminal victimization. Information collected through the GSS on victimization is complementary to police-reported information from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. Information presented in this text box is based on self-reported data from the 2014 GSS, and aims to shed light on the experiences of victims who may or may not have reported their experiences to police (Statistics Canada 2019).

According to a recent Statistics Canada report based on data from the GSS (Simpson 2018), individuals aged 18 and over who self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were generally more likely to report experiencing violence.Note  While the sex of the perpetrator in incidents of spousal and dating violence is unknown,Note  the information on spousal and dating violence presented in this text box may serve as a starting point for leading discussions on the self-reported experiences of violence among same-sex partners in Canada.

Spousal violence

In 2014, the GSS collected information on spousal violence from respondents who were legally married, living in a common-law relationship, or who were separated or divorced from a legal or common-law partner and had contact with this partner within the five years preceding the survey. Canadians who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were estimated to be more likely than those who identified as heterosexual to report experiencing spousal violence (8%E versus 4%).Note 

Out of the approximately 766,000 individuals who reported having been physically and/or sexually abused by their partner in the preceding five years, 3%E—or about 26,500E individuals—identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual.Note  Two out of three (67%) lesbian, gay and bisexual victims indicated that the spousal violence had not been reported to police, a proportion similar to heterosexual victims (71%).

Dating violence

In addition to spousal violence, the 2014 GSS also asked respondents about their experiences of violence in dating relationships. These involve experiences of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. The information was collected from individuals who indicated that they were not currently in a spousal relationship or have lived with their partner for less than five years.Note 

According to the GSS, people in a dating relationship who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, were approximately twice as likely as heterosexual individuals to report experiencing violence by someone they were dating in the previous five years (18% and 9%, respectively). Dating violence was twice as common among lesbian and bisexual women as among their male counterparts (23% versus 11%E).

Among the nearly 81,000 lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who reported experiencing dating violence in the previous five years, physical violence was reported by 43% of victims and 28%E reported experiencing sexual violence.Note 

Stalking

Through a series of questions on the topic of stalking—defined as repeated and unwanted attention that causes a person to fear for their personal safety or for the safety of someone they know, and criminalized under the Criminal Code as criminal harassment—the 2014 GSS on victimization collected self-reported information from Canadians 15 years of age and older.

More than 382,000 Canadians reported experiencing some form of stalking by an intimate partner in the five years preceding the survey.Note  Among these victims, 6%E (or about 22,600E individuals) were victims of same-sex intimate partner stalking. Burczycka and Conroy (2018) found that lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals were overrepresented as victims of stalking in general. However, they found that when other risk factors (for example having a history of child abuse or homelessness) were taken into account, the odds of stalking among this group were not different from individuals who identified as heterosexual.

Approximately three out of four (76%) incidents of intimate partner stalking among same-sex partners were never reported to the police, a proportion significantly higher than those among opposite-sex partners (52%).Note 

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Weapons use in same-sex IPV incidents more common among males

Overall, the use of a weapon such as a firearm or a knife was relatively uncommon in incidents of police-reported same-sex IPV. Incidents where such weapons were present more often involved male same-sex partners (17%, compared to 12% among female same-sex partners) (Table 4).Note  Instead of weapons, similar to opposite-sex incidents, physical force was used in the majority of IPV incidents involving same-sex partners (reported among 70% of same-sex incidents involving female partners and 68% for male partners).Note  It is worth noting that, overall when it comes to IPV, weapons were most often present in incidents involving females accused in opposite-sex relationships (24%) (Table 5). Research to date has noted that this may be due to women’s need to compensate for their lack of physical strength in comparison to their male partner (Poon et al. 2014).

More than 11,000 incidents, or almost half (49%), of same-sex IPV reported by police between 2009 and 2017 involved the victim suffering physical injuries.Note  This proportion was slightly lower than among incidents involving opposite-sex IPV partners (54%). However, similar to opposite-sex IPV, the vast majority (95%) of these incidents resulted in the victims experiencing minor physical injuries which did not require professional medical treatment.Note  Incidents which led to major physical injuries or death accounted for 2% of same-sex IPV, the same proportion as those involving opposite-sex partners.

Most police-reported IPV incidents come to attention of police on the same day as they occur

Similar to opposite-sex IPV, the vast majority (87%) of police-reported IPV incidents involving same-sex partners came to the attention of police on the same day that they happened.Note  While there were some delays in reporting IPV incidents to police among same-sex partners, close to none of the incidents were reported more than three-months after the incident had occurred (1% among males and females). Similarly, 1% of male victims of opposite-sex IPV and 2% of female victims had a delay in reporting of more than three months.

Delay in reporting same-sex IPV to the police most often involved sexual offences. In particular, about one in five (19%) incidents of same-sex sexual offences reported between 2009 and 2017 came to the attention of police more than three months after the incident had occurred (see Text box 4).Note  Although a delay of reporting opposite-sex IPV to police also most often involved sexual offences, the proportion among this group was slightly lower (13% of opposite-sex sexual offences were reported to police more than three months after the incident).

Charges less commonly laid in incidents of IPV involving same-sex partners

An incident is considered to be cleared when a charge is laid or recommended against an accused, or when it is dealt with by other means (for example through referral of the accused to a diversionary program).Note  Between 2009 and 2017, most incidents of police-reported IPV among both same-sex and opposite-sex partners resulted in the laying or recommendation of a charge. However, clearance by charge remained consistently less common in IPV incidents involving same-sex partners than among those involving opposite-sex partners (Chart 3).

Chart 3 Proportion of police-reported intimate partner violence incidents cleared by charge, by sex of the accused and same-/opposite-sex status, 2009 to 2017, Canada

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Opposite-sex males, Same-sex males, Opposite-sex females and Same-sex females, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Opposite-sex males Same-sex males Opposite-sex females Same-sex females
percent
2009 82 68 70 54
2010 82 65 68 55
2011 84 68 71 59
2012 84 66 71 62
2013 85 68 72 63
2014 85 66 72 61
2015 86 68 72 63
2016 86 69 72 66
2017 86 72 72 67

On average, over the nine-year period, approximately 68% of same-sex IPV incidents involving male partners resulted in the laying of or recommendation for a charge, compared to 84% of opposite-sex incidents involving males accused (Table 6). Similarly, 61% of females accused in same-sex incidents were charged or recommended for a charge, compared to 71% of females in opposite-sex partnerships. Differences in the proportions of those charged or recommended for a charge by same- or opposite-sex status were in large part attributed to partners requesting that no further action be taken against the accused. In about one-fifth of police-reported same-sex IPV incidents involving males (19%), and about as many involving females (21%), the victims requested that no further action be taken against their partners.Note  This compared to 7% and 12%, respectively, of opposite-sex IPV incidents involving males and females accused.

There are many factors which may impact a victims’ decision to proceed with charges in cases of intimate partner violence after they’ve been reported to police. Among some of the factors suggested by researchers as being possible explanation for, or having an impact on victims’ reluctance to proceed are: victims’ fear of retaliation by the perpetrator; victim’s emotional or financial reliance on the perpetrator; victim’s view that the crime was unintentional or not significant enough to warrant prosecution; victims’ prior negative experiences with the justice system; initial use of prosecution as a means of leverage or threat (Murphy et al. 2014; Fleury-Steiner et al. 2006; Hare 2006; Spohn et al. 2001). However, the extent to which these factors impact decision-making among victims of same-sex IPV is not known.

Females accused of same-sex IPV see largest increase in charge rates

While overall there has been an increase in the proportions of individuals accused of IPV being charged or recommended for a charge between 2009 and 2017, the largest increase (25%) was observed among females accused in relation to incidents of same-sex IPV (from 54% in 2009 to 67% in 2017). In comparison, increases to lesser degrees were observed for males charged or recommended for charges relating to same-sex IPV (+6%) and opposite-sex IPV (+5%), as well as for females involved in opposite-sex IPV (+2%).

There are many factors which go into the decision by police to lay or recommend charges. Among these factors are: the nature of the violent incident, the characteristics of the accused individual including their sex, and the nature of the relationship between the victim and the accused (Dawson and Hotton 2014).

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Text box 4
Police-reported sexual violence among same-sex intimate partners

Similar to opposite-sex incidents of IPV, sexual offences among same-sex partners accounted for a minority of incidents of IPV reported by police between 2009 and 2017.Note  Sexual offences accounted for 1% of all same-sex IPV incidents reported over the nine-year period, compared to 3% among opposite-sex partners. Research suggests, however, that underreporting of sexual offences to police is particularly pronounced for individuals in same-sex partnerships (Turchik et al. 2016; Edwards et al. 2015). According to police-reported data, males made up nearly two-thirds (64%) of victims of same-sex intimate partner sexual offence incidents between 2009 and 2017.

Similar to opposite-sex IPV, the majority of all violent offences reported among same-sex intimate partners came to the attention of police on the same day in which they occurred. However, in line with previous findings for the general population (Rotenberg 2017), a delay in reporting IPV among same-sex partners was most common in incidents which involved sexual offences: 47% of same-sex sexual offences involving male partners and 42% of those involving female partners were reported to police at least one day after the incident had occurred. This compares to 13%, each, among males and females who were victims of other types of same-sex IPV. A delay of more than three months was also more common in same-sex IPV incidents which involved sexual offences: 19% of sexual offences involving same-sex males and same-sex females were reported more than three months after the incident had occurred. Among incidents which were not reported to police on the same day, the median delay in reporting these sexual offences to police was 37 days for male victims and 28 days for female victims (compared to 43 days for male victims of opposite-sex sexual offences and 17 days for female victims).Note 

Most sexual offences among same-sex and opposite-sex partners which were reported by police between 2009 and 2017 resulted in the laying of or recommendation for charges. Specifically, 73% of males and 69% of females accused of same-sex sexual offences were charged or recommended for a charge.Note 

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Same-sex incidents account for larger proportions of IPV in the regions of Ontario and Quebec

Between 2009 and 2017, Ontario (4.3%) and Quebec (4.2%) had larger proportions of police-reported intimate partner violence involving same-sex partners relative to other provinces and territories (Chart 4; Table 7). The Atlantic region also had a proportion of same-sex IPV which was larger than the national proportion (3.7%), and this was driven by the number of incidents reported in Newfoundland and Labrador. Specifically, although Newfoundland and Labrador accounted for 1% of the IPV incidents reported in Canada,Note  incidents involving same-sex partners accounted for 5.1% of the incidents reported in the province—the largest provincial proportion in the country.

Chart 4 Proportion of police-reported intimate partner violence involving same-sex partners in Canada, by region, 2009 to 2017

Data table for Chart 4 
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Region (appearing as row headers), Same-sex intimate partner violence and Canada, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Region Same-sex intimate partner violence Canada
percent
Atlantic 3.7 3.4
Quebec 4.2 3.4
Ontario 4.3 3.4
Prairies 2.4 3.4
British Columbia 2.4 3.4
Territories 1.7 3.4

Over the nine-year period covered in this study, the share of police-reported IPV incidents involving same-sex partners was almost the same for urban and rural areas (3.4% and 3.5%, respectively) (Table 8).Note  While IPV in some cities accounted for relatively small proportions of the overall IPV in the country over the nine-year period, the proportions of incidents that involved same-sex intimate partners in many cities were larger than the national level (3.4%). For example, same-sex IPV made up 11.6% of all IPV in the census metropolitan area (CMA) of St. John’s, followed by 7.0% in Trois-Rivières and 6.7% in Barrie, however, in all three cases total IPV (same-sex and opposite-sex IPV combined) accounted for relatively small proportions (less than 0.5% each) of the overall national number reported by police.

Proportion of same-sex spousal violence lower in Ottawa and Vancouver

Data from the census show that although same-sex couples in marriages and common-law relationships tend to live in larger cities, increasingly, more people living in smaller cities are reporting being in same-sex couples (Statistics Canada 2016b). Looking specifically at spousal violence,Note  the proportions of same-sex spousal violence incidents were consistent with the shares of same-sex spouses within the largest Canadian cities.Note  However, there were a couple of exceptions to this: While the proportion of same-sex spouses in Ottawa was slightly larger than the national proportion (1.3% versus 0.9%), same-sex spousal violence accounted for a smaller proportion than the national share (1.9% versus 2.5%) (Chart 5). Similarly, despite having a slightly larger share of same-sex spouses (1.2%) compared to the national share, Vancouver had a proportion of same-sex spousal violence that was below the national level (1.6%).

Chart 5 Proportion of same-sex partners among spouses and victims of police-reported spousal violence, top ten most populous cities in Canada,  2009 to 2017

Data table for Chart 5 
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Census metropolitan area (CMA) (appearing as row headers), Same-sex spouses, Same-sex spousal violence victims, Canada—same-sex spouses and Canada—same-sex spousal violence victims, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Census metropolitan area (CMA) Same-sex spousesData table Note 5 Same-sex spousal violence victimsData table Note 6 Canada—same-sex spousesData table Note 5 Canada—same-sex spousal violence victimsData table Note 6
percent
GatineauData table Note 1 1.3 3.6 0.9 2.5
TorontoData table Note 2 1.0 2.9 0.9 2.5
Montréal 1.4 3.1 0.9 2.5
Québec 1.4 2.8 0.9 2.5
Winnipeg 0.8 2.5 0.9 2.5
OttawaData table Note 3 1.3 1.9 0.9 2.5
HamiltonData table Note 4 0.8 1.6 0.9 2.5
Vancouver 1.2 1.6 0.9 2.5
Edmonton 0.8 1.6 0.9 2.5
Calgary 0.8 1.9 0.9 2.5

While geographical differences in the shares of police-reported same-sex IPV may give some insight to the prevalence of this type of crime in these areas, research suggests that factors such as provincial policies and availability of programs and resources can lead to geographical differences in reporting of IPV to police (Dawson and Hotton 2014). Furthermore, these differences may be reflective of the nature of the relationship between local police and residents, and the willingness of individuals in same-sex relationships to report incidents of violence that are intimate in nature. Of note, Simpson (2018) found that individuals who self-identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual were generally less likely to state that they believe their local police treat people fairly.Note 

Same-sex IPV victims in rural areas most likely to request that no further action be taken against partner

Research has shown that there are characteristics of rural and urban communities which create disparities in the experiences of people living in these areas. For example, studies have shown that social isolation among sexual minorities is more common in rural communities, due to limited access to resources and services for information and support, conservative attitudes or negative perceptions towards sexual minorities, and reduced anonymity (Logie and Lys 2015; Poon and Saewyc 2009; Riddell et al. 2009). These elements may put individuals with same-sex partners living in rural communities at increased risk for being stigmatized and victimized, and may contribute to relationship violence (Ristock 2011; Ristock and Timbang 2005). Therefore, understanding the experiences of individuals living in smaller communities and how these experiences differ from those of people living in urban areas may provide insights on the specific needs of different communities.

Police-reported data show that, overall, the amount of time it took to report an IPV incident to police among same- and opposite-sex partners was similar for rural and urban areas.Note Note  However, the findings differed when it came to whether or not charges were laid or recommended against the accused. About half (51%) of same-sex IPV incidents reported in rural areas were cleared by the laying or recommendation of charges, compared to 70% reported in urban areas (Chart 6). The other half (49%) of same-sex IPV incidents reported in rural areas were cleared otherwise, largely attributed to victims requesting that no further action be taken against the accused. Victims of same-sex IPV living in rural areas were more than twice as likely as those in urban areas to request that no further action be taken by the police against their accused (35% versus 15%).

Chart 6 Incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex of the accused, clearance status, and urban/rural police service, 2009 to 2017

Data table for Chart 6 
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Females, Males, Rural and Urban, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Females Males
Rural Urban Rural Urban
percent
Cleared by charge 51 65 51 73
Victim/complainant requests no further actionData table Note 1 34 16 36 13
Reasons beyond the control of department 5 6 7 7
Departmental discretion 10 11 5 6
OtherData table Note 2 2 2 2 1

Differences in charge rates between urban and rural areas where the IPV incident involved same-sex partners were consistent with findings for those involving opposite-sex partners. However, incidents resulting in the laying of or recommendation for charges were more common among opposite-sex partners. More precisely, the majority of opposite-sex IPV incidents reported in rural (78%) and urban (83%) areas resulted in charges. The number of victims of opposite-sex IPV who requested that no further action be taken against their accused was half that of victims of same-sex IPV (14% of opposite-sex victims in rural areas and 6% in urban areas).

Males in urban areas most likely to be charged in same-sex IPV incidents

Among individuals accused of same-sex IPV, males in urban areas were the most likely to have been charged, followed by females accused in urban areas (73% and 65%, respectively). Much lower but equal proportions of males and females accused of same-sex IPV in rural areas were charged (51% each). These differences were driven by the number of victims requesting that no further action be taken against their accused. Specifically, in more than one in three same-sex IPV incidents involving males (36%) and females (34%) in rural areas, the victim requested that no further action be taken against the accused, compared to 13% and 16%, respectively, of male and female victims in urban areas.

Current same-sex partners more likely to be charged

Clearance status in incidents of same-sex IPV differed by relationship type, and the findings were consistent for those living in rural and urban areas. More specifically, charges were more often laid (or recommended) when same-sex partners were in current relationships: 56% of current boyfriends or girlfriends and 52% of current spouses accused of same-sex IPV in rural areas were cleared by charge (Chart 7).Note  In rural areas, same-sex individuals in these relationships were the least likely to request that no further actions be taken against their partners (34% and 31%, respectively). This pattern also occurred among same-sex individuals living in urban areas, though as previously stated, the proportions were higher in urban areas.Note 

Chart 7 Incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence in Canada, by clearance status, type of relationship and urban/rural police service, 2009 to 2017

Data table for Chart 7 
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7 Rural police service, Urban police service, Current spousal partners, Former spousal partners, Current boyfriends or girlfriends, Former boyfriends or girlfriends and Other intimate partners, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Rural police serviceData table Note 1 Urban police serviceData table Note 1
Current spousal partners Former spousal partners Current boyfriends or girlfriends Former boyfriends or girlfriends Other intimate partners Current spousal partners Former spousal partners Current boyfriends or girlfriends Former boyfriends or girlfriends Other intimate partners
percent
Cleared by charge 52 43 56 45 46 71 60 76 64 69
Victim/complainant requests no further actionData table Note 2 31 36 34 39 37 12 17 14 17 16
Reasons beyond the control of department 9 13 2 4 9 11 14 2 3 5
Departmental discretion 7 5 7 10 7 6 7 7 14 8
OtherData table Note 3 1 3 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3

It is worth mentioning that across Canada, all police jurisdictions have supported a pro-charging policy on intimate partner violence. However, there are differences across police services with regard to the share of cases being cleared by the laying or recommendation of a charge (Dawson and Hotton 2014).

Same-sex intimate partner homicides more common among men

Statistics Canada, through the Homicide Survey, collects information annually on all homicides in Canada.Note  Between 2009 and 2017, there were a total of 760 homicides involving intimate partners in Canada. Of these, 5% (or 36 homicides) involved same-sex intimate partners (Table 9).Note Note  However, to allow for a more detailed analysis of homicides involving same-sex intimate partners, data from 1998 to 2017 have been combined.

Of the 1,786 homicides involving intimate partners reported by police between 1998 and 2017, those involving same-sex intimate partners accounted for approximately 4% (or 73 homicides).

Similar to incidents involving opposite-sex partners, the vast majority (86%) of same-sex intimate partner homicides over the 20-year period studied involved male offenders. In more than half (59%) of the cases, the incident involved an accused individual between the ages of 25 and 44, similar to opposite-sex intimate partner homicides.

Current boyfriends and girlfriends make up largest share of same-sex intimate partner homicides

The majority of opposite-sex intimate partner homicides reported between 1998 and 2017 tended to involve current spouses (61%), however, this was not the case for homicides involving same-sex intimate partners. Specifically, of the 73 same-sex partner homicides reported during the same time period, about one-quarter (26%) involved current spouses. Instead, a larger proportion of same-sex intimate partner homicides involved current boyfriends and girlfriends (38%) and other same-sex intimate partners made up 29%. In comparison, 11% of opposite-sex intimate partner homicides involved current boyfriends and girlfriend and 3% involved other intimate partners.Note  As with other kinds of violent crime, however, these differences may be in part attributable to the fact that individuals in same-sex partnerships are more likely to be younger and in boyfriend, girlfriend or other intimate relationships.

Because intimate partner homicides occur within complex interpersonal contexts that often involve a history of violence (Burczycka et al. 2018), understanding some of the motives behind these homicides are important for violence prevention policy. The most common police-reported apparent motives in same-sex intimate partner homicides were: an argument or quarrel (40%) and frustration, anger or despair (19%). In comparison, these motives were reported in 37% and 26%, respectively, of homicides involving opposite-sex intimate partners. Jealousy was a motive in 12% of same-sex intimate partner homicides and 20% of opposite-sex intimate partner homicides.

Summary

Uncertainties about homophobic reactions, preconceived stigma, concerns over self-disclosure, minority stress and beliefs that police will be biased are just some of the factors which impact whether a victim of same-sex intimate partner violence will report the incident to police or seek help from others. While there have been several studies conducted on the victimization experiences of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, little is known about the nature of violent crime that occurs within same-sex intimate relationships in Canada. Broadening the scope of research in the area of intimate partner violence is crucial in order to allow for more gender-inclusive perspectives in developing prevention programs.

Over a nine-year study period, about 3% of police-reported incidents of intimate partner violence involved same-sex partners. The characteristics of these same-sex IPV incidents revealed that those involving male same-sex partners were more likely to be classified as a major assault and involve the presence of weapons. The laying or recommendation of charges was less common among same-sex partners than opposite-sex partners. In particular, same-sex IPV reported in rural areas were less likely to result in the laying or recommendation of charges against the accused, in large part attributable to the request of victims that no further actions be taken against their accused.

While the current study provides statistics that inform conversations on violence among intimate partners belonging to a vulnerable segment of the population, limitations of the data sources used indicate that there is need for further research into this issue. For example, new approaches to data collection should allow for an expansion of the analysis to include individuals with diverse gender identities or expressions, for example those who identify as gender non-binary; attention should also be drawn to those who may experience multiple minority stress factors such as being a visible minority member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population. Future studies could also benefit from analysis of self-reported data which may inform the factors which impact reporting of criminal incidents to police, decisions regarding proceeding with criminal charges, and help-seeking efforts among people with diverse genders or sexual orientations. These elements, together with an assessment of the availability and effectiveness of current services, programs and policies available for individuals with different genders or in various types of sexual partnerships, would give a more complete picture of the unfulfilled needs of members of this population who may be especially vulnerable.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Incidents of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex of victim, and same-/opposite-sex status, 2009 to 2017

Table 2 Incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex and age group of victim and accused, 2009 to 2017

Table 3 Persons accused of police-reported intimate partner violence, by sex of the accused, same-/opposite-sex status and type of offence, Canada, 2009 to 2017

Table 4 Incidents of police-reported same-sex intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex of accused, type of weapon present, and level of injury, 2009 to 2017

Table 5 Incidents of police-reported opposite-sex intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex of accused, type of weapon present, and level of injury, 2009 to 2017

Table 6 Incidents of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex of accused, clearance status, and same-/opposite-sex status, 2009 to 2017

Table 7 Incidents of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, by sex of victim, same-/opposite-sex status and province or territory, 2009 to 2017

Table 8 Incidents of police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, by same-/opposite-sex status, census metropolitan area and urban or rural police services, 2009 to 2017

Table 9 Intimate partner homicides in Canada, by same-/opposite-sex status, 1998 to 2017

Survey description

Uniform Crime Reporting Survey

This article uses the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey Trend Database to pool incidents of violence among same-sex intimate partners which came to the attention of, and were substantiated by Canadian police services between 2009 and 2017. This database contains all police services who have consistently responded to the UCR over the entire period of the file. As of 2009, the UCR trend file includes data reported by police services covering 99% of the population in Canada, while coverage was lower in previous years. In order to maintain the highest level of consistent coverage over time, analysis begins in 2009. The purpose of the Trend Database is to facilitate comparisons of incident, victim and accused characteristics over time.

One incident can involve multiple offences. In order to ensure comparability, counts are generally presented based upon the most serious offence in the incident as determined by standard classification rules used by all police services.

General Social Survey on Canadians' Safety (Victimization)

Self-reported information presented in this report is based on Cycle 28 of the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) conducted in 2014. In 2014, Statistics Canada conducted the victimization cycle of the GSS for the sixth time.

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. The target population was persons aged 15 and older living in the Canadian provinces and territories.

Homicide Survey

The Homicide Survey collects police‑reported data on the characteristics of all homicide incidents, victims and accused persons in Canada. The Homicide Survey began collecting information on all murders in 1961 and was expanded in 1974 to include all incidents of manslaughter and infanticide. Although details on these incidents are not available prior to 1974, counts are available from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and are included in the historical aggregate totals.

Whenever a homicide becomes known to police, the investigating police service completes the survey questionnaires, which are then sent to Statistics Canada. There are cases where homicides become known to police months or years after they occurred. These incidents are counted in the year in which they become known to police (based on the report date). Information on persons accused of homicide are only available for solved incidents (i.e., where at least one accused has been identified). Accused characteristics are updated as homicide cases are solved and new information is submitted to the Homicide Survey. Information collected through the victim and incident questionnaires is also accordingly updated as a result of a case being solved.

Due to revisions to the Homicide Survey database, annual data reported by the Homicide Survey prior to 2017 may not match the annual homicide counts reported by the UCR. Data from the Homicide Survey are appended to the UCR database each year for the reporting of annual police reported crime statistics. Each reporting year, the UCR includes revised data reported by police for the previous survey year. In 2017, a review of data quality was undertaken for the Homicide Survey for all survey years prior to 2017. The review included the collection of incident, victim and charged/suspect‑chargeable records that were previously unreported to the Homicide Survey. In addition, the database excludes deaths, and associated accused records, which are not deemed as homicides by police any longer (i.e., occurrences of self-defence, suicide, criminal negligence causing death that had originally been deemed, but no longer considered homicides, by police). For operational reasons, these revisions were not applied to the UCR.

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