Section 4: Police-reported family violence against seniors in Canada, 2019

Violence against seniors—sometimes referred to as elder abuse—is often perpetrated by family members and occurs in residential settings. It can take on many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse, and neglect and abandonment (Justice Canada 2015; World Health Organization 2020). Controlling and coercive behaviours from family members may also isolate seniors from others outside the home. Consequences for seniors who experience this type of violence may include loneliness and depression, increased dependency, financial problems and a shorter life span (Public Health Agency of Canada 2014).

As the Canadian population ages, this issue will continue to grow in importance. COVID-19 restrictions have had widespread impacts for the older population. Due to their age, seniors were designated as high risk for severe illness and complications with the virus. Thus, for many seniors, their social contacts and supports outside the family have been drastically reduced. An important area for further analysis will be violence against seniors in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. While not necessarily family-related, the relationship between a caregiver and a dependant in these environments mirrors that which typically exists within a family.

In this section, family violence refers to violence committed by spouses (legally married, separated, divorced and common-law), children (biological, step, adopted and foster), siblings (biological, step, half, adopted and foster) and extended family members (e.g., grandchildren, nephews, nieces, cousins and in-laws). Victims refer to those aged 65 to 89 years.Note 

One in three senior victims of police-reported violence victimized by a family member

In 2019, there were 14,156 senior victims of police-reported violence in Canada, and over half (55%) were men (Table 4.1). One-third (32%) of senior victims were victimized by a family member, which represented 4,518 victims.

Family violence against seniors that came to the attention of police was most often perpetrated by their child (34%) followed by a spouse (26%) and a sibling (12%), and this pattern was the same for female and male seniors. Similar to family violence in general, women were overrepresented as victims of family violence against seniors (58%).

Family violence against seniors increases for the fourth consecutive year

The rate of police-reported family violence against seniors was 8% higher in 2019 compared with the previous year, while the rate of non-family violence against seniors increased 13% (Chart 4.1).Note  For family violence against seniors, this marked the fourth consecutive annual increase, up 20% from 2015. During this time, the rate of family violence against seniors increased 18% for women and 23% for men. Between 2009 and 2019, the rate increased 19% overall while the rate of non-family violence against seniors increased 31%.

Chart 4.1 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and year, Canada, 2009 to 2019

Data table for Chart 4.1 
Data table for Chart 4.1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4.1. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Family violence, Non-family violence, Female victims, Male victims and Total victims, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Family violence Non-family violence
Female victims Male victims Total victims Female victims Male victims Total victims
rate per 100,000 population
2009 65 55 60 83 160 118
2010 69 51 61 90 167 125
2011 67 53 61 84 160 119
2012 68 51 60 86 159 120
2013 64 51 58 86 156 118
2014 66 53 60 80 154 115
2015 66 53 60 90 161 123
2016 68 56 62 87 163 122
2017 71 58 65 96 173 132
2018 73 60 67 98 179 136
2019 78 65 72 115 199 154

Physical assault most common form of family violence against seniors

In 2019, the rate of police-reported family violence against seniors was 72 victims per 100,000 population (Table 4.2). The most common type of family violence perpetrated against seniors was physical assaultNote  (accounting for 72% of victims, a rate of 52 per 100,000 population) followed by other offences involving violence or the threat of violence (19).Note  This pattern was similar for women and men.

Two-thirds (67%) of senior victims of family violence were assaulted using physical force (Table 4.3).Note  A further 16% of victims were assaulted with a weapon present, such as a knife, club or firearm. Four in ten (41%) senior victims of family violence suffered a physical injury, somewhat higher than those who experienced non-family violence (36%).Note  Of the seniors who were physically injured as a result of family violence, the vast majority (93%) had minor injuries. Physical injury resulting from family violence against seniors was similar for women and men (40% and 42%, respectively).

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Violence against seniors in nursing and retirement homes

Seniors represent nearly one-fifth (18%) of the Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2021). According to the 2016 Census, 7% of all seniors live in collective dwellings such as nursing homes, residences for seniors and other residential care facilities (Employment and Social Development Canada 2019). These environments are often an extension of the family unit, a place where their needs are met and where trust is built over time. As the senior age group continues to grow in size, so too will their need for adequate, suitable and affordable housing—and, most importantly, housing that is safe.

Of the 14,156 senior victims of police-reported violence in Canada in 2019, 1,530 (11%) were victimized in a nursing or retirement home and two-thirds (66%) of these seniors were women.Note  Most (81%) seniors who experienced violence in these settings were physically assaulted, while around one in seven (15%) were sexually assaulted. Differences emerged according to gender, however: 76% of female victims were physically assaulted (while 20% were sexually assaulted) and 90% of male victims were physically assaulted (while 5% were sexually assaulted). The remaining victims experienced other types of violence.

Where incidents involved a single victim and a single accused person—and occurred in a nursing or retirement home—a small proportion (5%) of senior victims experienced violence by a family member. They were most commonly victimized by a casual acquaintance (48%), a neighbour (18%), a stranger (11%) or a roommate (10%) in the nursing or retirement home. The large majority (81%) of these senior victims experienced violence perpetrated by another senior.Note 

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Saskatchewan and Manitoba have highest provincial rates of family violence against seniors

Similar to crime in general, rates of police-reported family violence against seniors were highest in the territories. Among the provinces, the rate of family violence against seniors was highest in Saskatchewan (101 per 100,000 population) followed by Manitoba (98) (Table 4.4).Note  Meanwhile, it was lowest in Ontario (53) and Nova Scotia (61). Compared with the provinces, rates were notably higher in the territories, with Nunavut reporting the highest rate (1,970) followed by the Northwest Territories (1,403) and Yukon (276).

Female seniors experienced a higher rate of family violence than their male counterparts in every province and territory, with the exception of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.Note 

In most provinces and territories in 2019, the rate of family violence against seniors increased from the previous year.Note  Provincially, the rate decreased by 7% in Alberta while it remained relatively stable in Ontario (-0.2%).

The rate of family violence against seniors in the provinces was higher in rural areas than urban areas (98 versus 65 per 100,000 population), and this pattern was the same for women and men (Chart 4.2).Note  In rural areas, senior women had a rate of family violence that was 1.2 times higher than senior men (107 versus 89). Of note, when it came to senior victims, the difference between rural and urban rates was larger for family violence (1.5 times higher in rural areas) as rates of non-family violence were comparable regardless of the type of area.

Chart 4.2 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and urban or rural area, provinces, 2019

Data table for Chart 4.2 
Data table for Chart 4.2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4.2. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Family violence, Non-family violence, Female victims, Male victims and Total victims, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
  Family violence Non-family violence
Female victims Male victims Total victims Female victims Male victims Total victims
rate per 100,000 population
Urban area 70 58 65 114 196 152
Rural area 107 89 98 114 204 159

The rate of family violence against seniors was 1.4 times lower in Canada’s largest cities—referred to as census metropolitan areasNote  or CMAs—than it was in non-CMAs (64 versus 89) (Table 4.5).Note  Among the CMAs, rates were highest in Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo (123), GatineauNote  (107) and Kelowna (94). Meanwhile, they were lowest in Peterborough (26), OttawaNote  (28) and Thunder Bay (28).

Contrary to family violence in general, family violence against seniors was higher for men than women in several CMAs: Peterborough, Moncton, Thunder Bay, Halifax, Barrie, Greater Sudbury and Saskatoon.

Detailed data tables

Table 4.1 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2019

Table 4.2 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and type of violation, Canada, 2019

Table 4.3 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim, type of weapon present and level of injury, Canada, 2019

Table 4.4 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and province or territory, 2018 to 2019

Table 4.5 Senior victims of police-reported family and non-family violence, by gender of victim and census metropolitan area, 2019

References

Employment and Social Development Canada. 2019. “Report on housing needs of seniors.”

Justice Canada. 2015. Crime and abuse against seniors: A review of the research literature with special reference to the Canadian situation.

Public Health Agency of Canada. 2014. Family Violence Initiative.

Statistics Canada. 2021. Table 17-10-0005-01 – Population estimates on July 1st, by age and sex.

World Health Organization. 2020. Elder abuse.

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