Intimate partner violence: Experiences of sexual minority men in Canada, 2018

by Brianna Jaffray, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics

Release date: April 26, 2021

Intimate partner violence (IPV) encompasses a broad range of behaviours, ranging from emotional and financial abuse to physical and sexual assault. Due to its widespread prevalence and its far-ranging immediate and long-term consequences for victims,Note  their families and for communities as a whole, IPV is considered a major public health problem (World Health Organization 2017). In addition to the direct impacts on victims, IPV also has broader economic consequences (Peterson et al. 2018) and has been linked to the perpetuation of a cycle of intergenerational violence, leading to additional trauma.

According to the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), regardless of sexual orientation, about one-third (36%) of men who had ever been in an intimate partner relationship reported that they had been a victim of IPV in their lifetime, a prevalence lower than what was experienced by ever-partnered women (44%) (Cotter 2021a). However, despite the prevalence of IPV being lower among men, it is no less important to explore their experiences in detail and examine the various characteristics that may influence their victimization.

Among the many characteristics that impact risk of victimization among men, one of the most notable is sexual orientation (Cotter and Savage 2019). Men reporting a minority sexual identity (those who stated they were gay, bisexual, or another sexual orientation other than heterosexual) have been found to be at considerably higher risk of all forms of violence when compared to heterosexual men (Jaffray 2020; Simpson 2018). It is important to note that intimate partner violence experienced by sexual minority men could have been perpetrated by partners of the same gender or another gender—the gender of the perpetrator(s) for the lifetime measure of IPV are unknown,Note  and sexual minority people may have been in a heterosexual relationship at some point since age 15.

The present analysis will focus on the experiences of sexual minority men,Note  Note  which will be compared to the experiences of heterosexual men in order to examine the potential impacts of sexual minority status and sexual orientation on men’s experiences of IPV.Note 

This article is one in a series of short reports examining experiences of intimate partner violence based on self-reported data from the 2018 SSPPS for various populations. It explores the prevalence, nature, and impact of IPV on sexual minority men. Experiences of IPV among the overall Canadian population (Cotter 2021a), sexual minority women (Jaffray 2021), Indigenous women (Heidinger 2021), women with disabilities (Savage 2021a), young women (Savage 2021b), and ethno-cultural minority women (Cotter 2021b) are examined in the other reports within this series.Note 

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Measuring and defining intimate partner violence

The Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) collected information on Canadians’ experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV) since the age of 15 and in the 12 months that preceded the survey. The survey asked about a broad range of behaviours committed by intimate partners, including psychological, physical, and sexual violence. The definition of partner was also broad and included current and former legally married spouses, common-law partners, dating partners, and other intimate partner relationships.

In the SSPPS, intimate partner violence is defined as any act or behaviour committed by a current or former intimate partner, regardless of whether or not these partners lived together. In this article, intimate partner violence is broadly categorized into three types: psychological violence, physical violence, and sexual violence.

Psychological violence encompasses forms of abuse that target a person’s emotional, mental, or financial well-being, or impede their personal freedom or sense of safety. This category includes 15 specific types of abuse, including jealousy, name-calling and other put-downs, stalking or harassing behaviours, manipulation, confinement, or property damage (for a complete list of items included in this category, see Table 1). It also includes being blamed for causing the abusive or violent behaviour, which was measured among those respondents who experienced certain forms of IPV

Physical violence includes forms of abuse that involve physical assault or the threat of physical assault. In all, 9 types of abuse are included in this category, including items being thrown at the victim, being threatened with a weapon, being slapped, being beaten, and being choked (see Table 1).

Sexual violence includes sexual assault or threats of sexual assault and was measured using two questions: being made to perform sex acts that the victim did not want to perform, and forcing or attempting to force the victim to have sex.

The analysis presented in this article takes an inclusive approach to the broad range of behaviours that comprise IPV. For the purposes of this analysis, those with at least one response of ‘yes’ to any item on the survey measuring IPV are included as having experienced intimate partner violence, regardless of the type or the frequency.

For more information on the measures of IPV in the SSPPS and other sources of data on intimate partner violence in Canada, see Cotter (2021a).

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More than half of sexual minority men have experienced IPV in their lifetime

Experiences of intimate partner violence (IPV), whether it be psychological, physical or sexual, can have lasting impacts on the mental and physical well-being of victims. In addition to physical injuries, IPV can lead to the development of symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, or other long-term mental health concerns (Lagdon et al. 2014).

Overall, 54% of sexual minority men indicated that they had been psychologically, physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner since the age of 15. Specifically, abuse was reported by 48% of gay men and 66% of bisexual men.Note  These proportions were much higher than what was reported by heterosexual men—just over one-third (36%) of heterosexual men had experienced some form of IPV in their lifetime.

The most common type of intimate partner violence, regardless of sexual orientation, was psychological abuse, experienced by 52% of sexual minority men and 35% of heterosexual men. Like overall IPV, gay (46%) and bisexual (63%) men were more likely to experience this form of IPV than heterosexual men (Table 1).

Though physical and sexual IPV are often perceived as more severe than psychological abuse, research has shown that psychological abuse can have serious long-lasting physical and mental health impacts and can continue to affect victims throughout their lifetime (Karakurt 2014).

Sexual minority men five times more likely to experience sexual assault by an intimate partner than heterosexual men

Sexual minority men were much more likely than heterosexual men to experience both physical and sexual assault by an intimate partner. About one-third (31%) of sexual minority men indicated that they had been either physically or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner since age 15, while the same was reported by 17% of heterosexual men (Table 2). Independently, sexual minority men were almost twice as likely as heterosexual men to have been physically assaulted (30% versus 16%) and five times more likely to have been sexually assaulted (10% versus 2%) by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Table 1).

Sexual minority men more likely to experience most types of IPV behaviours

The SSPPS asked respondents about 27 different IPV behaviours that could be experienced in the context of an intimate partner relationship since age 15. These behaviours included types of psychological violence such as jealousy and name-calling, types of physical assault (including threats of physical violence) and types of sexual assault.Note 

Sexual minority men were more likely than heterosexual men to experience the majority of behaviours measured by the SSPPS. For instance, while the most common types of IPV behaviours experienced by sexual minority men and heterosexual men were the same, the prevalence of each of these behaviours was higher among sexual minority men. The most common forms of IPV were jealousy (39% of sexual minority men versus 26% of heterosexual men), being put down or called names (31% versus 19%), being told that they were crazy, stupid or not good enough (29% versus 16%), and their partner demanding to know who they were with and where they were at all times (26% versus 14%).

Sexual minority men were also significantly more likely than heterosexual men to be victims of some of the most severe violent behaviours measured by the survey—that is, those that can result in serious physical harm and criminal charges. In particular, sexual minority men were about seven times more likely to have been choked (6.5%), forced to have sex (9.7%), and made to perform sex acts that they did not want to perform (7.2%) than heterosexual men (1.0%, 1.3%, and 1.0%, respectively). In addition, they were more than three times more likely to have been beaten (5.8% versus 1.6%) or confined or locked in a room or other space (1.7% versus 0.5%) by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Table 1).

Sexual minority men more likely to feel fearful, controlled or trapped, or anxious or on edge because of a partner

Perpetrators of IPV often use coercive or manipulative behaviour to control their victims, which can lead to feelings of fear, of being controlled, or of heightened anxiety even in the absence of physical or sexual violence. In addition, coercive and manipulative behaviours can indicate repetitive abuse and patterns of behaviour by an intimate partner (Gill and Aspinall 2020).

Of those who had experienced IPV in their lifetime, almost half (49%) of sexual minority men said that they had felt anxious or on edge because of a partner at some point in their lives, and 4 in 10 (40%) said that they had felt controlled or trapped by a partner—both much higher proportions than what were indicated by heterosexual men (36% and 23%, respectively). Additionally, sexual minority men were almost three times more likely than heterosexual men to say they had ever been afraid of a partner (22% and 8%, respectively).

Largely as a result of small sample size, there were few statistically significant differences in the prevalence of IPV between sexual minority men based on other characteristics (Table 3). There were two exceptions; sexual minority men with a disability were considerably more likely than those without a disability to have experienced IPV in their lifetime (66% versus 46%), and sexual minority men who were physically or sexually abused during childhood were more likely to experience IPV than those who were not (63% versus 49%).

Sexual minority men twice as likely as heterosexual men to be victims of IPV in the past year

In addition to measuring IPV since the age of 15, the SSPPS also asked about respondents’ experiences of IPV in the 12 months preceding the survey. Mirroring their lifetime experiences, sexual minority men (21%) were almost twice as likely as heterosexual men (11%) to have experienced at least one type of IPV in the past year. This difference was driven primarily by the experiences of bisexual men, 36% of whom had indicated that they had experienced IPV in the past 12 months. Similar proportions of gay men (13%) and heterosexual men (11%) indicated that they had been a victim of IPV during this time frame (Table 2).

The most common type of IPV experienced by men in the past year, regardless of sexual orientation, was psychological abuse. Similar to what was seen for lifetime IPV, the most commonly experienced IPV behaviours among sexual minority men were jealousy (16%), their partner demanding to know who they were with and where they were at all times (10%), being put down or called names (9%), and being told that they were crazy, stupid or not good enough (8%). These behaviours were also those most commonly experienced by heterosexual men (7%, 4%, 6% and 5%, respectively) (Table 1).Note 

Adverse childhood events associated with experiences of IPV

Past studies have shown that sexual minority people are more likely than those who are heterosexual to have experienced adverse events in childhood (Andersen et al. 2015), such as being victims of physical or sexual violence, harsh parenting or witnessing violence between parents or caregivers. In addition, childhood experiences of victimization have been associated with an increased risk of overall violent victimization in adulthood (Cotter and Savage 2019; Perreault 2015).

According to the SSPPS, sexual minority men who had experienced physical or sexual abuse in childhood,Note  were more likely than heterosexual men with similar experiences to say that they had been victims of IPV since age 15. Among those who had experienced childhood abuse, just over 6 in 10 (63%) sexual minority men indicated that they had experienced some form of IPV since age 15, compared with 5 in 10 (53%) heterosexual men.

Harsh parenting—defined in the SSPPS as having been slapped, spanked, made to feel unwanted or unloved, or been neglected or having basic needs go unmet by parents or caregivers—has also been associated with an increased risk of violence (Cotter 2021a). When it came to experiences of IPV, specifically, sexual minority men (58%) who had experienced harsh parenting before the age of 15 were more likely than heterosexual men (45%) to say they had experienced IPV at some point in their lifetime (Table 3).

In addition, 7 in 10 (71%) sexual minority men who had witnessed violence between parents or caregivers in childhood later experienced physical, sexual or psychological abuse by an intimate partner, compared with 57% of heterosexual men who said they had witnessed violence as children.

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Lifetime violent victimization

While the analysis in this report focused on violence perpetrated by intimate partners, a fulsome analysis of experiences of gender-based violence also includes experiences of violence perpetrated by those other than intimate partners. This text box examines lifetime experiences of all violent victimization (physical and sexual assault) measured by the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), including both intimate partner violence and violence that happens in other contexts outside of intimate partner relationships.

More than 6 in 10 sexual minority men have been physically or sexually assaulted since the age of 15

Overall, more than 6 in 10 (61%) sexual minority men indicated that they had been violently victimized in their lifetime, compared with almost 4 in 10 (39%) heterosexual men. When broken down by sexual orientation, gay (59%) and bisexual (63%) men were both more likely to indicate that they had been violently victimized in their lifetime than heterosexual men (Table 4).

Understanding experiences of violent victimization across the life course is important when it comes to understanding the population, developing services and programs, and predicting mental and physical health needs. As such, a measure of lifetime victimization was identified as a data gap to be addressed when developing the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS).Note 

The prevalence of violent victimization among sexual minority and heterosexual men was led mostly by experiences of physical assault—55% of sexual minority men and 38% of heterosexual men had been physically assaulted since age 15. However, the overall prevalence of sexual assault was significantly higher among sexual minority men, with more than one-quarter (27%) of sexual minority men indicating that they had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, compared with just under 1 in 10 (9%) heterosexual men (Chart 1).

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Chart 1 Physical and sexual assault since age 15 among sexual minority and heterosexual men, by relationship to perpetrator, Canada, 2018

Data table for Chart 1 
Data table for Chart 1
Physical and sexual assault since age 15 among sexual minority and heterosexual men, by relationship to perpetrator, Canada, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Physical and sexual assault since age 15 among sexual minority and heterosexual men Physical assault, Sexual assault and Total violent victimization, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Physical assault Sexual assault Total violent victimization
percent
Sexual minority men Intimate partnerData table for Chart 1 Note 1 29.7Note * 10.2Note * 31.1Note *
Non-intimate partner 47.3Note * 25.5Note * 55.4Note *
Total 55.2Note * 27.4Note * 60.8Note *
Heterosexual menData table for Chart 1 Note  Intimate partnerData table for Chart 1 Note 1 16.4 1.8 16.8
Non-intimate partner 33.1 7.7 34.9
Total 37.5 8.6 39.2

Chart 1 end

Sexual minority men more likely than heterosexual men to experience violence in the past year

Like what was seen with lifetime prevalence, sexual minority men were more likely than heterosexual men to say that they had been physically or sexually assaulted in the 12 months preceding the SSPPS. One in ten (10%) sexual minority men had been the victim of violence in the past year, higher than what was indicated by heterosexual men (6%). In particular, sexual minority men were four times more likely to have been sexually assaulted in the past year than heterosexual men (4% versus 1%). Similar proportions of sexual minority and heterosexual men were physically assaulted within the past year.

Looking specifically at non-intimate partner violence, the differences in the experiences of sexual minority and heterosexual men persisted for sexual assault. Sexual minority men were four times more likely to have been sexually assaulted (4% versus 1%) by someone who was not an intimate partner within the past year. Again, there was no difference in the prevalence of physical assault between sexual minority and heterosexual men (Table 5).

Lifetime violent victimization, including IPV and non-IPV, higher among sexual minority men in most regions

In the AtlanticNote  region, Ontario, and British Columbia, similar proportions of sexual minority and heterosexual men had experienced physical or sexual assault by an intimate partner in their lifetime. However, in Quebec and Alberta, sexual minority men were more likely than heterosexual men to say that they had experienced these types of IPV. In Quebec, sexual minority men (36%) were three times more likely than heterosexual men (13%) to experience physical or sexual IPV, while in Alberta, more than half (54%) of sexual minority men had been physically assaulted—more than twice the proportion of heterosexual men (21%).Note 

Overall violent victimization (including both IPV and non-IPV) was much higher among sexual minority men than heterosexual men in most regions. In particular, sexual minority men (66%) in Quebec were more than twice as likely as heterosexual men (32%) to indicate that they had been physically or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In the Atlantic region, Ontario and Alberta, sexual minority men were also more likely to be violently victimized in their lifetime than heterosexual men, but the differences were not as large as what was observed for Quebec (Table 6).

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Detailed data tables

Table 1 Intimate partner violence since age 15 and in the past 12 months, by type of intimate partner violence and sexual orientation, Canada, 2018

Table 2 Intimate partner violence since age 15 and in the past 12 months, by sexual orientation, Canada, 2018

Table 3 Intimate partner violence since age 15 and in the past 12 months, by selected characteristics of victim and sexual orientation, Canada, 2018

Table 4 Physical and sexual assault committed by intimate partners and non-intimate partners since age 15, by sexual orientation, Canada, 2018

Table 5 Physical and sexual assault committed by intimate partners and non-intimate partners in the past 12 months, by sexual orientation, Canada, 2018

Table 6 Physical and sexual assault committed by intimate partners and non-intimate partners since age 15, by sexual orientation and province and territory, 2018

Survey description

In 2018, Statistics Canada conducted the first cycle of the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS). The purpose of the survey is to collect information on Canadians’ experiences in public, at work, online, and in their intimate partner relationships.

The target population for the SSPPS is the Canadian population aged 15 and older, living in the provinces and territories. Canadians residing in institutions are not included. This means that the survey results may not reflect the experiences of intimate partner violence among those living in shelters, institutions, or other collective dwellings. Once a household was contacted, an individual 15 years or older was randomly selected to respond to the survey.

In the provinces, data collection took place from April to December 2018 inclusively. Responses were obtained by self-administered online questionnaire or by interviewer-administered telephone questionnaire. Respondents were able to respond in the official language of their choice. The sample size for the 10 provinces was 43,296 respondents. The response rate in the provinces was 43.1%.

In the territories, data collection took place from July to December 2018 inclusively. Responses were obtained by self-administered online questionnaire or by interviewer-administered in-person questionnaire. Respondents were able to respond in the official language of their choice. The sample size for the 3 territories was 2,597 respondents. The response rate in the territories was 73.2%.

Non-respondents included people who refused to participate, could not be reached, or could not speak English or French. Respondents in the sample were weighted so that their responses represent the non-institutionalized Canadian population aged 15 and older.

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.

For the quality of estimates, the lower and upper bounds of the confidence intervals are presented. Confidence intervals should be interpreted as follows: If the survey were repeated many times, then 95% of the time (or 19 times out of 20), the confidence interval would cover the true population value.

References

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Cotter, A. 2021b. “Intimate partner violence in Canada, 2018: Experiences of women belonging to ethno-cultural groups designated as visible minorities.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

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Initial findings from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

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Karakurt, G., Smith, D. and J. Whiting. 2014. “Impact of Intimate Partner Violence on Women’s Mental Health.” Journal of Family Violence. Vol. 29, no. 7. p. 693–702.

Lagdon, S., Armour, C. and M. Stringer. 2014. “Adult experience of mental health outcomes as a result of intimate partner violence victimisation: A systematic review.” European Journal of Psychotraumatology. Vol. 5, no. 1.

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

Perreault, S. 2020a. “Gender-based violence: Unwanted sexual behaviours in Canada’s territories, 2018.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Perreault, S. 2020b. “Gender-based violence: Sexual and physical assault in Canada’s territories, 2018.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Peterson, C., Kearns, M.C., McIntosh, W.L., Estefan, L.F., Nicolaidis, C., McCollister, K.E., Gordon, A., and C. Florence. 2018. “Lifetime economic burden of intimate partner violence among U.S. adults.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Vol. 55, no. 4. p. 433-444.

Savage, L. 2021a. “Intimate partner violence: Experiences of women with disabilities in Canada, 2018.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Savage, L. 2021b. “Intimate partner violence: Experiences of young women in Canada, 2018.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Simpson, L. 2018. “Violent victimization of lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Canada, 2014.” Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

World Health Organization. 2017. “Violence against women”. (accessed January 10, 2021).

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