Dating violence against teens aged 15 to 17 in Canada, 2009 to 2022

by Danielle Sutton and Marta Burczycka

Release date: March 20, 2024
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Highlights

  • According to self-reported data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces, more than four in ten (45%) teens experienced dating violence since they turned 15. Self-reported dating violence includes criminal acts such as physical and sexual violence, as well as acts that may not be considered criminal (e.g., emotional abuse) but which can nonetheless have devastating consequences for victims.
  • Experiences of emotional abuse were the most prevalent among teens aged 15 to 17 (45%). Among teens who experienced dating violence, all had experienced emotional abuse, either on its own or in conjunction with other forms of violence.
  • One in ten (10%) teens said that they had experienced physical violence by a dating partner since they turned 15.
  • Among teen girls, 7% had experienced sexual abuse by a dating partner, including being forced to perform sex acts that they did not want to perform (7%) and having been forced (or having a partner attempt to force them) into having sex (5%).
  • Between 2009 and 2022, there were 41,057 persons aged 15 to 17 years who were a victim of police-reported teen dating violence in Canada, defined as any form of violent crime committed against a teen (aged 15 to 17) where the accused person was a current or former non-spousal intimate partner.
  • Between 2009 and 2022, there was an average rate of 239 victims of teen dating violence per 100,000 population. Following a period of decline from 2009 to 2014 (-22%), rates of teen dating violence have increased 33% since 2015, with similar increases for girl and boy victims.
  • In 2022, the rate of police-reported dating violence was about nine times higher for teenage girls (500 victims per 100,000 population) than boys (57).
  • Among the provinces, the highest rate of police-reported teen dating violence in 2022 was recorded by police in Saskatchewan (627 victims per 100,000 population), followed by Manitoba (574) and New Brunswick (424).
  • In 2022, the overall rate of police-reported teen dating violence against victims aged 15 to 17 was twice as high in rural compared to urban areas (478 versus 241 per 100,000 population), driven largely by violence recorded by police in the rural North (1,154 per 100,000 population).
  • Victims aged 15 to 17 had higher rates (60 victims per 100,000 population) of sexual violence in dating relationships than other forms of violence (e.g., physical assault or criminal harassment); higher than the rate among victims aged 18 to 24 (43), and those aged 25 and older (9). Sexual teen dating violence disproportionately impacts girls (116 versus 5 for boys), as is the case more generally with all forms of sexual violence.
  • According to police-reported data, in 2022, four in ten (39%) incidents of teen dating violence involving victims aged 15 to 17 were not cleared—meaning the incident was still under investigation, or there was insufficient evidence to proceed, or the complainant did not want to proceed (accused had not been identified). Of incidents that were cleared, most (83%) were cleared by the laying or recommendation of a charge; however, charges were more common when the victim was a girl than a boy.
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Teen dating violence is a pressing problem in Canada but national data on its scope and associated characteristics are scarce. It is commonly defined as physical, sexual or psychological violence, including stalking, experienced in dating or sexual relationships during adolescent periods (see Text box 1 for definitions used in this article) (Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Niolon et al., 2015; Tomaszewska & Schuster, 2021; Vagi et al., 2015; Zweig et al., 2014). These behaviours may occur in person between dating partners or electronically and online, often referred to as cyber dating abuse or technology-facilitated violence (Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Tomaszewska & Schuster, 2021). As is the case with intimate partner violence (IPV) in general, teen dating violence could be one singular event of abuse and or, as is most often the case, could involve repeated forms of abuse over time (Cotter, 2021).

Data from the 2017/2018 Heath-Behavior in School-Aged Children study have shown that more than one in three Canadian teens in grades 9 and 10, who had dated, reported being victims or perpetrators of dating violence in the year prior (Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Government of Canada, 2022). Similarly, research studies in the United States have found that between 9% to 35% of surveyed youth have experienced dating violence (Banyard & Cross, 2008; Children’s Safety Network, 2012; Exner-Cortens et al., 2013; Vagi et al., 2015). These proportions vary according to whether teens are asked about their current dating relationship or all past relationships, the type of violence being measured, and whether they experienced dating violence in their lifetime or within the past year.

Unlike IPV more generally, which disproportionately affects women and girls, some research has shown that similar proportions of teenage boys and girls reported experiencing (non-sexual) dating violence (Banyard & Cross, 2008; Eisner, 2021; Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Jouriles et al., 2017; Wincentak et al., 2017). While similarities exist in the overall proportion of boys and girls who self-report experiencing teen dating violence, the frequency and severity of violence is often greater for girls (Eisner, 2021; Hamby & Turner, 2013; Jouriles et al., 2017; Niolon et al., 2015).

Notwithstanding some similarities between boys and girls, teen dating violence continues to disproportionately affect teens who identify as sexual or gender minorities compared to their heterosexual and cis-gender counterparts (Basile et al., 2020; Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Whitton et al., 2019). The increased risk of violence among gender and sexual minorities has been explained through structural factors (e.g., prejudice, discrimination, harassment, diminished community and family supports) which increase their risk of adverse social and health outcomes, including IPV (Whitton et al., 2019).

Adolescence is a key period of identity development where youth acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to develop healthy relationships, all while experiencing substantial physical, cognitive, emotional and social changes (Kowalova & Cason, 2017). As such the negative effects associated with experiencing teen dating violence can be far reaching and long-lasting. For example, in terms of lifelong consequences, some research indicates that teens who experience dating violence are more likely to experience violence in relationships as adults; have higher rates of depression, suicide attempts and mental health issues; and, abuse drugs and alcohol in adulthood (Banyard & Cross, 2008; Children’s Safety Network, 2012; Exner-Cortens et al., 2013; Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Hébert et al., 2017; Parker & Bradshaw, 2015; Vagi et al., 2015). The high proportion of teens who experience various forms of dating violence, coupled with the known adverse outcomes, highlights the necessity of conducting an analysis of its overall prevalence and characteristics in Canada.

Using self-reported and police-reported data, this Juristat article focuses on the experiences of dating violence against teens aged 15 to 17 in Canada. Section 1 explores self-reported data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) to examine the frequency and severity of dating violence against teens in Canada, potential correlated factors, as well as its impacts and consequences. In Section 2, data from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey are used to show year-over-year trends in police-reported teen dating violence, including a brief discussion of spousal violence against teenage victims. Next, information is presented on geographic variations, incident characteristics and whether the case was cleared (i.e., solved) by police. A combination of data sources is essential to fully capture the realities of teen dating violence in Canada, considering issues of underreporting as well as the occurrence of abusive behaviours that may not meet the criminal threshold.Note 

This Juristat article was produced with funding support from Women and Gender Equality Canada.

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Text box 1
Definitions and data sources

According to Canadian census data, only 1% of all youth aged 15 to 19 were legally married or in a common-law relationship in 2021 (Statistics Canada, 2023). As such, of the teens aged 15 to 17 who experience violence within an intimate partner relationship, the vast majority would be in a dating relationship, thereby supporting an analytical focus on violence within teen dating relationships. The data presented in this Juristat article can thus be used to inform, develop and enhance prevention tools specific to the teenage dating population.

For the purposes of this article, two distinct albeit similar definitions of teen dating violence are used. The definitions relate to two data sources, self-reported data drawn from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) and police administrative data drawn from the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey. The former capture a wide range of violence (i.e., physical and sexual assault, emotional and psychological abuse) regardless of whether they were reported to the police and met the criminal threshold.  In contrast, the latter only include violent incidents that were reported to police and deemed criminal in nature. It is important to note that perpetrators of dating violence and abuse against a teenage victim might not be a teen themselves and may fall outside the 15-to-17 age range.

Data drawn from the SSPPS are presented to highlight criminal and non-criminal forms of teen dating violence. Self-reported teen dating violence is defined as physical and sexual assault, and emotional and psychological abuse, against a teen (aged 15 to 17) which was perpetrated by a current or former dating partner (see Text box 2 for the various types of violence measured by the survey).Note  Note 

Data drawn from the UCR Survey detail violent incidents within intimate relationships that were reported to police and met the criminal threshold. Police-reported teen dating violence is defined as any form of violent crime committed against a teen (aged 15 to 17) where the accused person was a current or former intimate partner (i.e., boyfriend or girlfriend, ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, another type of intimate partner such as a one-night stand). Spousal relationships—that is, legal marriages and common-law relationships—are excluded from most of the police-reported analysis presented in this article.

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Section 1: Self-reported dating violence among teens aged 15 to 17

Many forms of violence, including violence within dating relationships and other intimate partnerships, often go unreported to the police. Data from Canadian studies show that violence within intimate partnerships is often underreported to police, for reasons including victims considering it to be a private and personal matter and not seeing what happened as serious enough to report (Conroy, 2021a; Conroy, 2019; Cotter, 2021).

Moreover, there are many behaviours that are abusive and can be harmful to victims but do not meet the criminal threshold; examples include various forms of emotional and psychological abuse. As such, analyzing self-reported data is essential to providing a complete picture of the overall prevalence and nature of dating violence in general and among teens specifically. In this section, data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) are used to examine the prevalence of teen dating violence and young people’s attitudes towards it. The SSPPS collected information on Canadians’ experiences of violence within intimate relationships—including physical, sexual and emotional violence—both for lifetime prevalence (since the age of 15) and in the 12 months that preceded the survey (see Text box 2).

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Text box 2
Measuring intimate partner violence with the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces

The 2018 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 people’s experiences of a range of behaviours committed by intimate partners, including physical and sexual violence and emotional and psychological abuse.  Intimate partners include current and former legally married spouses, common-law partners, dating partners, and other intimate partners. 

Physical assault includes physical violence or the threat of physical violence. In all, nine types of abuse are included in this category: being shaken, pushed or thrown; being hit, kicked or bitten; being threatened with harm or having someone close to you be threatened with harm; being choked; having a weapon used against you or being threatened with a weapon; being threatened to be hit with a fist or an object; having things thrown at you; being slapped; and being beaten.

Sexual assault includes sexual violence or threats of sexual violence. It included two types of abuse: 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.

Emotional and psychological abuse encompasses behaviours 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 (but not limited to) jealousy, name-calling and other put-downs, stalking or harassing behaviours, manipulation, confinement, or property damage (see Text box 3).  It also includes being blamed for causing the abusive or violent behaviour, which was measured among those respondents who experienced certain forms of IPV. Notably, many behaviours included in this category of abuse are not considered to be criminal.

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 IPV in Canada, see Cotter 2021.

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Over four in ten teens aged 15 to 17 experienced dating violence

According to the SSPPS, more than four in ten (45%) teens aged 15 to 17 who had reported being in a relationshipNote  at some point since the age of 15 stated that they had experienced some form of abuse or violence at the hands of a dating partner (Table 1). This included equal proportions of teen girls (46%) and teen boys (46%) in this age group.Note  This represented almost 142,000 young people across Canada.

In the context of these self-reported data, dating violence includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse committed by a current or former boyfriend, girlfriend or dating partner (see Text box 1).Note  Emotional abuse was the most prevalent, affecting 45% of teens aged 15 to 17. In fact, all teens who had experienced any kind of dating violence had experienced emotional abuse, either on its own or in conjunction with physical or sexual violence.  Emotional abuse is often seen as a precursor to other forms of violence, is related to concepts of coercive controlNote  in intimate partner relationships (Dawson et al., 2021; Gill & Aspinall, 2020; Kelly & Johnson, 2008; Stark, 2007), and includes many different behaviours (see Text box 3).

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Text box 3
Coercive control within teen dating relationships

Coercive control is a term used to encapsulate a range of abusive and violent behaviours intended to deprive the victim of their autonomy in the relationship through fear of potential consequences and does not require that physical force ever be used (Dawson et al., 2019; Stark, 2007). It is highly gendered, perpetrated primarily by men and boys against women and girls and can materialize in the form of actual or threatened physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse (Dawson et al., 2019; Johnson et al., 2019). While some types of abuse considered to be elements of coercive control have been criminalized in Canada, others have not. Some common examples of coercive control include (Silverstone, 2021):

  • Social isolation, from friends or family
  • Deprivation of basic needs
  • Monitoring everyday activities either in-person or electronically
  • Repeatedly insulting, humiliating or putting a person down to foster feelings of worthlessness
  • Threatening to harm them, their loved ones or pets
  • Damaging personal property

Results from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) found emotional abuse to be the most prevalent form of dating violence experienced by teens. This type of abuse can include many different behaviours; for example, a partner acting jealous and limiting contact with other young men or women (experienced by 36% of teens), telling the victim that they were crazy, stupid or not good enough (22%), and demanding to know where the victim was or who they were with at all times (20%) (Text box 3 table). Where comparisons between boys and girls were possible, no significant differences were found with respect to the prevalence of emotionally abusive behaviours.


Text box 3 table
Types of emotional abuse experienced within dating relationships since age 15 among teens aged 15 to 17, by gender, Canada, 2018
Table summary
This table displays the results of Types of emotional abuse experienced within dating relationships since age 15 among teens aged 15 to 17. The information is grouped by Type of emotional abuse (appearing as row headers), Girls aged 15 to 17, Boys aged 15 to 17, Total, percent and 95% confidence interval, calculated using from and to units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of emotional abuse Girls aged 15 to 17 Boys aged 15 to 17 Total
percent 95% confidence interval percent 95% confidence interval percent 95% confidence interval
from to from to from to
Jealous, does not want you to talk to other men or women 34 20.9 49.7 38 25.6 52.6 36 27.2 46.7
Demands to know where you are or who you are with 23 12.1 39.4 18 9.5 31.2 20 13.0 29.8
Puts you down or calls you names 29 16.0 46.6 Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 17 10.1 27.1
Told you that you are crazy, stupid or not good enough 29 16.8 45.3 17 9.2 30.4 22 14.5 32.5
Tried to convince your friends or family that you are crazy 16 6.5 33.9 Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 10 5.2 19.8
Followed you or hung out outside your home or work 8 3.4 17.0 Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published 5 2.6 10.2
Kept you from seeing family or friends 6 3.0 11.8 7 2.8 16.5 7 3.6 11.9
Harassed you by phone, text, email or social media 16 6.6 33.8 6 2.2 14.9 10 5.3 19.1

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Physical violence by a dating partner experienced by one in ten teens since age 15

One in ten (10%) teens aged 15 to 17 experienced physical violence by a dating partner. This included 14% of boys and 5% of girls, though this difference was not statistically significant. As mentioned, previous research based on self-reported data has also shown that similar proportions of girls and boys experience physical teen dating violence (Banyard & Cross, 2008; Eisner, 2021; Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Jouriles et al., 2017; Wincentak et al., 2017). However, police-reported data show higher rates of physical assault offences for girls (93 victims per 100,000 girls aged 15 to 17) than for boys (15).

While SSPPS data cannot provide rates of reporting of physical and/or sexual dating violence to police by teens,Note  this comparison to police-reported data suggest that physical violence against girls may be more likely to come to the attention of police.

Among teens, 6% indicated that they had been slapped, 4% had been hit with a fist or object or kicked or bitten, 4% had been threatened to be hit with a fist or weapon, and 4% had been shaken, grabbed, pushed or thrown by a dating partner.Note 

One in fourteen teen girls experienced sexual violence by a dating partner since age 15

When it came to sexual violence by a dating partner, 4% of teens indicated that they had experienced it since they turned 15, including one in 14 (7%) girls aged 15 to 17. Girls in this age group experienced a partner forcing them to perform sex acts that they did not want to perform (7%) and a partner forcing, or attempting to force, them into having sex (5%). Data on teen boys’ experiences of sexual violence could not be presented, due to limited sample size.

Among teen girls, sexual violence by a dating partner was slightly more common than physical violence (7% versus 5%). This was consistent with police-reported data, where the rate of sexual offences by dating partners in the previous year (116 victims per 100,000 girls aged 15 to 17) was higher than the rate of physical assaults (93).

It should be noted that while the current study found no statistically significant differences between teen girls and teen boys when it came to both the overall prevalence of dating violence and of the various types of dating violence measured by the SSPPS, this finding should be interpreted with a measure of caution. The small number of respondents on which these findings are based may preclude findings of statistical significance, when experiences of girls and boys are compared. Other studies have consistently shown that even when overall prevalence is the same, girls and women are more often subjected to more frequent and severe forms of dating violence and violence within other intimate relationships (Eisner, 2021; Niolon et al., 2015).

Rates of teen intimate partner violence similar to those aged 18 to 24, different from older people

To contrast the experiences of teens aged 15 to 17 with those in other age groups, rates of violence between partnersNote  experienced in the 12 months prior to the collection of the SSPPS were compared. With few exceptions, the prevalence of violence among those aged 15 to 17 closely resembled that of those aged 18 to 24, and differed from those aged 25 and older (Table 2).

When it came to overall prevalence, nearly three in ten (29%) teens aged 15 to 17 indicated that they had been subjected to violence by an intimate partner in the previous year. This included 32% of teen girls and 27% of teen boys in this age group (a difference that was not statistically significant). The prevalence of violence in the previous year among teens aged 15 to 17 was very similar to that among those aged 18 to 24 (27%).

However, rates of violence within intimate relationships were considerably lower among those aged 25 and older (9%) and declined steadily with age. The sharpest drop was at age 25, where rates moved from close to three in ten (e.g., 29% and 27% among the 15 to 17 and 18 to 24 groups) to the 14% recorded among those aged 25 to 29 and 30 to 34. Relationship violence continued to decrease in the older age groups, reaching 5% or lower of those aged 70 and older. This is consistent with previous research from Canada and elsewhere, which has repeatedly shown that younger people are at particular risk of violence from an intimate partner and other forms of violence (Conroy & Cotter, 2017; Cotter & Savage, 2019; Perreault, 2015; Savage, 2021). This was also largely consistent with police-reported data in Section 2, which show that the lowest rates of dating violence were for those aged 25 and older.

Prevalence of emotional, sexual abuse by a partner similar among those aged 15 to 17 and 18 to 24

Emotional abuse—which is often a precursor to more severe forms of violence—was the most common form of violence within intimate relationships experienced by all age groups in the preceding year. Its prevalence was similar among teens aged 15 to 17 (29%) and those aged 18 to 24 (26%; a difference not found to be statistically significant). This stood in contrast to the experiences of those aged 25 and older, among whom a substantially smaller proportion (10%) indicated that they had experienced emotional abuse by an intimate partner in the preceding 12 months.

As with violence within intimate relationships overall, the rate of sexual violence committed by a partner in the previous year was similar among those aged 15 to 17 (3%) and those aged 18 to 24 (4%).Note  Teens aged 15 to 17 had a slightly higher prevalence of sexual violence in an intimate relationship than did those aged 25 and older (1%).

Unlike emotional and sexual abuse by an intimate partner, the prevalence of physical abuse among those aged 15 to 17 (3%) was close to that of those aged 25 and older (2%), and significantly lower compared to those aged 18 to 24 (8%). Notably, this was a similar pattern to that seen with police-reported data, where the highest rates were also recorded among victims aged 18 to 24.

Almost one in five teens experience unwanted behaviour online

Online spaces are also places where individuals can experience violence, which is a particular concern for teens (see Text box 6). While not specifically a measure of dating violence, the SSPPS asked about experiences of unwanted behaviour while online. These behaviours include being targeted by aggressive or harassing messages, having someone post or threaten to post intimate images of them, being pressured to share intimate images, and receiving sexually explicit content without consent.

According to the 2018 SSPPS, almost one in five (19%) teens aged 15 to 17 experienced some form of unwanted behaviour while online in the 12 months preceding the survey (data not shown).Note  The proportion was higher among girls (24%) than boys (15%), driven by a higher proportion of girls who were sent unwanted sexually suggestive or explicit images or messages (19% versus 8% of boys). Notably, the proportion among teens was lower than that reported by those aged 18 to 24 (29%), but higher than among those 25 and older (14%). 

More specifically, among teens, the most common unwanted behaviours experienced online were being sent unwanted sexually suggestive or explicit images or messages (13%) or threatening or aggressive emails or messages (10%). The other behaviours measured by the survey were less common. These patterns align with what was observed among internet users of all ages more generally (Cotter & Savage, 2019).

While these behaviours are not specific to dating violence, 4% of teens who experienced some form of unwanted online behaviour indicated that a current or former dating partner was responsible. Most commonly, teens did not know who the person(s) responsible were (34%) or identified a stranger (30%).Note 

As with men in general, boys aged 15 to 17 more likely to perceive violence as sometimes excusable

The 2018 SSPPS asked respondents several questions regarding their attitudes towards gender and violence in relationships. Regardless of whether or not they had experienced violence in an intimate relationship, all respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the statements, “violence between partners can be excused if people get so angry they lose control”; “it is understandable that someone would react violently if they suspect their partner of having an affair”; and “people have the right to check who their partner has been calling or texting at all times.”

When it came to violence being understandable in certain situations, these attitudes found more support among boys than among girls in the 15 to 17 years age group (including those that had, and had not, experienced dating violence). Over a quarter of boys (26%) agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “it is understandable that someone would react violently if they suspect their partner of having an affair”, compared to 17% of girls (Table 3). Similarly, 12% of boys aged 15 to 17 agreed or strongly agreed that “violence between partners can be excused if people get so angry they lose control”, compared to 7% of girls.

Boys’ and girls’ attitudes towards violence in relationships were generally similar to those held by older people, with a few exceptions. In most cases, men’s attitudes were favorable towards violence more often than women’s. The exception was when men aged 18 to 24 were asked about violence being excusable if someone loses control, where the proportion that agreed or strongly agreed (6%) was very close to that seen among similarly aged women (7%). Additionally, boys aged 15 to 17 were considerably less likely to disagree or strongly disagree that violence is understandable in cases of infidelity (53%), compared to men aged 25 and older (63%).

Meanwhile, when it came to people having the right to check their partner’s calls and messages, the attitudes of teen girls were closer to those held by teen boys than with some other questions. Unlike other questions related to abusive conduct in relationships, when it came to the right to check a partner’s phone, the proportion of girls aged 15 to 17 who agreed or strongly agreed was almost identical to that among boys (22% and 21%, respectively). Additionally, significantly fewer teen girls disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement (47%), compared with women aged 18 to 24 (60%) and 25 and older (58%).

Notably, respondents who experienced dating violence were more likely to support statements that violent or controlling behaviour can sometimes be condoned. For example, 26% of teens aged 15 to 17 who had ever experienced dating violence agreed or strongly agreed that it is understandable that someone would react violently if they suspected infidelity—a slightly, but significantly, larger proportion than among teens who had not experienced dating violence (22%; Chart 1). Similarly, more teens who had experienced dating violence agreed or strongly agreed that a person has the right to check their partner’s phone (19%), compared to teens that had not experienced such violence (15%).

Chart 1 start

Chart 1 Attitudes towards violence and control in intimate relationships among teens aged 15 to 17, by previous experiences with dating violence, Canada, 2018

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 Attitudes (appearing as row headers), Experienced dating violence since age 15, Did not experience dating violence, percent and 95% confidence interval, calculated using from and to units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Attitudes Experienced dating violence since age 15 Did not experience dating violence
percent 95% confidence interval percent 95% confidence interval
from to from to
It is understandable that someone would react violently
if they suspect their partner of having an affair
Agree or strongly agree 25.8 14.6 41.4 21.9 13.1 34.3
Disagree or strongly disagree 68.3 52.8 80.5 58.0 43.1 71.6
People have the right to check who their partner
has been calling or texting at all times
Agree or strongly agree 18.9 10.9 30.7 15.4 8.1 27.2
Disagree or strongly disagree 63.0 48.9 75.2 43.4 29.8 58.0

Chart 1 end

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Text box 4
Experiences and consequences of dating violence among people aged 15 to 18 years

Rules for the analysis of data from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) set minimums for the number of respondents required in a given group: if there are too few respondents in a group, certain data and analyses about them cannot be published.  When it comes to teens aged 15 to 17 years, the number of survey respondents who experienced dating violence is too small to allow for much of the detailed analysis and disaggregation that is usually included in Statistics Canada publications. Expanding the age range to include people aged 18 increases the number of respondents enough to allow for more extensive analysis.

Expectedly, an analysis of various sociodemographic characteristics—including those often associated with a heightened risk of experiencing violence—shows that the population aged 15 to 17 is similar to that aged 15 to 18 in many ways. For instance, equal proportions indicated that they were members of the LGBTQ2S population (7% of both age groups) or First Nations, Métis or Inuit (Indigenous) (4%), and similar proportions stated that they had experienced physical or sexual abuse as children (15% of 15 to 17-year-olds and 16% of 15 to 18-year-olds).

Further to these similarities, the addition of the 18-year-olds does not raise the overall prevalence of dating violence experienced in the previous year in a statistically significant way (29% among those aged 15 to 17 and 31% among those aged 15 to 18 years). This similarity was noted among girls and young women and among boys and young men, when the two age groups were compared.

Expanding the analysis to include those aged 18 allows for some additional insights into dating violence among young people. Among those who had experienced violence by an intimate partner in the previous year, the large majority (73%) said they had experienced more than one incident of abuse during that time, whether that involved more than once instance of the same form of abuse or one or multiple instances of various types. At the same time, 75% of 15 to 18-year-olds who had experienced dating violence experienced multiple different types of abuse, including 12% who experienced ten or more types (see Table 1 for a list of types of dating violence included in this study). Additionally, 90% of young people aged 15 to 18 who had experienced dating violence in the previous year said that one partner had been responsible for the abuse.

Canadian studies have shown that intimate partner violence is rarely reported to the police (Conroy, 2021a; Conroy, 2019; Cotter, 2021), and the same can be said when it comes to dating violence among those aged 15 to 18 years. Among those who had experienced abuse by a dating partner in the previous year, 98% stated that police had not been made aware of what happened. Most (92%) also stated that they had not accessed any support services for help dealing with the abuse, often because they felt the incident was too minor or that they did not need assistance (78% of those who did not access services). Instead of formal support, 74% of those aged 15 to 18 who had experienced dating violence in the past year said that they spoke to someone else in their life about it, often a family member (37%). These patterns are consistent with what is generally observed in the broader population.

Most (83%) young people aged 15 to 18 who experienced dating violence said that the experience had some impact on their emotional or psychological well-being. Many (62%) felt upset, confused or frustrated, as well as hurt or disappointed (55%), angry (50%), and annoyed (45%).

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Section 2: Police-reported dating violence against teens aged 15 to 17

Police-reported teen dating violence is defined as any form of violent crime experienced by a person aged 15 to 17 by their non-spousal intimate partner.Note  Teen dating violence is a form of intimate partner violence, but most of this section excludes spousal violence perpetrated against a teenage victim due to the rarity of such relationships in Canada. It is important to note that persons accused of dating violence against a teenage victim might not be a teen themselves and may instead fall outside the 15-to-17-year range. While the previous section focused on criminal and non-criminal forms of teen dating violence, this section is limited to criminal incidents that came to the attention of authorities.

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Text box 5
Criminal violations related to police-reported teen dating violence

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey collects detailed information on criminal incidents that have come to the attention of Canadian police services, where there is no evidence that the incident did not occur. While the violations below are not exhaustive, they comprise the vast majority (93%) of police-reported violent crime among dating partners where the victim is between the ages of 15 to 17.

Assault (physical): refers to three levels of physical assaults which include the following categories:

  • Common assault: this includes the Criminal Code category assault (level 1). This is the least serious form of assault and includes pushing, slapping, punching, and face-to-face verbal threats.
  • Major assault level 2: this includes more serious forms of assault, i.e., assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm and involves carrying, using or threatening to use a weapon against someone or causing someone bodily harm.
  • Major assault level 3: this includes aggravated assault and involves wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of someone.
  • Other assaults: includes pointing a firearm, unlawfully causing bodily harm, criminal negligence causing bodily harm, using firearm or imitation firearm in commission of offence, discharge firearm with intent, assault against a police officer, assault against peace officer with a weapon or causing bodily harm, aggravated assault against peace officer, trap likely to or causing bodily harm, and other assaults.

Sexual assault: encompasses a wide range of criminal acts in the Criminal Code. Such conduct ranges from unwanted sexual touching to sexual violence resulting in serious physical injury or disfigurement to the victim. It also includes special categories of offences designed to protect children from sexual abuse:

  • Sexual assault level 1: involves minor physical injuries or no injuries to the victim.
  • Sexual assault level 2: includes sexual assault with a weapon, threats or causing bodily harm.
  • Aggravated sexual assault level 3: this results in wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of the victim.
  • Sexual interference: is the direct or indirect touching (for a sexual purpose) of a person under the age of 16 years using a part of the body or an object.
  • Invitation to sexual touching: is the inviting, counselling, or inciting of a person under the age of 16 years to touch (for a sexual purpose) the body of any person directly or indirectly with a part of the body or with an object.
  • Sexual exploitation: occurs when a person in a position of trust or authority towards a young person or a person with whom the young person is in a relationship of dependency, commits sexual interference or invitation to sexual touching. In this section “young person” refers to a person between 16 and 18 years of age.

Criminal harassment: is defined as repeatedly following another person from place to place or repeatedly attempting to contact the person against their wishes causing that person to reasonably fear for their personal safety or the safety of anyone known to them.

Uttering threats: is defined as knowingly uttering, conveying or causing any person to receive a threat to cause death or bodily harm; to burn, destroy or damage real or personal property; or to kill, poison or injure an animal that is the property of any person.

End of text box 5

Dating violence most common form of intimate partner violence among teens aged 15 to 17

Between 2009 and 2022, there were 41,057 persons aged 15 to 17 years who were a victim of police-reported teen dating violence in Canada, representing an average rate of 239 victims per 100,000 population.

During the same time, there were an additional 12,433 teens aged 15 to 17 who were victims of police-reported spousal violence, including violence occurring within legal marriages and common-law relationships. When dating and spousal violence are combined to represent all police-reported experiences of IPV among teenage victims, the large majority (77%) experienced IPV by a dating partner (either current or former) or another non-spousal intimate partner. While the rates are lower for teen dating violence compared to teen IPV more generally, the fact that dating violence forms more than three-quarters of all IPV victimizations produces similar year-over-year trends (Chart 2), and supports an analytical focus on teen dating violence exclusively.

Chart 2 start

Chart 2 Police-reported violent crime among dating and intimate partners, by age group and year, Canada, 2009 to 2022

Data table for Chart 2 
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2 IPV among those aged, Dating violence among those aged, 15 to 17, 18 to 24 and 25 and older, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
IPV among those aged Dating violence among those aged
15 to 17 18 to 24 25 and older 15 to 17 18 to 24 25 and older
rate per 100,000 population
2009 341 761 310 254 374 89
2010 340 772 309 253 392 94
2011 322 731 291 244 365 86
2012 300 688 282 229 339 86
2013 296 631 267 224 319 83
2014 267 604 261 199 300 82
2015 271 628 267 208 317 86
2016 288 627 269 223 322 88
2017 291 625 275 225 329 92
2018 308 607 285 241 326 97
2019 337 620 306 264 339 109
2020 290 611 317 228 345 121
2021 344 613 325 270 350 127
2022 353 584 327 276 335 124

Chart 2 end

Increase in dating violence against teens aged 15 to 17 since 2015

Following a period of decline from 2009 to 2014 (-22%), rates of teen dating violence have increased 33% since 2015, with similar increases for girl victims (+30%) and boys (+35%) (Chart 3). While year-over-year trends in teen dating violence align with police-reported violent crime trends overall for that age group, teen dating violence had less of a decline between 2009 and 2014 and more of an increase since 2015 compared to rates of violent crime among teen victims overall (where the rate changes were -31% and +29%, respectively).

For police-reported teen dating violence, since 2015, 2020 was the only year with a documented decline (-14%) from the year prior. In fact, teens aged 15 to 17 were the only age group overall that saw a decline in rates of dating violence from 2019 to 2020; instead, rates increased for 18- to 24-year-olds (+2%) and those aged 25 or older (+11%). The COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding lockdowns can help explain the disproportionate decline among the younger demographic. For teens, much of their time is spent at school and in extracurricular activities, and COVID brought increased parental supervision and time spent at home, reducing situations where violence from dating partners could occur (Krause et al., 2022). That said, the occurrence of police-reported teen dating violence involving online offences peaked in 2020 (see Text box 6), potentially signaling a shift in the types of behaviours reported during the pandemic.

Chart 3 start

Chart 3 Police-reported violent crime among dating partners by age group, gender and year, Canada, 2009 to 2022

Data table for Chart 3 
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 Girls aged 15 to 17 , Boys aged 15 to 17, Women aged 18 to 24, Men aged 18 to 24, Women aged 25 and older and Men aged 25 and older, calculated using rate per 100,000 population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Girls aged 15 to 17 Boys aged 15 to 17 Women aged 18 to 24 Men aged 18 to 24 Women aged 25 and older Men aged 25 and older
rate per 100,000 population
2009 469 44 648 107 131 44
2010 468 48 668 123 137 47
2011 452 46 631 107 128 43
2012 421 49 585 104 127 43
2013 418 42 560 91 121 42
2014 371 38 523 89 120 42
2015 384 42 561 92 127 43
2016 415 41 574 90 130 44
2017 417 42 579 96 137 45
2018 445 44 584 87 147 45
2019 488 48 607 91 164 52
2020 421 43 622 88 181 58
2021 495 52 625 95 191 60
2022 500 57 597 89 187 59

Chart 3 end

Like patterns in IPV victimization in Canada more generally (Conroy, 2022; Conroy, 2021b; Cotter, 2021), across all years and age groups, rates of police-reported dating violence against women and girls were higher than rates against men and boys. Indeed, in 2022, the rate of dating violence was about nine times higher for teenage girls (500 victims per 100,000 population) than boys (57), a greater difference than what was documented among 18- to 24-year-olds (seven times higher; 597 versus 89) and those aged 25 and older (3 times higher; 187 versus 59).

While other research has shown similar proportions of girls and boys experience physical teen dating violence (Banyard & Cross, 2008; Eisner, 2021; Exner-Cortens et al., 2021; Jouriles et al., 2017; Wincentak et al., 2017), it was based on self-reported data, and it may be that violence against girls is more likely to come to the attention of police. It is also possible that reporting patterns are affected by women and girls being more likely to seek help (either formally or informally) than men and boys (Bundock et al., 2018; Lachman et al., 2019; Martin et al., 2012). The likelihood of help-seeking among men and boys may be further reduced when the perpetrator was a woman or girl due in part to societal perceptions of what it means to be masculine (Arnocky & Vaillancourt, 2014; Huntley et al., 2019; Martin et al., 2012), which can help explain why a higher proportion of police-reported teen dating violence involves girl victims.

Teenage girls most commonly experience dating violence by a man or boy between the ages of 15 and 24

Focusing only on incidents of police-reported teen dating violence involving a single victim and single accused,Note  in 2022, 91% (N=1,610) of victims were girls aged 15 to 17 and 8% (N=144) were boys. Nearly all (95%) girl victims experienced violence by a dating partner who was a man or boy and 5% (N=77) by a woman or girl. Focusing on men and boys accused of dating violence against a teenage girl, close to half (45%) were also aged 15 to 17 years and a similar proportion (44%) were slightly older than their victim (i.e., aged 18 to 24 years). The remaining accused were men aged 25 or older (8%), or boys aged 12 to 14 (3%).

Among teenage boys who were victims of police-reported dating violence, nearly eight in ten (79%) experienced violence by a woman or girl, close to two-thirds of whom were the same age (64%). The next largest proportion (19%) of accused were younger girls (i.e., aged 12 to 14), followed by women aged 18 to 24 (13%) and a fraction of accused were women aged 25 years and older (4%). 

Rate of police-reported teen dating violence highest in the territories and the Prairie provinces

Research to date has shown the highest rates of violent crime overall, including violence against youth and intimate partners, exist in two of the territories (Conroy, 2021b; Conroy, 2018; Moreau, 2022). In 2022, police-reported teen dating violence was no exception: the highest rates were found in Nunavut (2,142 victims per 100,000 population; N=46) and the Northwest Territories (1,646 victims per 100,000 population; N=29) (Table 4). The rate of teen dating violence in Yukon (385 victims per 100,000 population; N=5), however, was lower than four provinces.

Among the provinces, the highest rate of teen dating violence in 2022 was recorded by police in Saskatchewan (627 victims per 100,000 population; N=273), followed by Manitoba (574 victims per 100,000 population; N=288) and New Brunswick (424 victims per 100,000 population; N=105). These rates were driven largely by violence against teenage girls, where the same pattern was found (1,119, 1,070 and 757 victims per 100,000 population, respectively). When it came to rates of dating violence against teenage boys, the highest provincial rate was again in Saskatchewan (137 victims per 100,000 population; N=30). Differing from overall patterns, the next highest rate was in Newfoundland and Labrador (110 victims per 100,000 population; N=9), followed closely by Nova Scotia (106 per 100,000 population; N=16).

Rates of teen dating violence higher in rural areas than in urban areas

Canadian data have consistently shown higher violent crime rates in rural compared to urban areas (Conroy, 2021b; Perreault, 2023; Perreault, 2019; Sutton, 2023), and current data support prior trends. In 2022, the overall rate of police-reported dating violence against victims aged 15 to 17 was twice as high in rural compared to urban areas (478 versus 241 per 100,000 population).Note  The high rate of rural violence, however, was due in large part to violence recorded by police in the rural North (Table 4).Note  Specifically, in 2022, the rate of teen dating violence was 1,154 victims per 100,000 population in the rural North, nearly four times higher than the rate in the rural South (317) and about five times higher than in urban areas (241).

Among the provinces, the largest differences were noted in Saskatchewan, where the rate of teen dating violence in the rural North (3,870 victims per 100,000 population; N=86) was ten times higher than in the rural South (403 victims per 100,000 population; N=59) and eight times higher than in urban areas (480 victims per 100,000 population; N=128). Similarly, in Manitoba, the rate was about seven times higher in the rural North (2,017 victims per 100,000 population; N=85) compared to the rural South (290 victims per 100,000 population; N=39) and four times higher than what was documented in urban areas (505 victims per 100,000 population; N=164).

While the numbers are small in rural areas, the lived realities of teens who experience dating violence in these areas may include difficulties in avoiding their abusers in small communities, decreased anonymity, less social support or IPV services and more barriers to help-seeking (Edwards et al., 2014; Moffitt et al., 2020)

Highest rates of police-reported teen dating violence in Lethbridge, Kingston, Greater Sudbury and Peterborough

It follows that the rate of teen dating violence was lower in census metropolitan areas (CMAs)Note  compared to non-CMAs (206 versus 463) (Table 5). That said, some CMA rates exceeded the average of non-CMAs. For example, the highest rates of teen dating violence were found in Lethbridge (537 victims per 100,000 population; N=25), followed by Kingston (509 victims per 100,000 population; N=26), Greater Sudbury (474 victims per 100,000 population; N=25) and Peterborough (465 victims per 100,000 population; N=18), all of which exceeded the average rate in non-CMAs (463). Each of the above CMAs, however, have relatively small populations allowing for low counts to have a greater influence on rates than what would be the case in larger CMAs. To contrast, the lowest rates of teen dating violence were documented in Calgary (N=76; a rate of 137), Toronto (N=267; a rate of 144), Barrie (N=15; a rate of 158) and Windsor (N=18; a rate of 159).

Rates of sexual violence in dating relationships highest among teens relative to older age groups

Research to date has found that young people are at greatest risk of experiencing sexual violence (Cotter & Savage, 2019), with relatively high rates among the adolescent population, that is, those between the ages of 12 and 18 years of age (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2018). Police-reported data in 2022 also recorded a similar pattern for sexual violence offences against teenage victims aged 15 to 17 in dating relationships.Note  Specifically, teen victims had higher rates (60 per 100,000 population) of sexual violence in dating relationships than other forms of violence (e.g., physical assault or criminal harassment).

The rate of sexual violence offences among victims aged 15 to 17 was also higher than the rate among victims aged 18 to 24 (43), and those aged 25 and older (9) (Table 6). These reporting patterns may reflect demographic differences, be indicative of increased public awareness on sexual violence, mirror more comprehensive consent education in Canadian schools or a combination of the above. Like sexual violence more generally, the rate of sexual teen dating violence was driven predominately by violence against girls (116 victims per 100,000 population) and, more specifically, by the sexual assault of girls (90).

Sexual assault (level 1, 2, or 3) accounted for 76% of police-reported sexual offences against teens in a dating relationship. Aside from sexual assaults, of the other 24% of police-reported sexual offences against teens aged 15 to 17 years, close to half (46%) were for sexual interference and another 38% were for the non-consensual distribution of intimate images (see Text box 6 for additional information).Note   

Following sexual offences, the next highest rate of teen dating violence was for physical assault offences (54 victims per 100,000 population), primarily for common assault (level 1) (38). Physical assault offences against teenage victims were reported at a rate four times lower than those occurring between dating partners where the victim was aged 18 to 24 (224) and about 1.5 times lower when the victim was aged 25 and older (88).

Start of text box 6

Text box 6
Police-reported technology-facilitated dating violence among teens

Canadians in general, and youth in particular, live in an increasingly digital world where the vast majority remain connected throughout the day, using the Internet for a variety of reasons: accessing information, teleworking, online learning, socializing and for entertainment purposes (Hango, 2023; Schimmele et al., 2021). Indeed, recent Canadian data show 99.6% of teens aged 15 to 19 years old have used the Internet in the past three months, 92% use social media regularly (Schimmele et al., 2021),Note  and 93% of teens aged 14 to 17 reported having their own smartphone (MediaSmarts, 2022). With the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, experiencing violence that transcends physical space has become possible and somewhat common among youth in Canada (see Hango, 2023). Of the 3,453 victims of police-reported teen dating violence, 6% were victimized online. Proportionately more teenage boys than girls reported experiencing teen dating violence online (8% versus 6%).

Since 2018, the proportion of police-reported teen dating violence that occurred online increased by 11% (from 5.6% in 2018 to 6.2% in 2022), peaking in 2020 (7.7%), before declining. The COVID-19 pandemic required an immediate transition from in-person interactions to online ones, likely fueling the 2020 peak in police-reported technology-facilitated dating violence, proportions which later declined to levels comparable to what was observed pre-pandemic. Focusing on the subset of those who experienced dating violence online in 2022, more than four in ten teens (44%) experienced sexual violations—over half (53%) of which were for the non-consensual distribution of intimate images.Note  Like larger patterns in sexual offences, the vast majority (91%) of victims of all sexual violations were girls.

The next largest proportions of online violence in teen dating relationships were related to uttering threats (15%), indecent or harassing communications (14%), criminal harassment (13%) and extortion (8%). Apart from criminal harassment, these offences were experienced by a higher proportion of teenage boys compared to girls. Specifically, nearly one in four (23%) boys who were victims of cybercrime within the context of a dating relationship reported indecent or harassing communications, 17% experienced extortion and another 17% experienced uttering threats.Note 

For 18- to 24-year-olds, comparatively fewer online violations that happened in the context of a dating relationship were sexual (24%), but of those that were, most related to the non-consensual distribution of intimate images (75%). Instead, the largest proportion of cyber violations were for indecent or harassing communications (25%) followed closely by criminal harassment (22%). Smaller proportions were related to uttering threats (12%) and extortion (9%).

Among victims aged 25 and older, a smaller proportion (12%) of cyber violations were sexual, and again, the large majority were for the non-consensual distribution of intimate images (83%). Unlike the other age groups, the most common cyber violation was criminal harassment (33%), followed by indecent or harassing communications (31%), uttering threats (15%) and extortion (4%).

End of text box 6

Most victims of teen dating violence had physical force used against them

According to police-reported data, in 2022, nearly two-thirds (63%) of teen victims of dating violence had physical force used against them and about one in ten (11%) were involved in incidents where a weapon was present (Table 7). Notably, a larger proportion of teen dating violence against boy victims had a weapon present compared to teen violence against girls (15% versus 11%). This pattern was also found among the older age groups and supports prior Canadian data revealing that weapons were more often present in dating violence incidents involving a man or boy as the victim (Hotton, 2010). 

One in ten victims of teen dating violence victimized on school property

While the largest proportion (69%) of victims of teen dating violence experienced violence on private property,Note  nearly one in ten (9%) were victimized on school propertyNote  (Table 7). That said, a larger proportion of boys were victimized at an outdoor locationNote  (18% versus 14%) or on school property (14% versus 9%) than girls. In contrast, a larger proportion of teenage girls than boys experienced dating violence at a private location (70% versus 58%). Teenage girls aged 15 to 17 thus appear to be more vulnerable to experiencing dating violence in private locations relative to their male counterparts.

Regardless of the gender of the victim, two-thirds (66%) of teen dating violence occur in the afternoon or evening, higher than what was found for 18- to 24-year-olds (58%) or those aged 25 and older (59%). This difference in patterns across age groups is due largely to more teen dating violence occurring in the afternoon (33%), a proportion larger than what was documented for the older groups (27% each).

Compared to teenage girls, fewer incidents of dating violence against teenage boys were cleared by charge

According to police-reported data, in 2022, four in ten (39%) incidents of teen dating violence involving victims aged 15 to 17 were not cleared—meaning the incident was still under investigation, or there was insufficient evidence to proceed, or the complainant did not want to proceed (accused had not been identified). This proportion was somewhat higher than what was documented among older groups, where just over one quarter (26%) of incidents of dating violence involving victims aged 18 to 24 and those involving victims aged 25 and older (27%) were not cleared.

There were 1,763 police-reported incidents of dating violence among teens, aged 15 to 17, in which there was a single victim and single accused person.Note  Of these, the vast majority (83%) were cleared by the laying or recommendation of a charge.Note  This proportion was driven largely by female victims: 84% of dating violence incidents involving a teenage girl victim were cleared by charge compared with 68% of boy victims. The remaining 13% of incidents of teen dating violence were cleared otherwise; that is, about half (51%) were cleared because the victim requested no further action (where an accused person was identified), one-third (32%) resulting from departmental discretion, and 10% because the accused was sent to a diversionary programNote  (Chart 4).

Chart 4 start

Chart 4 Proportion of police-reported incidents of teen dating violence that were cleared otherwise by victim gender and clearance type, Canada, 2022

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 Clearance status (appearing as row headers), Girls aged 15 to 17, Boys aged 15 to 17 and Total, calculated using percentage units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Clearance status Girls aged 15 to 17 Boys aged 15 to 17 Total
percentage
Victim requested no further action 54 37 51
Departmental discretion 29 46 32
Reasons beyond control of department 2 2 2
Diversionary programs 9 15 10
Other 5 0 5

Chart 4 end

Again, these findings are driven largely by female victims of teen dating violence. The reasons for why cases of teen dating violence were cleared otherwise differed considerably when the incident involved a victim who was a teenage boy: the most common reason was due to departmental discretion (46%), followed by the victim requesting no further action be taken (37%), or the accused being placed in a diversionary program (15%).

Summary

Multiple data sources—including self-reported survey data and police-reported administrative data—were analyzed in this Juristat article to examine the prevalence, characteristics, risk factors and consequences associated with teen dating violence in Canada. Because many forms of violence, including dating violence, often go unreported to police—and not all abusive behaviours meet the criminal threshold—the complementary use of self-report data allows for the most complete picture of teen dating violence in Canada.

According to data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), 45% of teens aged 15 to 17 stated they had experienced some form of abuse at the hands of a dating partner since the age of 15. Emotional abuse was the most common, experienced by 45% of teens. One in ten (10%) of teens experienced physical violence in a dating relationship, and 4% experienced sexual violence.

Between 2009 and 2022, more than 40,000 teens aged 15 to 17 were victims of police-reported dating violence in Canada, representing an average rate of 239 victims per 100,000 population. Following a period of decline from 2009 to 2014 (-22%), since 2015, rates of teen dating violence have increased 33%, with similar increases for girl and boy victims. Despite similar year-over-year increases across genders, in 2022, the rate of dating violence was about nine times higher for teenage girls than boys. 

In 2022, the highest rates of police-reported teen dating violence were for sexual offences; a finding that differed from age groups 18 and older where the highest rates were instead for physical assault offences. Similarly, victims of teen dating violence were more susceptible to experiencing violence in afternoon hours and on school property than what was found among the comparison groups. A smaller proportion of incidents of dating violence against teenage victims were cleared by charge, which may be explained by the large proportion of accused who were youth themselves. Adverse experiences in adolescence are linked to poor mental health, lower educational attainment, and increased substance use possibly leading to further victimization in later adulthood; as such, measures to prevent and address teen dating violence are key to ensuring the safety, health and well-being of young people in Canada.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Types of dating violence experienced since age 15 by teens aged 15 to 17, by gender, Canada, 2018

Table 2 Experiences of violence in an intimate relationship in the past 12 months, by age group, type of violence and gender, Canada, 2018

Table 3 Attitudes towards violence and control in intimate relationships, by age group and gender, Canada, 2018

Table 4 Police-reported violent crime among dating partners by age group, gender and province or territory by urban or rural location, Canada, 2022

Table 5 Police-reported violent crime among dating partners by age group, gender and census metropolitan area, Canada, 2022

Table 6 Police-reported violent crime among dating partners by age group, gender and type of violation, Canada, 2022

Table 7 Victims of police-reported violent crime among dating partners by age group, gender and incident characteristic, Canada, 2022

Survey description

Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces

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.

Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey collects detailed information on criminal incidents that have come to the attention of police services in Canada. Information includes characteristics of victims, accused persons and incidents. In 2022, data from police services covered 99% of the population of Canada.

One incident can involve multiple offences. In order to ensure comparability, counts are presented based on the most serious offence related to the incident as determined by a standard classification rule used by all police services.

Victim age is calculated based on the end date of an incident, as reported by the police. Some victims experience violence over a period of time, sometimes years, all of which may be considered by the police to be part of one continuous incident. Information about the number and dates of individual incidents for these victims of continuous violence is not available. Excludes victims where age was greater than 110 due to possible instances of miscoding of unknown age within this age group.

The option for police to code victims as “gender diverse” in the UCR Survey was implemented in 2018. In the context of the UCR, “gender diverse” refers to a person who publicly expresses as neither exclusively male nor exclusively female. Given that small counts of victims identified as being gender diverse may exist, the UCR data available to the public has been recoded with these victims distributed in the “male” or “female” categories based on the regional distribution of victims’ gender. This recoding ensures the protection of confidentiality and privacy of victims.

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