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Section 2: Fact sheet — Police-reported spousal violence in Canada

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This fact sheet examines incidents of spousal 1  violence that were reported to police across Canada in 2007. Criminal offences that most commonly apply to cases of spousal violence include assault, sexual assault, criminal harassment (or stalking), threats of violence, forcible confinement and homicide. Other forms of spousal abuse, such as emotional, psychological or financial abuse, often are not offences chargeable under the Criminal Code and as such, are not included in this analysis

Spousal violence generally encompasses violent behaviour that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm between persons in an intimate relationship. Spousal violence does not appear as a specific offence under the Canadian Criminal Code.

The primary data source used to analyze spousal violence for this section of the report was the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey. 2  The UCR2 Survey collects detailed information on individual criminal incidents reported to or detected by police, and includes details about the victim and accused such as age, sex and relationship. The UCR2 Survey covered approximately 94% of the Canadian population in 2007. In addition, data from the UCR2 Trend Database, which captures police-reported information over time, was used to examine trends in spousal violence. The UCR2 Trend Database is a non-representative sample based on 63 police services that have reported to the survey consistently since 1998, representing 53% of the population of Canada in 2007.

Disclosing spousal violence can be difficult for many victims. As such, not all incidents are reported to the police. The 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) on victimization found that fewer than 3 in 10 (28%) victims of spousal violence reported the abuse to the police (36% of female victims and 17% of male victims) (Mihorean, 2005).

While the following section presents data at the provincial and territorial levels, any variations that exist across the provinces and territories regarding police charging and prosecution practices, resource and service availability, and victim-oriented policies may have an impact on these results.

Prevalence of police-reported spousal violence

In 2007, police reported nearly 335,700 incidents of violent crime across Canada. About one-third of reported violent crimes were committed by friends or acquaintances (38%) of the victim, 23% by family members and 23% by strangers (Table 2.1).

Of the nearly 75,800 incidents of police-reported family violence in 2007, nearly 40,200 were violent incidents perpetrated by a current spouse, common-law partner or ex-spouse. Spousal violence represented more than half (53%) of family violence in 2007, and about 12% of all police-reported violent crime in Canada.

Female victims (61%) of family violence were nearly twice as likely as males (32%) to have been victimized by a spouse. In comparison, male victims of family violence were more likely to be victimized by other family members such as a parent, sibling or someone in their extended family.

Nationally, the police-reported spousal violence rate stood at 188 per 100,000 in 2007. 3  While police-reported data are not completely geographically representative, among those provinces with nearly full coverage, rates of spousal violence were highest in Saskatchewan (329 per 100,000 population), Alberta (249), Quebec (241) and Manitoba (215), and lowest in New Brunswick (84), Newfoundland and Labrador (123) and Prince Edward Island (128) (Table 2.2). 4 

Steady decline in police-reported spousal violence

Consistent with the general downward trend in all police-reported violent crimes, police-reported spousal violence has steadily declined over the past 10-year period. 5 , 6  Rates of spousal violence decreased 15% between 1998 and 2007 (Chart 2.1).

This decline was primarily the result of the drop in police-reported rates of spousal violence committed against female victims, which fell 17% between 1998 and 2007. The rates of spousal violence committed against males remained relatively steady over the past decade.

Majority of spousal violence victims continue to be female

The overwhelming majority of victims of spousal violence continue to be female. In 2007, more than 8 in 10 victims of police-reported spousal violence were female, while 17% were male (Table 2.1). This pattern was consistent for every province and territory across Canada (Table 2.2).

Overall, the police-reported rate of spousal violence was nearly 5 times higher for female victims (305 per 100,000 population) compared to male victims (67 per 100,000 population).

For female victims, the rate of spousal violence was highest among women aged 25 to 34 (632 per 100,000 population), while for male victims, the rate was highest among those aged 35 to 44 (125 per 100,000 population) (Table 2.3). However, for both male and female victims alike, the police-reported rate of spousal violence was lowest among adults aged 55 or older (46 per 100,000 for women, and 20 per 100,000 for men).

Spousal violence was more likely between current spouses or common-law partners (71%), than between former spouses or partners (29%) (Table 2.1). 7 

Over three-quarters of spousal violence offences were assaults

Assault was the most frequent type of violent offence committed by a spouse or ex-spouse, according to police-reported data. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of these assaults 8  were classified as common assault. Common or level 1 assault—the category of least physical harm—includes pushing, slapping and punching, and does not involve weapons or serious physical injury. The next most frequently reported offence was major assault (15%) which involves a weapon and/or causes bodily harm (assault levels 2 and 3). Together, common assault (level 1) and major assault (levels 2 and 3) accounted for more than three-quarters of all reported violent offences committed against current and former spouses in 2007 (Table 2.4).

Some differences were evident between the types of offences committed against current spouses compared with former spouses. Current spouses were nearly twice as likely as ex-spouses to be the victims of common and major assault, while criminal harassment and threats were much more likely to be committed against ex-spouses, according to police-reported data (Chart 2.2). Similar patterns were found across most of the provinces and territories.

Police-reported data show that while the types of criminal offences committed against female and male victims of spousal violence were generally similar, there were a few exceptions. For example, major assault was more common among male victims of spousal violence than among female victims, with 23% and 13%, respectively (Table 2.4). One possible reason for this difference may be that male victims of spousal violence were more likely to have had a weapon used against them (15% of male victims versus 5% of female victims), while physical force was more likely used against female victims (46% of female victims versus 38% of male victims).

Spousal violence against female victims more likely to result in charges laid by police

As in previous years, while the majority (78%) of reported incidents of spousal violence resulted in charges laid by police, in 2007, incidents involving female victims (80%) were more likely to result in charges being laid than those involving male victims (66%) (Table 2.5). 9  Charges were also more likely to be laid for incidents of spousal abuse involving a current spouse (82%), compared to a former spouse (67%).

Over the past 5-year period, the percentage of spousal violence incidents resulting in charges being laid by police has been steadily declining. After reaching a peak of 80% in 2002, the proportion of reported spousal violence incidents resulting in charges decreased to 73% in 2007 (Table 2.6).

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