Section 3: Police-reported family violence against seniors, 2009

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Seniors represent a growing segment of the Canadian population. In 2009, those aged 65 years and older comprised 13% of the population, up from 9% 30 years earlier (Statistics Canada, 2010). While the health and well-being of seniors has improved considerably over the years, they continue to have higher levels of physical disability, mental vulnerability and financial dependency than younger adults (Ramage-Morin, Shields and Martel, 2010). Meeting the needs of this growing population often falls to relatives (Cranswick and Dosman, 2008), thus placing an increasing number of seniors at possible risk of family violence.

Using police-reported data, this section focuses on the nature and extent of violent crimes perpetrated by family members against seniors. These types of incidents may be committed by spouses, grown children, siblings or extended family members related by blood, marriage or adoption.

Family violence against seniors lower than younger age groups

In general, seniors (aged 65 years and older) tend to have lower rates of police-reported violent victimization than younger age groups. In 2009, the rate of violence against seniors was two and half times lower than the rate for the second oldest age group (55 to 64 years), and about 15 times lower than the highest at-risk group, those aged 15 to 24 years of age (Chart 3.1). That being said, data from a sub-set of police services show that the rate of family violence against seniors has increased by 14% since 2004, when this information first became available. 1 

Police reported nearly 7,900 senior victims of violent crime in 2009 (Table 3.1). Of those where the accused-victim relationship was known, over 2,400 or about one-third (35%) were committed by a member of the victim's family. Another 35% were committed by a friend or acquaintance and 29% by a stranger.

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Measuring violence against seniors

The information presented in this section on violence against seniors (65 years and older) is based upon police-reported data collected as part of the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey. These data represent the number of criminal incidents that have been reported to, and substantiated by Canadian police services. In 2009, information from this survey covered approximately 99% of the Canadian population.

It is important to note that the policing data presented in this section may under-estimate the true extent of family violence against seniors as many cases may not come to the attention of legal authorities. According to results from the 2009 General Social Survey, overall, about 7 in 10 violent victimizations were never reported to police most commonly because victims did not believe the incident was important enough or they dealt with the matter in some other way (Perreault and Brennan, 2010). In addition, other types of family violence such as criminal harassment, abduction, emotional or psychological abuse, neglect and maltreatment are not included in this analysis.

Family violence against seniors most often committed by spouses and grownchildren

Although senior men were more likely than senior women to be the victim of overall violent crime, family-related violent crime was more often perpetrated against senior women than senior men. In 2009, family members committed 41% of all victimizations against senior women compared to 23% of victimizations against senior men. Senior men were more likely to be victimized by an acquaintance or a stranger than a family member.

Family-related victimizations against senior men were most often committed by grown children in 2009 (Chart 3.2). Senior women were almost equally likely to be victimized by their spouse as their grown child.

Common assault most common violent crime against seniors

Common assault, the category of least serious physical harm to victims, was the most common violent offence committed by family members against seniors in 2009 (Table 3.2). This offence accounted for more than half (53%) of all family violence. Another 21% of family-related violence involved uttering threats, 13% were major assaults (levels 2 and 3) and 4% were criminal harassment. The remaining 9% involved a variety of violent offences including sexual assault, robbery and extortion. These proportions were similar for both male and female senior victims.

Most seniors (6 in 10) did not suffer injury as a result of having been victimized by a family member in 2009 (Table 3.3, Chart 3.3). However, 38% of seniors required minor treatment, such as first aid (e.g. bandage, ice), and 2% required medical intervention as a result of a major injury. Ten seniors died as a result of being violently victimized by a family member.

As with violent crime in general, the majority of family-related victimizations against seniors did not involve a weapon. In 2009, violent incidents by family members against seniors were more commonly committed by way of physical force (61%) or threats than a weapon (15%) (Table 3.4).

Older seniors less at risk of violent crime by a family member

Mirroring the pattern of violent crime rates in general, the prevalence of family violence committed against seniors tends to decrease with age (Chart 3.4). The rate of family violence against the youngest seniors (aged 65 to 74) was highest at 67 per 100,000, compared to a rate of 42 per 100,000 for seniors aged 75 to 84 and 25 per 100,000 for the oldest seniors (aged 85 and over).

In addition, perpetrators of violence against seniors tend to differ depending on the age of the senior. Seniors aged 75 to 84 years were the only age group where the most common perpetrators of violence were family members. For the youngest and oldest seniors, friends or acquaintances were the most common perpetrators of violence (Chart 3.4).

Some research has suggested that lower rates of family violence against the oldest seniors may be partly related to their living conditions and health status. As seniors age, they become more likely to reside in an institutional setting (Cranswick and Dosman, 2008) and therefore less likely to be exposed to family members and the possibility of violence. In addition, older seniors are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses and cognitive impairment which may limit their ability to report violence to police (Sev'er, 2009; Welfel et al., 2000).

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