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Executive summary

Violence against anyone is unacceptable. However, research has shown that gender plays an important role in the context and outcomes of violence for women and men.

Federal/Provincial/Territorial (F/P/T) Status of Women Ministers have joined with Statistics Canada to compile this collection of statistical indicators on five major aspects of women’s experiences of violence: prevalence and severity, impact, risk factors, institutional and community-based responses, and victims’ use of services. Wherever possible, comparisons are made with the violence experienced by men. This report updates the information contained in the 2002 publication Assessing Violence Against Women: A Statistical Profile and includes important new information in a number of areas. New data examining the situation for Aboriginal women and residents of the territories is highlighted in separate sections of the report.

Indicators in this document focus on acts of violence against women that have been quantified using statistical survey techniques. The report focuses on behaviours that could trigger a criminal justice response—acts of violence that qualify as offences under the Criminal Code. The primary data sources that Statistics Canada uses to measure violence against women are victimization surveys, and data collected by police agencies, adult courts, emergency shelters for women and their children, and other service agencies providing assistance to crime victims.

These indicators provide the following portrait of violence against women in Canada.

Prevalence and severity

  • Women are more likely than men to be the victims of the most severe forms of spousal assault, as well as spousal homicide, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking).
  • The rate of spousal homicide has declined in recent years for both women and men, and survey data suggest that the severity of non-lethal assaults against women has also declined somewhat.
  • Over the past 30 years, the percentage of persons charged with first degree murder in spousal homicide cases has risen; however, men are twice as likely as women to receive this charge.
  • Trends in various types of violence against women, as recorded in police statistics,,are mixed:
    • rates of reported sexual assault have declined since 1993;
    • the number of spousal violence incidents against women has declined since 2000 while the rate of violence perpetrated by boyfriends has increased;
    • the number of male partners reported to police for criminal harassment has increased.


  • Spousal violence has psychological, physical, social and economic impacts for victims, their families and society.
  • Female victims of spousal violence are more likely than males to report being injured, suffer lost productivity, experience multiple assaults, fear for their lives, and experience negative emotional consequences.
  • Almost 40% of women assaulted by spouses said their children witnessed the violence against them (either directly or indirectly) and in many cases the violence was severe. In half of cases of spousal violence against women that were witnessed by children, the woman feared for her life.
  • Studies of the economic costs of violence against women to victims and society estimate that costs to health, criminal justice, social services and lost productivity range in the billions of dollars.

Risk factors

  • Young women experience the highest rates of violence.
  • Women experience higher rates than men of sexual assault, stalking, serious spousal assaults and spousal homicide.
  • Partners’ use of psychological or emotional abuse, and frequent heavy drinking by partners, raise the risk of violence against women in spousal relationships.
  • Women in common-law relationships and those who are separated report rates of spousal violence and homicide that are disproportionate to their representation in the population.
  • Stalking by ex-partners raises the risk of ex-partner violence.

Institutional and community-based responses

  • The number of shelters for abused women and their children has increased from 18 in 1975 to 543 in 2004. The largest rise was between 1979 and 1992.
  • In addition to shelters, over 600 services for victims of crime, including 105 sexual assault centres are operational across Canada.
  • Specialized domestic violence courts have been implemented in several jurisdictions, including Winnipeg, Ontario, Alberta and the Yukon.
  • Spousal violence makes up the single largest category of convictions involving violent offences in non-specialized adult courts in Canada over the five-year period 1997/98 to 2001/02. Over 90% of offenders were male.
  • Spousal violence offenders were more likely than those convicted of other violent offences to receive a term of probation and less likely to receive a prison term. Male offenders and ex-partners were more likely than females and those in intact relationships to receive a prison sentence.
  • Average probation and prison sentences were longer in spousal violence cases than non-spousal violence cases.
  • Conditional sentences, which are prison terms that a judge orders to be served in the community provided that certain conditions are observed, were used in sexual assault cases more often than in cases of other violent crimes.

Victims’ use of services

  • Thirty-six percent of female victims of spousal violence and less than 10% of victims of sexual assault reported these crimes to the police in 2004.
  • Reasons for not reporting to police are varied and include fear of reprisals by the offender, shame and embarrassment, and a reluctance to become involved with the police and courts.
  • The primary reasons women report spousal violence to the police are to stop the violence and receive protection. Fewer reported because they wanted to have their partner arrested and punished.
  • Reporting to police was higher for younger women, those living in lower-income households, and those with lower education. Reporting was also higher in more serious incidents of violence, in cases witnessed by children, and in cases where offenders were under the influence of alcohol.
  • About half of female spousal violence victims used the support of social services.
  • Reporting to the police raised the likelihood that women would use social services, and contact with social services increased the likelihood that the police would also be involved.
  • In the year ending March 31, 2004, 52,127 women and 36,840 children were admitted to shelters for abused women across Canada.
  • Among other types of services for crime victims (excluding shelters), women make up the majority of clients, and most are seeking help for the effects of sexual assault, partner violence or stalking.

Violence against Aboriginal women

  • Rates of spousal violence and spousal homicide are higher for Aboriginal women than for non-Aboriginal women or Aboriginal men.
  • The severity and impacts of spousal violence are also greater for Aboriginal women.
  • Part of the explanation for these higher rates is that the presence of risk factors is high among the Aboriginal population.  The Aboriginal population is younger than the general population, has lower average incomes, has higher levels of alcohol abuse and are more likely to live in common-law relationships. Other factors that have been linked to violence in Aboriginal communities include the breakdown of family life resulting from residential school experience, and the impact of colonization on traditional values and culture.
  • Aboriginal people also experience higher rates of non-spousal violence.
  • Aboriginal women were more likely than non-Aboriginal women to contact police regarding spousal violence and more likely to use social services. This is in keeping with the more serious nature of the violence perpetrated against them.

Violence against women in the territories

  • Rates of spousal violence are higher in the territories than in the provinces: 12% compared with 7%.
  • Police consistently record higher rates of violent crimes, including sexual assault and spousal homicide, in the territories compared with the provinces.
  • Victims of spousal violence in the territories report to the police at a higher rate than victims in the provinces.
  • Spousal violence victims in the territories were less likely than victims in the provinces to use social services. However, per capita rates of shelter usage were highest in the territories.

Looking to the future

Data collection in the area of violence against women is challenging due to the sensitive nature of these experiences. Statistics Canada and other agencies continue to refine and improve the tools and methodologies needed to study this important social issue. This report adds important new information that was not available for the 2002 report, including data on criminal harassment, sentencing of spousal violence perpetrators, availability and use of victim services, and detailed information for Aboriginal women and women in the territories. The report concludes by highlighting gaps that remain in the data required to paint a more complete picture of the nature, extent and impacts of violence against women. For example, more detailed data are needed for:

  • visible minority, immigrant, Aboriginal and Northern women;
  • sexual assault victimization;
  • perpetrators of violence;
  • attitudes and perceptions of violence among Canadians;
  • the economic costs of violence;
  • other forms of violence, such as trafficking in persons.

Continued improvements to the quality and depth of statistical data on violence against women will help contribute important information for monitoring the prevalence, risk factors, impacts and responses to violence. The indicators in this report are designed as a useful tool for governments and non-governmental organizations for tracking change over time, highlighting new and emerging issues, and developing legislation, policies and programs to help prevent violence and assist victims.

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Date modified: 2006-10-18 Important Notices
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