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  1. Introduction
  2. Violent victimization of children and youth increases as they get older
  3. Among the provinces, police-reported violence against children and youth highest in Saskatchewan and lowest in Prince Edward Island
  4. Physical assault
  5. Sexual assault
  6. Other violent offences
  7. Methodology
  8. Bibliography


While they may be young, children and youth under the age of 18 fall victim to the same types of violence as adults including physical and sexual assault, robbery, criminal harassment and homicide. They can be victimized by a family member, a friend, an acquaintance or a stranger while in their own home, in their neighbourhood or at school.

Quantifying the incidence of violent victimization against children and youth continues to be a challenge. In Canada, detailed information about police-reported violent incidents committed against children and youth is collected through the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey. However, police-reported violence represents only a portion of the violence committed against young persons. Children and youth can also be victims of maltreatment or neglect. While some of these harmful behaviours are prohibited through the Criminal Code of Canada and provincial/territorial child welfare legislation, their prevalence is more difficult to measure. 1  In order to obtain a more comprehensive picture of criminal victimization in Canada, Statistics Canada also collects self-reported victimization data through the General Social Survey on Victimization (GSS). However, because the GSS does not survey persons under the age of 15, our understanding of self-reported victimization is lacking for child victims.

Research has shown that children who suffer violence often do not report it, either because they are unable to do so, or because they are afraid to report incidents to the authorities (United Nations, 2006). The 2004 GSS on Victimization found that 8 in 10 youth aged 15 to 17 who had been victimized did not report the incident to police.

This report analyzes the nature and extent of police-reported violence committed against children and youth under the age of 18. It examines differences in victimization based on sex and age of victims, type of offence, prevalence across the provinces and territories, relationship to the perpetrator, weapon used and level of injury. It also presents information on trends over time.

The analysis throughout this report is presented across different age groups of children and youth. Children's vulnerability to violence changes as they grow older and as they increase their contacts with the wider community. Younger children tend to be more vulnerable to violence in the home by family members as they are dependent on adults for their daily needs. However, as children grow older, their level of independence increases and the number of people and the environments that they encounter broaden. Consequently, the nature of their victimization changes over time and the likelihood of being victimized increases. As teens become more independent and begin to spend increasing amounts of unsupervised time with their peers, they may be involved in more risk-taking behaviours, all of which increases their likelihood of being victimized outside their home by non-family members.

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Family and non-family – Relationship is determined by establishing the identity of the accused in relation to the victim. Family members include spouses (current and ex-spouses), parents, children, siblings, or other persons related to the victim by blood, marriage or other legal relationship (e.g., adoption). All other relationships are considered to be non-family.

Homicide and attempted murder – This category includes a number of violations that either attempt to cause death or cause death including: 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder, manslaughter and infanticide, attempted murder and conspire to commit murder, criminal negligence causing death and other related offences causing death.

Other violations involving violence or the threat of violence – This category includes kidnapping/forcible confinement, hostage taking, trafficking in persons, non-parental abduction, parental abduction and the removal of children from Canada, robbery, extortion, criminal harassment (or stalking), indecent or harassing telephone calls, uttering threats, explosives causing death or bodily harm, arson and other violations against the person.

Physical assault – refers to four categories of physical assaults including:

  1. Common assault – This includes the Criminal Code category of assault level 1. This is the least serious form of assault and includes pushing, slapping, punching and face-to-face verbal threats.
  2. Assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm – Assault level 2 involves carrying, using or threatening to use a weapon against someone or causing someone bodily harm.
  3. Aggravated assault – Assault level 3 involves wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of someone.
  4. Other assaults – This category includes unlawfully causing bodily harm, discharge a firearm with intent, using a firearm during the commission of an offence, pointing a firearm, assault against a peace officer, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and other forms of assault.

Sexual assault – refers to four categories of sexual violations including:

  1. Sexual assault – Level 1 sexual assaults involve minor physical injuries or no injuries to the victim.
  2. Sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm – Level 2 sexual assaults include sexual assault with a weapon, threats or causing bodily harm.
  3. Aggravated sexual assault – Level 3 sexual assaults result in wounding, maiming, disfiguring or endangering the life of the victim.
  4. Other sexual crimes – includes a group of offences that are primarily meant to address incidents of sexual abuse directed at children including sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, incest, corrupting children, luring a child via a computer, anal intercourse, bestiality and voyeurism.

Violent victimization of children and youth increases asthey get older

Just over 75,000 children and youth were victims of police-reported violent crime in 2008. That is, for every 100,000 children and youth in Canada, 1,111 were victims of a violent offence.

The rate of violence against children and youth tends to increase as children get older. The lowest rate of violence was reported for children under 3 years of age (162 per 100,000), after which the rate substantially increases for each subsequent age group (Chart 1). However, it should be noted that the youngest victims (under 3) must rely on others in their immediate environment to report their victimization. In the case of the youngest victims, the perpetrators are most often family members. Consequently, incidents of violent victimization of the youngest children are often under-reported compared to other age groups who have more contact with the outside world through school and other activities.

Teens aged 15 to 17 reported the highest rate of violence (2,710 per 100,000) among all age groups, including the highest at-risk age category – 18 to 24 year olds (2,578) (Table 1). Some studies have attributed higher violent victimization among teens as a result of engaging in high risk behaviours. According to the International Youth Survey, over one-third of students in grades 7 to 9 in Toronto reported having engaged in delinquent behaviours, including violent, property or drug-related behaviours (Savoie, 2007). Other studies have shown that children and youth who have been victimized may show aggressive or self-destructive behaviour, and are at greater risk of engaging in delinquent or deviant behaviour (Health Canada, 2004; Hotton, 2003).

Up to the age of 8, reported rates of violent crime were generally higher for female victims. Between 9 and 12 years of age, male rates exceeded those of females, but by the age of 13, the rate for female youth once again exceeded that of males, peaking at age 17 (Chart 2). This increase is primarily due to higher rates of sexual violence against girls.

Police-reported rates of violence against children and youth under 18 have remained relatively stable over the most recent 5-year period (2004 to 2008 2 ). Overall, rates have been consistently higher for male children and youth compared to females during this period (Chart 3).

Among the provinces, police-reported violence against childrenand youth highest in Saskatchewan and lowest in Prince Edward Island

There are substantial regional variations in overall rates of police-reported violence against children and youth. In 2008, rates of violence against children and youth among the provinces were highest in Saskatchewan (2,136 per 100,000 population) followed by Manitoba (1,710), and lowest in Prince Edward Island (894), Ontario (958) and Quebec (970). Among the three territories, the rate of violence against children and youth was highest in Nunavut (4,311) and lowest in the Yukon (1,968) (Table 2, Chart 4). These jurisdictional variations in police-reported violence against children and youth were consistent with the overall violent crime rates for 2008 (Wallace, 2009).

Similar to the overall violent crime rates reported among the major census metropolitan areas (CMAs), 3  Saint John reported the highest rate of violence against children and youth in 2008 (2,075 child and youth victims per 100,000 population) followed by Regina (1,584) and Saskatoon (1,580). The lowest rates of violence against children and youth were reported in Quebec (658) and Guelph (656) (Table 3).

Physical assault

Rates of physical assault highest against teens aged 15 to 17

Physical assaults are the most common type of violent crime experienced by children and youth. Nearly 42,000 physical assaults against children and youth were reported to police in 2008. Similar to adult victims, most physical assaults experienced by children and youth were common assaults, the least serious form of assault, accounting for 76% of all physical assaults. Assault with a weapon or assault causing bodily harm accounted for another 22%, and the most serious form of assault, aggravated assault, accounted for 1% of all reported physical assaults against children and youth (Table 1).

Teens aged 15 to 17 experienced higher rates of physical assault than any of the other child and youth age groups (1,572 per 100,000 teens), and approaches that of young adults aged 18 to 24 (1,694). Teens aged 15 to 17 were victims in nearly half (49%) of all reported physical assaults against children and youth.

Overall, boys, regardless of age, were more likely than girls to be victims of physical assault. Males under the age of 18 suffered physical assault at a rate that was nearly 1.5 times higher than their female counterparts (707 compared to 525 per 100,000) (Table 7). In contrast, girls were more likely to be sexually assaulted. For male victims of physical assault, the rate begins to sharply increase around age 9 and peaks at age 17 (1,789) (Chart 5).

Young children most often assaulted by family members

Studies have found that most violent acts committed against children and youth are perpetrated by people who are part of the victim's immediate environment (United Nations, 2006). The majority of police-reported physical assaults against children under the age of 6 were committed by someone known to the victim (81%). For the youngest victims (children under 6), 6 in 10 physical assaults (64%) were perpetrated by a family member.

More specifically, infants and young children were most vulnerable to violence at the hands of a parent. When a family member was accused of physically assaulting a child under 6, eight in ten (85%) of those accused was a parent. 4  Fathers were identified as the perpetrator in 59% of these incidents, followed by mothers (27%) and other male family members (10%).

Due to the fact that older children spend more of their time outside of the family sphere, they were more likely than younger children to be assaulted by persons outside the family network. Older children aged 9 to 11, and youth aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 were most likely to be assaulted by an acquaintance 5  (33%, 40% and 33% respectively), or a stranger (11%, 14% and 17%). A larger proportion of male victims aged 15 to 17 (23%) were physically assaulted by a stranger compared to female victims of the same age (10%). This may be a reflection of increased risk-taking behaviours among males (Pawlowski et al., 2008; Harris et al., 2006). Physical assaults of teens were most often perpetrated by their peers (44% for 12 to 14 year olds, 43% for 15 to 17 year olds).

Children and youth most often assaulted with physical force

Assaults against children and youth under 18 typically do not involve the use of a weapon. 6  When injuries were sustained, they were most often the result of physical force 7  (47%) rather than a weapon (15%). However, when a weapon was used, it was usually classified as an "other weapon" such as a motor vehicle, poison, or an object that can be used for strangulation. Firearms were used in 1% of physical assaults against children and youth (Table 5).

One of the most visible consequences of violence against children and youth is physical injury. In 2008, just over one-third of child and youth victims of all violent offences suffered a minor (35%) or major physical injury (1%). 8  Compared to other types of police-reported violence against children and youth, physical assaults were more likely to result in injuries. The majority of these injuries were classified by police as being minor in nature, requiring no professional medical treatment or only some first aid.

Among young victims of physical assault, teens aged 15 to 17 were the most likely to sustain injuries (57% minor injuries and 3% major injuries), followed by children under 3 years of age (43% minor and 13% major).

Child and youth victims of violence not only experience immediate physical and emotional consequences, they may also experience long-term consequences including an increased risk of behavioural, developmental and emotional disorders such as depression, fear or anxiety (Hotton, 2003; Moss, 2003), as well as increased rates of delinquent behaviour (Zeman and Bressan, 2008; Fitzgerald, 2004; Widom and Maxfield, 2001).

Sexual assault

Sexual assault rate 1.5 times higher for children and youth than young adults

The second most prevalent type of police-reported violence committed against children and youth is sexual assault. In 2008, there were over 13,600 child and youth victims of sexual offences reported to police. Over half (59%) of all victims of sexual assault were children and youth under the age of 18. The rate of sexual assaults against children and youth was 1.5 times higher than the rate for young adults aged 18 to 24 in 2008 (201 per 100,000 children and youth compared to 130 for young adults) (Table 1).

The majority of sexual offences committed against young victims under 18 were level 1 sexual assaults - the least serious form of sexual assault (80%). Other sexual crimes committed against children and youth included sexual interference, sexual touching and sexual exploitation of children and accounted for 19% of all sexual offences directed at children and youth. The more serious forms of sexual assaults against young people including sexual assault with a weapon or aggravated sexual assault accounted for about 1% of incidents.

While both boys and girls are vulnerable to sexual violence, 9  the vast majority of child victims of sexual offences were female (82%). Girls under the age of 18 reported a rate of sexual violence that was nearly 5 times higher than their male counterparts (337 young females per 100,000 compared to 72 young male victims) and substantially higher than that experienced by young adult females aged 18 to 24 (246) (Table 6 and Table 7).

Overall, youth aged 12 to 17 reported higher rates of sexual violence than younger children and young adults (aged 18 to 24). In 2008, youth aged 12 to 14 (348) and aged 15 to 17 (300) experienced rates of sexual violence that were more than double that of young adults (130). The rate of sexual victimization of female victims under the age of 18 is highest through the teenage years, peaking at ages 13 through 15 (Chart 6).

Female youth 12 and older more often sexually assaulted by non-family perpetrators

Sexual violence against children and youth is more commonly perpetrated by someone known to the victim (75%), usually an acquaintance or a family member.

Similar to physical assaults, as the age of the victim increases the proportion of sexual assaults perpetrated by a family member decreases. Youth aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 were more likely to be sexually abused by persons outside the family (59% and 63% respectively) compared to children under 12. Strangers were implicated in 10% of police-reported sexual violence against children and youth. The majority (80%) of child and youth victims who were sexually assaulted by a stranger were older, between 12 and 17 years of age.

Casual acquaintances were responsible for over one-quarter of all reported sexual assaults against youth aged 12 to 14 (29%) and 15 to 17 (27%). The age of these accused suggests that many of them were peers, as 39% were between 12 and 17 years of age, and another 23% were between the ages of 18 and 24.

When a family member was accused of sexually abusing a child or youth (33% of incidents), the vast majority of these incidents were perpetrated by a male relative (97%). Over one third of family-related sexual incidents were perpetrated by male extended family members 10  (37%), followed by fathers 11  (35%) and brothers (27%).

Physical injury more common among female victims of sexual assault, specifically teens aged 15 to 17 and girls under 3

In contrast to physical assaults, sexual assaults were less likely to result in a physical injury. Minor injuries were sustained in 12% of police-reported incidents of sexual abuse against children and youth in 2008. Among female child and youth victims of sexual assault, teen girls aged 15 to 17 (16%) and young children under 3 (15%) sustained the highest proportion of physical injuries compared to other age groups.

Physical force was the most common method used to inflict injury to child and youth victims of sexual abuse that were reported to police (Table 5).

Other violent offences

Similar to adult victims of crime, uttering threats, robbery and criminal harassment were the most common types of other violent offences committed against children and youth. As with physical and sexual assaults, rates for these types of offences steadily increase as child victims get older. Youth aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 reported the highest rates of other types of violent offences compared to the younger age groups (501 and 838 respectively) (Table 1). This reflects the fact that teens may be more likely to be in situations that could place them at risk of being victims of these types of crimes.

Boys were victims in 6 out of 10 incidents of police-reported other violations involving violence or the threat of violence - mainly robberies and uttering threats, whereas girls were more likely to be victims of uttering threats and criminal harassment.

Rates of robbery, threats and stalking highest among teens aged 15 to 17

Children and youth were victims in one-quarter (24%) of all reported robberies in 2008, or nearly 7,000 robberies. Youth aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17 reported robbery rates that were 1.8 to 3 times higher than the rate for all children and youth (179 and 336 per 100,000 compared to 101 for all children and youth) (Table 1). This may be a reflection of teens carrying expensive possessions including desirable electronic items such as cell phones, portable music and gaming devices and laptops.

Male teens aged 15 to 17 reported the highest robbery rate among all child and youth age groups (533 per 100,000), a rate that was 5 times higher than the rate for all children and youth under 18 (101), and over 1.5 times greater than the rate for young adult males between the ages of 18 to 24 (331). The majority of persons accused of robbing children or youth were males (88%), either strangers (58%) or acquaintances (26%). Most persons accused of robbing teens (aged 15 to 17) were themselves teens (59%) or young adults aged 18 to 24 (24%). Most incidents of robbery against male teens did not involve a weapon (71%); rather, physical force (21%) was predominantly used followed by knives (2%).

Uttering threats against children and youth accounted for 17% of all police-reported threats in 2008. Similar to robbery, youth aged 15 to 17 reported the highest rate (328 per 100,000), considerably higher than the rate for young adults (282 per 100,000) (Table 1). Seven in ten persons accused of uttering threats against teens were males. Nearly half of threats against teens were perpetrated by casual acquaintances (49%), followed by friends (9%), strangers (7%) and ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends (6%). Similar to teen robberies, most persons accused of threatening teens were their peers. Over half of persons accused of threatening teens were 15 to 17 (37%) or young adults aged 18 to 24 (19%).

In 2008, there were nearly 2,000 child and youth victims of criminal harassment or stalking. Overall, young adults were nearly four times as likely to be stalked compared to children and youth (104 per 100,000 compared to 27 per 100,000). However, the rate for teens aged 15 to 17 was three times higher than the overall rate for children and youth (89), nearing the rate for young adults (104) (Table 1).

The majority of child and youth victims of stalking were female (73% compared to 27%), particularly girls aged 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. Adolescent girls aged 12 to 17 were most likely to be stalked by a casual acquaintance (32%), an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend (18%) or a stranger (12%). Adolescent girls and boys were more likely to be stalked by a male (72%) than by a female (28%). Persons accused of stalking teens were predominantly teens themselves aged 15 to 17 (36%), or young adults aged 18 to 24 (24%).

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From bullying to cyber-bullying

Bullying is distinguished from other forms of violence as it represents an ongoing pattern of behaviour rather than an isolated event.

The 2001/2002 Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey found that bullying decreased as children grew older and that, while similar percentages of boys and girls said they had been bullied, more boys admitted to bullying others (Currie et al., 2004). Recent studies suggest that around half of all children involved in bullying are both victims and perpetrators (United Nations, 2005). While most common forms of bullying are verbal, verbal bullying can lead to physical forms of violence (Geiger and Fischer 2006).

Both the Internet and mobile phones have provided new opportunities for bullying through social networking sites, online chat lines, personal web pages, e-mails, text messages and the transmission of images which has given rise to the term 'cyber-bullying'. The unique aspect of cyber-bullying is that it allows for quick distribution and replication of messages while offering anonymity to the perpetrator. A survey of students in Canada found that boys confessed to cyber-bullying more often than girls, and were also more frequently the victims of cyber-bullying (Li, 2005).

Trend data show an increase in child pornography and child luring via computer

In addition to being the victims of physical and sexual assaults, children and youth are also targets of other forms of exploitation that can have significant long-term impacts. Child pornography victimizes children and youth through the creation of images depicting them in a sexually explicit manner and distributing these materials for profit or other purposes. In 2008, 1,368 incidents involving the production and distribution of child pornography were reported to police.

Trend data of police-reported crime 12  reveal a substantial increase in the number of reported incidents of child pornography between 1999 and 2008. Since 1999, there has been a nine-fold increase in the number of child pornography incidents reported to police (from 78 in 1999 to 730 in 2008).

This increase may be due to the wider availability of affordable digital video and camera equipment, along with an increase in targeted enforcement efforts by police and increased public awareness. In 2002, amendments to the Criminal Code ensured that child pornography offences applied, regardless of how they were committed, including through the use of the Internet. A new offence of Internet luring was created to prohibit the use of a computer to communicate with a child for the purpose of facilitating the commission of a sexual offence against that child. In 2005, additional reforms were made which broadened the definition of child pornography and created a new offence against the advertisement of child pornography.

While the Internet is an incredible social and educational tool for children and youth, it can also expose them to a number of risks including online predators. Trend data reveal that the number of incidents of child luring through the Internet increased from 20 reported incidents in 2003 to 149 in 2008. Similar to incidents of child pornography, this increase may be attributed to increased police enforcement as well as to heightened efforts to raise public awareness of child luring. In recent years, a number of initiatives were established at the federal and provincial levels to combat all forms of online child sexual exploitation including the National Strategy to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation on the Internet which includes the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre, and, a national tip-line for reporting online sexual exploitation of children. 13 

Homicide and attempted murder of children and youth

Child homicides are a relatively rare occurrence in Canada, and have consistently represented less than 10% of all homicides per year. 14  According to the Homicide Survey, there were 59 solved homicides 15  committed against children and youth in 2008, an increase from 56 in the previous year. In addition, the UCR2 Survey reported attempted murders and other offences causing death 16  for a total of 116 homicides or attempts against children and youth in 2008.

Patterns of homicide against children and youth vary by age and sex. Among children and youth, teens aged 15 to 17 had the highest rate of homicide or attempted murder in 2008, half of which were attempts (4 per 100,000 teens). Children under 3 years of age had the second highest rate (1.9), and the majority of these young victims were infants under 1 year of age (85%). Regardless of age, male children and youth were more likely than females to be a homicide victim.

Nearly one-third of child and youth homicides or attempted murders were committed by a parent 17  (30%), another 29% by an acquaintance or friend, and 13% were committed by strangers. Fathers were more likely than mothers to be the perpetrator.

Peers were more likely to be responsible for killing teens. Of homicides and attempts against teen victims 15 to 17 years of age, 41% of persons accused were themselves teenagers (aged 15 to 17) and another 34% were 18 to 24 years of age.


Data sources

Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey

The primary data source used to analyze violence against children and youth (under 18 years of age) was the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey.

The UCR2 Survey collects detailed information on individual criminal incidents reported to or detected by police including details about the victims and accused persons such as age, sex and relationship. In 2008, detailed data were collected from a subset of 155 police services, representing about 98% of the Canadian population.

In addition, data from the UCR2 Trend Database was used to examine trends in violence against children and youth. The Trend database is a non-representative sample based on 63 police services that have reported to the survey consistently since 1999, representing 54% of the Canadian population in 2008.

Homicide Survey

In 1961, the Homicide Survey began collecting police-reported data on homicide incidents, victims and accused persons in Canada. The count for a particular year represents all homicides reported in that year, regardless of when the death actually occurred. In 1991 and 1997, the survey was revised and expanded to include additional variables such as previous conviction histories of the accused and victim, employment of the accused and victim, victim's use of force at the time of the incident, and Shaken Baby Syndrome as a cause of death.


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