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Seniors as victims of crime

By Lucie Ogrodnik, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada

Demographic profile of seniors in Canada
How this study measures violence against seniors

Concern over the victimization of older Canadians has heightened with the realization that in the coming decades, there will be a dramatic increase in this segment of the population. There are numerous implications for Canadian society as a result of our growing senior population including meeting their health and caregiving needs. While the financial situation of seniors has improved since the 1980s (Gannon et al., 2005), higher levels of physical and mental vulnerability and dependency among seniors indicate a need for ongoing care. As a result, the need to quantify and understand the extent and nature of victimization of older adults has become increasingly important.

Using data from self-reported victimization and police-reported surveys, this profile examines the nature and prevalence of violent and property crimes against seniors. The report also examines characteristics of offences committed against seniors, such as the level of reporting to the police, the proportion of incidents involving weapons and the proportion of incidents causing injuries to the victim. Furthermore, information on seniors’ fear of crime, the prevalence of spousal abuse as well as seniors’ risk of telemarketing fraud is also presented.

Demographic profile of seniors in Canada

Seniors1 constitute one of the fastest growing population groups in Canada. The 2001 Census revealed that there were nearly 4 million seniors aged 65 years and older, accounting for 13% of the nation’s population.

Projections indicate that by 2031, seniors will comprise between 23% and 25% of the Canadian population (Figure 1) (Bélanger et al., 2005). Ageing baby boomers,2 low fertility rates and an increase in life expectancy will all contribute to the expected doubling of the proportion of seniors over the next 25 years.

Figure 1  By 2031, seniors will comprise nearly 25% of the population. Opens a new browser window.

Figure 1  By 2031, seniors will comprise nearly 25% of the population


This is particularly true of those aged 80 years and older, the age group that is increasing at the fastest pace. From 1991 to 2001, their numbers soared 41% from approximately 660,000 to 932,000. It is estimated that by 2011, the number of older seniors in Canada will reach 1.3 million.

The 2001 Census also indicated that fewer seniors are living in health care institutions and more seniors are living with a spouse, with adult children or living alone3 (Statistics Canada, 2002). This shift reflects changes in how Canadians care for their elderly. Community-based care as opposed to institutional care has become the preferred method of caring for seniors, and much of this has fallen to family and friends (Frederick and Fast, 1999).

Text Box 1
How this study measures violence against seniors

In Canada, there are two main data sources that measure the extent and nature of violence against older adults: police-reported crime data from the Incident-based (UCR2) survey and self-reported victimization data from the General Social Survey (GSS).

The incident-based UCR2 survey is a non-nationally representative survey that captures detailed information on individual criminal incidents reported by police, including characteristics of victims and accused such as their age and sex. Many factors can influence the police-reported crime rate, including the willingness of victims to report crimes to the police; reporting by police to the UCR survey; and changes in legislation, policies or enforcement practices. For instance, when victims do not report incidents to police, those incidents will not be reflected in official crime statistics.

The UCR survey collects data on a number of violent crimes, including: homicide, sexual assault, robbery, major assault (includes aggravated assault (level 3) and assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (level 2)), common assault (level 1), criminal harassment, uttering threats, extortion, kidnapping, abduction and other violent offences.

One way to estimate the extent of crime that is not reported to police is through the GSS victimization survey. Because the GSS asks a sample of the population about their personal victimization experiences, it captures information on crimes whether or not they have been reported to police. The amount of unreported victimization can be substantial. For example, in 2004, only 33% of violent victimization incidents were reported to the police. As a result, victimization surveys usually produce much higher rates of victimization than police-reported crime statistics.

Unlike the range of violent crimes collected by the UCR survey, the GSS collects data on three violent crimes based on Criminal Code definitions. These include sexual assault, robbery and physical assault. In addition, the GSS also collects detailed victim characteristics on property crime that are not available through the UCR police-reported data.

Despite the benefits of victimization surveys, they do have limitations. For one, they rely on respondents’ perceptions and their ability to report events accurately. Also, victimization surveys are unable to reach the most vulnerable seniors who may not have access to a telephone, those who have cognitive impairment or disability, those living in an institution such as a nursing home, and those who are ill or isolated. For these reasons, general household surveys may also under-estimate the extent of victimization against older Canadians.

For additional information about these data sources, refer to the Methodology section.


  1. Throughout this paper, the terms ‘seniors’, ‘elderly persons’ and ‘older adults’ are used interchangeably and refer to persons aged 65 years and older.

  2. Persons born between 1946 and 1965.

  3. Nearly half (47%) of all seniors lived with a spouse or partner, another 27% lived alone, 13% lived with their adult children and less than ten percent (7%) lived in health care institutions. The remaining 7% of seniors reported other living arrangements.

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