Measuring Violence Against Women

Violence against women includes physical, sexual and psychological violence that can occur anywhere, including within the family unit. This fact sheet includes statistics on the first two types of violence against women only.

Spousal Assault

According to the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS), which is conducted every five years by Statistics Canada, 6.4% of women with a current or former spouse or common-law partner reported being physically or sexually assaulted by their partner at least once during the previous five years. This proportion has remained stable since 2004.

In 2009, close to 7 in 10 victims of spousal violence turned to informal sources of support outside the criminal justice system for help. The number of victims of spousal violence who contacted or used formal victim services has declined, from 34% in 2004 to 28% in 2009. Female victims are more likely than males to seek support.

Spousal violence represented more than half (53%) of all police-reported incidents of family violence in 2007, representing 12% of all violent crime in Canada.

More than 80% of victims of police-reported spousal violence were female, while 17% were male. Male victims of family violence were more likely to have been victimized by other family members, such as a parent or sibling.

Police-reported rates of spousal violence declined steadily between 1998 and 2007 with an overall decrease of 15%. This was driven by a decrease in police-reported spousal violence committed against females. 

Charges are laid more often in instances where the victim of spousal violence is female (80% versus 66%), but the overall percentage of charges laid by police declined steadily between 2002 and 2007. In 2007, charges were laid in more than three quarters of reported spousal violence incidents.

Self-reported data on spousal violence reveals that female victims experience more severe forms of violence compared to males. Female victims are more likely to report being sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or a knife by a partner.

In 2008, 29% of all physically assaulted women had been victimized by a current or former spouse.

The spousal homicide rate has gradually declined over the past three decades; however in 2009 it remained stable for the third consecutive year, at 3.5 victims per million spouses. Females are more likely than males to be the victim of a spousal homicide, with a rate three to four times higher than that of males over the past 30 years. Age is also a risk factor for spousal homicide. Young couples aged 15 to 24 have the highest spousal homicide rates.

Sexual Assault

The 2004 GSS indicates that 3% of women reported being sexually assaulted in the previous 12 month period; this same survey, however, suggests that only 8% of sexual assaults are reported to police.

In 2009, police-reported sexual assault declined 4% from 2008

While interviewing sexual assault survivors, the reasons behind womens' decisions not to report the assault to police include: 

  • believing that the police could not do anything to help them;
  • wanting to keep the incident private;
  • feeling ashamed or embarrassed;
  • being reluctant to become involved with police and the courts;
  • fearing that she would not be believed;
  • not thinking the incident was important enough;
  • not being sure the incident was a crime;
  • not having sufficient proof;
  • fearing the perpetrator;
  • not wanting the perpetrator arrested or jailed (Kong et al. 2003; Lievore 2003).

Women under the age of 25 show the highest rates of sexual assault and criminal harassment.  These rates decline as age increases.

In 2004, only 38% of cases of sexual assault and 37% of sexual offences resulted in a conviction.

In 2007, 92% of victims of sexual assaults reported to police were female.

While findings of guilt are less likely in cases of sexual offending than in other violent offences (49% versus 53%), sexual offenders are more likely to receive custodial sentences than are offenders of other violent acts (54% versus 30%).

About 6 in 10 convictions of sexual assault (63%) and sexual offences (61%) result in a period of incarceration; however, conditional sentences were used more often in cases of sexual assault than in other cases of violent crime.

Criminal Harassment

In 2008, 73% of all criminal harassment incidents reported to police were directed at women. 38% of these reports were from women being stalked by a person with whom they had an intimate relationship. In 2008, 2565 women reported criminal harassment by their spouse to police.

Psychological Impacts of Violence

The 2004 GSS indicates that among women who use public transit, 58% were worried about their safety after dark while waiting or using public transit.  Another 27% of women were worried about being alone at night in their home and 16% felt unsafe while walking alone after dark.

Physical Consequences

In the 2009 GSS, 3 in 10 spousal violence victims had sustained physical injuries. Injuries are twice as common for female victims (42% versus 18%). Three quarters of spousal violence victims reported emotional consequences, with women being much more likely than men to report significant emotional impacts.


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