Section 2: Violence against intimate partners

By Maire Sinha

Over the years, the study of intimate partner violence has varied and evolved (Dawson 2001). When research on the issue was first in its infancy, the primary focus was on "wife assault" within the confines of legal marriage or common-law relationships (for example, Rodgers 1994).Note 1 This conceptualization was restricted to women as victims and fell under the larger umbrella of violence against women. While the analytic focus then shifted in later years to include both sexes, the analysis was generally limited to current and previous marital partners, both in legal marriages and common-law relationships.Note 2 This definition excluded other forms of intimate partner relationships, namely dating relationships.

In recent years, the possibility of including dating violence as a component of intimate partner violence has been considered by both researchers and provincial, territorial and federal government departments (PEI Premier's Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention Administration Committee 2010, Justice Canada 2009). Correspondingly, this edition of Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile explores an expanded definition of intimate partner violence, which includes both spousal and dating partner violence.

Generally speaking, there are a number of factors that distinguish intimate partner violence from violence against friends, acquaintances or strangers. First, the ongoing relationship, potential economic dependence and emotional attachment of intimate partner victims to their abusers make this type of violence unique (Ogrodnik 2006). Second, the impact of victimization may extend beyond the direct victim, in that intimate partner violence may also involve the safety and well-being of children (Bedi and Goddard 2007). Third, the violence often involves multiple incidents over a period of time, rather than single, isolated events (Ogrodnik 2006; WHO 2002). Together, these particular victim-offender relationship factors, as well as the ongoing nature of the violence, make intimate partner violence a distinct form of violence.

The present analysis aims to further develop the current understanding of these differences through a comparative analysis of intimate partner violence and violence perpetrated by non-intimate partners. The following research questions will be addressed:

  • What is the prevalence of intimate partner violence relative to non-intimate partner violence?
  • How are the socio-demographic risk factors for intimate partner violence different from other forms of violence?
  • Does the severity of incidents of intimate partner violence differ from other types of violence?
  • When considering homicides, how do the motivating factors behind intimate partner homicide differ from other homicides?
  • Are perpetrators accused of intimate partner violence more likely than other accused to be charged with a violent crime?
  • Are trends in intimate partner violence similar to non-intimate partner violence?
  • Do regional variations in intimate partner violence mirror those of non-intimate partner violence?

In addition, given the current exploration into a more inclusive definition of family violence, the analysis will also discuss whether there are discernible differences between the two categories of intimate partner violence: spousal and dating violence. It is important to recognize that for the purpose of this publication, dating partner violence, while part of the continuum of intimate partner violence, is not included in the traditional definition of family violence.

For the current analysis, intimate partner violence focuses on the population 15 years of age and older.Note 3 This population was selected to facilitate comparisons between spousal violence victims and dating violence victims.Note 4 For non-intimate partner violence, individuals of all ages, from newborns to seniors, are included in the analysis. The analysis will be primarily based on results from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Homicide Survey, with some discussion of results from the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization.Note 5 It is noteworthy that police-reported data are based upon crimes that have been reported to, and substantiated by police.

Prevalence of intimate partner violence

Rates of intimate partner violence higher than non-spousal family violence

Based on police-reported data, Canadians' risk of intimate partner violence, both spousal and dating partner violence, was higher than non-spousal family violence, as well as violence committed by strangers. In 2010, there were 363 intimate partner victims per 100,000 population, amounting to over 102,500 Canadians who were victimized by their spouse or dating partner (Chart 2.1). This compares to a rate of 150 per 100,000 for non-spousal family violence, and a rate of 307 per 100,000 for stranger violence.

Chart 2.1
Victims of police-reported violent crime, by relationship of accused to the victim, Canada, 2010

Data table for chart 2.1

Chart 2.1 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by relationship of accused to the victim, Canada, 2010

1. Intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners, dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 15 to 89.
2. Violence against other family members refers to violence committed by parents, children, siblings, and extended family. Includes victims aged 0 to 89.
3. Violence against acquaintances/friends refers to violence committed by casual acquaintances, business associates, criminal associates, authority figures, and close friends. Includes victims aged 0 to 89.
4. Includes victims aged 0 to 89.
Note: Excludes incidents where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown and where the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown. Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population. Populations based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

Intimate partner violence, however, was less prevalent than violence involving acquaintances or friends. In particular, intimate partners were 12% less likely than casual contacts, authority figures, business associates, criminal associates, and close friends to be the victims of violence (363 versus 411 per 100,000) (Table 2.1). This lower prevalence of victimization was true for spousal violence, but was not the case for dating violence. Specifically, spousal violence was 1.5 times lower than the rate involving acquaintances and friends (265 versus 411 per 100,000). In contrast, the rate of dating violence, which was at least 1.6 times higher than the spousal violence rate,Note 6 also surpassed the rate of violence committed by a friend or acquaintance (436 versus 411 per 100,000).

Text box 2.1
How intimate partner violence is measured

This section includes both spouses and dating partners, in current and former relationships, in the definition of intimate partner violence. Spouses are defined as legally married, separated, divorced, and common-law partners, while dating relationships include current or former boyfriends and girlfriends, as well as "other intimate relationships".Note 7

Using the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Homicide Survey, it is possible to examine incidents of violence perpetrated against spouses and dating partners by identifying the relationship between the victim and the accused. However, one challenge in measuring the relative prevalence of spousal and dating partner violence is the calculation of rates.

Rates are calculated by dividing the number of occurrences of a particular type of incident by the population at risk of that type of incident. To accurately calculate rates, it is necessary to first determine the population that best reflects the population at-risk. For spousal violence, data on the at-risk population are available and include those legally married, separated, divorced and in a common-law relationship. One limitation is the absence of population data for those individuals who were in a previous common-law relationship.

For dating violence, the population at-risk would be those who are currently dating or in a former dating relationship. No estimate of the population currently exists for this group (i.e., number of current and former dating partners). The best approximation of the at-risk population would be all persons who are currently unmarried, including single, separated, divorced and widowed persons.Note 8 While a proportion of this population could have engaged in a dating relationship, the exact proportion or number of dating partners is unknown. Consequently, the population of unmarried population would be greater than a true dating population.

Calculating a dating violence rate using the total unmarried population therefore underestimates the actual prevalence of dating violence, since the number of incidents of dating violence is being divided by a population that is larger than the true dating population. In other words, the rate of dating violence would be higher if the rate was calculated based on the actual population of dating partners. For this reason, any comparison of rates of spousal violence and dating partner violence should be made with caution.

End of text box 2.1.

 

Text box 2.2
Definitions of intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence

Intimate partner victims: Includes legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners (current and previous), dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based on victims aged 15 years and older.
Spousal victims: Includes legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners (current and previous). The spousal category is based on victims aged 15 years and older.
Dating partner victims: Includes boyfriends/girlfriends (current and previous) and other intimate partners (whom the victim had a sexual relationship or mutual sexual attraction but were not considered to be a boyfriend/girlfriend). Unless otherwise indicated, the dating partner category is based on victims aged 15 years and older.

Non-intimate partner violence

Victims of non-intimate partner violence: Includes non-spousal family relationships (parents, children, siblings, and extended family), friends/acquaintances (casual acquaintance, business relationship, close friends, criminal relationship, authority figure), and strangers. Includes victims of all ages.

End of text box 2.2.

Risk factors for intimate partner violence, compared to non-intimate partner violence

As with all forms of violence, the risk of being a victim of intimate partner violence is not equally dispersed across all segments of Canadian society. That is, a range of risk factors, such as sex, age and marital status, have been closely associated with intimate partner violence (WHO 2002; Brennan 2011). While some of these factors may be similar to those for violence committed by non-intimate partners, others are unique to intimate partner violence.

Women at higher risk than men of intimate partner violence

Police-reported data show that gender plays a role in the risk of intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence, albeit in different ways. In 2010, women were more vulnerable than men to intimate partner violence, with a rate of intimate partner violence nearly four times higher than that for men (574 per 100,000 versus 147 per 100,000) (Table 2.1). This elevated risk for women was the case for both spousal and dating partner relationships.

The gender difference in rates was less pronounced for non-intimate partner violence. Boys and men were 41% more likely than girls and women to be a victim of non-intimate partner violence. This increased risk was evident for most types of non-intimate partner relationships, with two notable exceptions. First, close friends were about equally likely to commit a violent crime against males and females (49 and 47 per 100,000). Second, other family members, such as parents, were more likely to direct the violence towards females than males (175 per 100,000 versus 124 per 100,000).

Intimate partner victims slightly older than victims of non-intimate violence

Rates of intimate partner violence peak at later ages, compared to rates of non-intimate partner violence. In 2010, men and women aged 25 to 34 years had the highest risk of intimate partner violence, followed closely by those aged 15 to 24 years. This differs from non-intimate partner violence, where rates peaked at age 15 to 24 years (Chart 2.2). For both intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence, rates generally declined with increasing age (Chart  2.3).

Chart 2.2
Victims of police-reported intimate and non-intimate partner violence, by age group of victim, Canada, 2010

Data table for chart 2.2

Chart 2.2 Victims of police-reported intimate and non-intimate partner violence, by age group of victim, Canada, 2010

… not applicable
Note: Intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners, dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 15 to 89. Non-intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by other family members (parent, child, sibling, and extended family), friends, acquaintances, business relationships, criminal relationships, authority figures, and strangers. The non-intimate partner category is based on victims aged 0 to 89. For both intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence, rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population. Populations based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Excludes incidents where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown and where the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

There are discernible variations in the most at-risk age groups for spousal and dating violence. Whereas spouses were most vulnerable to violence, including being killed, in early adulthood (15 to 24 years old) (Table 2.2, Chart 2.3), individuals were most at risk of dating violence in their late 20s to early 30s (Table 2.3).Note 9 The pattern in age-specific rates of dating violence was primarily driven by rates for female victims, as the male rate peaked at a later age, between 35 and 44 years.

Chart 2.3
Victims of spousal homicide, by age group and sex of the victim, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Data table for chart 2.3

Chart 2.3 Victims of spousal homicide, by age group and sex of the victim, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Note: Spousal homicide refers to homicide committed by legally married, separated, divorced, and common-law partners. Excludes homicides where the sex and/or age of the victim was unknown. Rates are calculated on the basis of 1,000,000 population. Populations based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Homicide Survey.

For nearly every age group, women had higher rates of both spousal and dating violence. However, this finding was not consistently evident for dating violence in older years. Between the ages of 55 and 64 years, the male rate of dating violence was virtually equal to the female rate. By age 65, the male rate of dating violence surpassed the female rate (18 per 100,000 versus 9 per 100,000).

This shift in gendered risk was also evident when the violence ended in the death of the dating partner victim. Starting at age 55 years, men's risk of being killed by their dating partner was higher than women's risk of dating homicide, according to homicide data over the past decade (Chart 2.4).

Chart 2.4
Victims of dating partner homicide, by age group and sex of the victim, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Data table for chart 2.4

Chart 2.4 Victims of dating partner homicide, by age group and sex of the victim, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Note: Dating partner homicide refers to homicide committed by boyfriends/girlfriends (current or previous) and other intimate partners. The rate of dating homicide is an underestimation given that the population of unmarried persons (single, divorced and widowed) includes both persons who have engaged in a dating relationship and those who have not recently engaged in a dating relationship (see Text box 2.1). For this chart, the separated population has been excluded from the unmarried population. This is because prior to 2007, the separated population was combined with the legally married population. As a result, the population used for the calculation of dating homicide rates differs from the population used to calculate 2010 rates of dating violence. Populations based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Excludes homicides where the sex and/or age of the victim was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Homicide Survey.

Text box 2.3
Dating violence against young people aged 12 to 14

Dating relationships can start at a young age and, accordingly, so too can the risk of dating violence. Based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth,Note 10 71% of adolescents aged 15 years and older had a current or previous dating relationship. Of these, over half (55%) had their first dating relationship by the age of 12.

According to police-reported data, young people aged 12 to 14 years represented about 1% of all dating partner violence in 2010. At a rate of 56 victims per 100,000 population, these youth were less likely than most other age groups to be become a victim of dating violence. Similar to dating violence against individuals aged 15 years and older, girls aged 12 to 14 were more often identified as the victims of dating violence than boys. In 2010, 93% of all victims of dating violence aged 12 to 14 were female.

Consistent with previous findings (Hotton Mahony 2010), the types of offences perpetrated against young dating violence victims differ from older victims of dating violence. Over half (52%) of victims between the ages of 12 to 14 were sexually assaulted by their dating partner, while the same was true for 3% of victims aged 15 years and older. The other most frequently occurring offences were similar to older victims, including common assault (23%) and uttering threats (12%).

Regardless of offence, injury was less prevalent in dating violence victims between 12 and 14 years of age. Less than one-quarter (22%) of young dating violence victims sustained injuries, compared to 51% of victims aged 15 years and older. Furthermore, unlike dating violence involving older victims, the majority of incidents involving young people aged 12 to 14 years did not result in formal charges. In particular, 45% of all incidents resulted in a charge laid or recommended, compared to 67% of incidents involving older victims.Note 11 The lower levels of charging relative to older victims of dating violence held true for most offences, including sexual assault, physical assault, criminal harassment, and uttering threats.

End of text box 2.3.

Over half of spousal homicide victims had a reported history of domestic violence

The Homicide Survey captures information on whether there was a history or pattern of family violence involving the accused and victim.Note 12 Over the past decade, more than half (65%) of all accused spouses had a history of family violence involving the victim. This was most often the case when the spousal victim was estranged from their partner, including those divorced or separated from a legal marriage or common-law relationship. Specifically, for over two-thirds (72%) of those accused of killing their estranged partner,Note 13 police reported previous family violence. This compares to 62% of those accused of killing their current spouse, including legally married or common-law partners.

Childhood victimization more prevalent among spousal violence victims

Experiencing violence as a child has been found to be closely linked to being a victim or offender of intimate partner violence (CDC 2011; WHO 2002). For the first time, the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization asked all victims of violent crime about their victimization experiences before the age of 15 years. Results from this household surveyNote 14, Note 15 of Canadians show that among victims of violent crime, spousal victimsNote 16 were more likely than other victims to report that they were first victimized as a child. Almost half (48%) of spousal victims were physically assaulted before the age of 15, compared to 30% of victims of non-spousal physical assault. As well, three-quarters (75%) of spousal victims were first sexually victimized as a child. This compares to 57% of victims of non-spousal sexual assault. No gender difference existed in the prevalence of childhood victimization among victims of spousal violence.

Severity of intimate partner, compared to non-intimate partner violence

Traditional indicators of the severity of violent crime include the type of offence, the level of injury sustained by the victim and the type of weapon used. Severity can also be measured based on the harm beyond the primary victim. For example, in some cases of violence, particularly intimate partner violence, there is the possibility of harm to pregnancy outcomes, as well as to children of the victim or offender. This section compares indicators of severity for both violence against intimate partners and violence directed at non-intimate partner victims.

Physical assault accounts for the majority of intimate partner violence

Intimate partner violence is often characterized by physical assaults against the victim, more so than non-intimate partner violence. In 2010, 7 in 10 (72%) victims of intimate partner violence were physically assaulted, compared to just over half of other victims (57%) (Table 2.4). The majority of these assaults were identified as level 1, the least serious form of assault. While a similar proportion of intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence involved indecent and harassing phone calls (5% and 4%), a greater share of intimate partner violence involved criminal harassment (8% and 4%). In contrast, sexual assaults, robberies, uttering threats were more likely in incidents of non-intimate partner violence.

Among incidents of intimate partner violence, the type of offences varied based on the type of intimate partner relationship (spousal or dating relationship) and whether the victim was in a current or past relationship with the accused. Spousal violence was more likely than dating violence to involve the physical assault of the victim. For example, common assault accounted for 60% of all spousal violence incidents in 2010, compared to 54% of dating violence incidents (Chart 2.5). Dating violence more often involved intimidation offences, including criminal harassment, indecent and harassing phone calls and uttering threats (24% versus 12%). It has been suggested that the lower share of physical assaults and higher proportion of criminal harassments among victims of dating violence may be an outcome of the separate living arrangements of the accused and victim (Hotton Mahony 2010).

Chart 2.5
Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, by type of intimate partner relationship and type of offence, Canada, 2010

Data table for chart 2.5

Chart 2.5 Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, by type of intimate partner relationship and type of offence, Canada, 2010

Note: Spousal violence refers to violence committed by legally married, separated, divorced, and common-law partners. Dating partner violence refers to violence committed by boyfriends/girlfriends (current and former) and other intimate partners. Includes victims aged 15 to 89. Excludes incidents where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

Along the same lines, a higher proportion of physical assaults were in current relationships than in previous ones (88% versus 45% of victims). Violent incidents against previous partners more often involved intimidation offences, including criminal harassment, indecent or harassing phone calls, and uttering threats offences (50% of all incidents).

Victims of intimate partner violence more likely than other victims to suffer injuries

It has been consistently found that intimate partner violence can result in both emotional and physical harm to victims (CDC 2011; Brennan 2011). Using 2010 police-reported data, it is possible to ascertain if the immediate physical impacts of violent crime are greater among intimate partner victims than other victims. Generally speaking, victims of intimate partner violence were more likely than other victims to sustain injuries (51% versus 39%). This was true regardless of the type of offence. For example, 63% of intimate partner victims of common assault suffered injuries, compared to 57% of other assault victims (Chart 2.6). Some of the largest differences in the prevalence of injury were found for sexual assault offences, other physical assaults, and other violent offences.

Chart 2.6
Victims of police-reported intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence, by type of offence and incidence of injury, Canada, 2010

Data table for chart 2.6

Chart 2.6 Victims of police-reported intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence, by type of offence and incidence of injury, Canada, 2010

1. Major assault includes levels 2 and 3 assault. Level 2 assault is defined as assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm and level 3 assault is defined as assault that wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the victim.
2. Other physical assaults include unlawfully causing bodily harm, discharge firearm with intent, assault against peace-public officer, and other assaults.
3. Common assault refers to level 1 assaults. Level 1 assault is the least serious form of assault and includes pushing, slapping, punching and face-to-face verbal threats.
4. Other violent offences includes abduction, kidnapping, hostage-taking, arson and other violent violations.
Note: Intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners, dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 15 to 89. Non-intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by other family members (parents, children, siblings, extended family members), friends, casual acquaintances, neighbours, authority figures, criminal relationships, business relationships and strangers. The non-intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 0 to 89. Excludes incidents where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown and where the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

Not all intimate partner victims had the same risk of suffering physical injury. While spousal and dating partner victims were equally as likely to sustain physical injury (51% each), the likelihood of injury varied depending on whether the relationship was ongoing or had ended. In particular, the majority of victims in a current spousal or dating relationship suffered some type of physical injury (61% and 66%). In contrast, less than one-third of estranged partners were injured, including 28% of previous spouses and 30% of former dating partners.

The higher prevalence of injury among current intimate partners was evident for all forms of physical assault, as well as criminal harassment and other violent offences. These findings may be partly explained by the victim's current and ongoing relationship with the accused and their corresponding reluctance and fear to contact police until the violence becomes severe (Mihorean 2006). Among intimate partner violence, there was virtually no difference in the incidence of injury by gender.

Physical force used more often than weapons against victims of intimate partner violence

While physical force, rather than weapons, was more often used to cause or threaten injury to victims of violent crime, physical force was more frequently reported in incidents against intimate partners than non-intimate partner victims (68% versus 57%) (Table 2.5). This was true for nearly all offences, with the exception of homicides and uttering threats. For these violent crimes, physical force was more common in incidents of non-intimate partner violence than intimate partner violence.

Physical force was used to the same degree in spousal and dating violence incidents. In 2010, 70% of spousal violence perpetrators used their own body strength with the intent to cause bodily injury or death, while the same was true for 66% of dating violence incidents. This similarity in use of physical force persists even when examining specific types of offences.

The involvement of weapons, such as firearms or knives, to commit violence was also similar between spouses and dating partners but varied between incidents of intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence. In 2010, 20% of incidents of non-intimate partner violence involved the use of a weapon, compared to 12% of intimate partner violence. Diverging from the increased use of weapons among incidents of non-intimate partner violence were homicides and sexual assaults (Chart 2.7). For these violent crimes, intimate partners were more likely than other perpetrators to use a weapon against the victim.

Chart 2.7
Victims of police-reported intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence, by type of offence and presence of weapon, Canada, 2010

Data table for chart 2.7

Chart 2.7 Victims of police-reported intimate partner and non-intimate partner violence, by type of offence and presence of weapon, Canada, 2010

Note: Intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners, dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 15 to 89. Non-intimate partner violence refers to violence committed by other family members (parents, children, siblings, extended family members), friends, casual acquaintances, neighbours, authority figures, criminal relationships, business relationships, strangers and others. The non-intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 0 to 89. Excludes incidents where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown and where the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown. Presence of weapon does not include the use of physical force.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey.

Intimate partners also differ from other perpetrators in the types of weapon that they use against victims. More specifically, they were less likely than other accused persons to use firearms (5% versus 14% of all weapons present). Knives, as well as clubs or other blunt instruments were used to the same degree by intimate partners and other accused. Virtually no difference existed in the type of weapon present in spousal and dating partner violence incidents.

While those accused of non-intimate partner violence were more likely than intimate partners to use a firearm, this was not the case when the violence ended with the death of the victim. That is, firearms caused the death in almost an equal percentage of intimate partner and non-intimate partner homicides (21% and 23%) (Chart 2.8). Furthermore, stabbings, or the use of knives or other cutting instruments, were the cause of death in a greater proportion of intimate partner homicides than non-intimate partner homicides (41% versus 35%). This is despite the similarities in the use of knives to commit violence in general.

Chart 2.8
Victims of intimate and non-intimate partner homicide, by cause of death, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Data table for chart 2.8

Chart 2.8 Victims of intimate and non-intimate partner homicide, by cause of death, Canada, 2000 to 2010

1. Other can include poisoning, smoke inhalation, and exposure.
Note: Intimate partner homicide refers to homicide committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners, dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 15 years and older. Non-intimate partner homicide refers to homicide committed by other family members (parents, children, siblings, extended family members), friends, casual acquaintances, neighbours, authority figures, criminal relationships, business relationships, strangers and others. The non-intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 0 years and older. Excludes homicides where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown and where the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Homicide Survey.

Perpetrators of intimate partner violence also cause harm to others

Related to intimate partner violence is the possible impact on pregnancy outcomes to the victim, as well as consequences on children or other family members who may be harmed by the same perpetrator. It has been found that violence during pregnancy can have a myriad of adverse effects on not only maternal health but also on birth outcomes, such as low birth weight, fetal injury and fetal death (Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada 2005). For the first time, the 2009 GSS asked spousal victims if the violent episode took place at the time of pregnancy. According to these results, 11% of female spousal victims were pregnant during the violent incident. This amounts to about 63,300 pregnant women who were violently victimized by their spouse in the preceding five years.

Police-reported data from the Homicide Survey also show that pregnancy is not a protective factor in intimate partner homicide.Note 17 Since 2005, the year data first became available on whether the homicide victim was pregnant, 12 intimate partner victims were pregnant at the time of their death. However, homicide during pregnancy is not limited to intimate partners, as eight pregnant women were killed by someone other than their intimate partner.

The GSS provides some information on the effects of spousal violenceNote 18 on other family members. In 2009, 9% of spousal violence victims reported that their abuser had also physically or sexually abused someone else in their family. This was more often the case when the spousal violence victim was female (11%E versus 6%E of men) or was estranged from their partner (14% versus 3%E of current spouses).

Further, children were sometimes victimized during a violent episode against a spouse. In 2009, 5%E of spousal violence victims indicated that their children were harmed during the violent episode. More commonly, children heard or saw their mother or father being assaulted, with 52% of spousal violence victims indicating that their children witnessed a violent episode in the preceding five years.Note 19 For more information on children witnessing spousal violence, see section 3 on family violence against children and youth.

Motives in intimate partner homicides, compared to non-intimate partner homicides

Women more likely than men to be killed because of their partner's jealousy

Based on homicide data over the previous decade, it is possible to examine the underlying motives in homicides. These results show that the motives differ somewhat between the perpetrators of intimate partner homicides and those of homicides not involving intimate partners.

While the escalation of an argument was the most common motive in both types of homicides (40% and 37%), jealousy was more often a factor in intimate partner homicides, regardless of whether the victim was a spouse or dating partner (Chart 2.9). Nearly one-quarter (24%) of female intimate partners and 10% of male intimate partners were killed because of their partner's jealousy. This compares to 4% of female victims and 5% of male victims of other types of homicides.

Chart 2.9
Victims of intimate partner and non-intimate partner homicide, by motive, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Data table for chart 2.9

Chart 2.9 Victims of intimate partner and non-intimate partner homicide, by motive, Canada, 2000 to 2010

1. Other motives include mercy killing/assisted suicide, settling of accounts, concealment, hate crime, sexual violence, fear of apprehension and other motives.
Note: Intimate partner homicide refers to homicide committed by legally married, separated, divorced, common-law partners, dating partners (current and previous) and other intimate partners. The intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 15 years and older. Non-intimate partner homicide refers to homicide committed by other family members (parents, children, siblings, extended family members), friends, casual acquaintances, neighbours, authority figures, criminal relationships, business relationships, strangers and others. The non-intimate partner category is based upon victims aged 0 years and older. Excludes homicides where the sex and/or age of victim was unknown and where the relationship between the victim and the accused was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Homicide Survey.

Another common motivating factor in both intimate partner homicides and other homicides was frustration, anger or despair, though it was more prominent in intimate partner homicides (25% versus 17% of non-intimate partner homicides). Those accused of non-intimate partner homicides were more likely to kill for financial gain (9%) or revenge (7%). In general, there are more similarities than differences in the motives underlying spousal and dating homicides. That said, accused spouses were slightly more likely than accused dating partners to kill out of frustration and anger (26% versus 22%).

Male homicide victims more likely than female victims to be the first to use or threaten to use violence

In some homicides over the previous decade, the victim was the first to use or threaten to use violence.Note 20 According to police investigation, this was more often the case in homicides not involving an intimate partner, as 17% of victims initiated the violent incidents that resulted in their death, compared to 12% of intimate partner victims. For both intimate partner homicides and other homicides, male victims were far more likely than female victims to be the first to use or threaten force. For example, 33% of male intimate partner victims initiated the violence, as opposed to 6% of female victims. Among intimate partner victims, spousal victims were more likely than dating partner victims to be the first to use or threaten violence (14% versus 8%).

Clearance rates for intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence

Formal charges more common in intimate partner violence than other types of violence

Contacting the police is a personal decision and one that often involves the consideration of personal safety and seeking protection (Brennan 2011; Perreault and Brennan 2010). Once police are contacted, charges were more often laid or recommended in incidents of intimate partner violence (68%) than other types of violence (38%).Note 21 This may be related to the finding that intimate partner violence tends to be more severe, as evidenced by the higher frequency of injury and use of physical force. It may also be a consequence of pro-charging policiesNote 22 in cases of domestic violence, which were first initiated in the 1980s (Garner and Maxwell 2009).

In 2010, incidents of non-intimate partner violence were more often than intimate partner violence cleared by means other than the laying of a charge (29% versus 19%). The most common reasons not to lay a charge included the complainant declined to lay charges (accounting for 15% and 9% of non-intimate partner and intimate partner violence incidents) and the use of departmental discretion (accounting for 10% and 5% of non-intimate partner and intimate partner violence incidents).

For intimate partner violence incidents, variations in clearance rates also emerge based on the sex of the victim. In particular, charges were more prevalent in intimate partner violence incidents against women (71%) than those against men (57%). There was virtually no difference in the proportion of spousal and dating violence incidents resulting in charges being laid or recommended (70% versus 67%) (Table 2.6).

Trends and regional patterns in intimate partner violence, compared to non-intimate partner violence

Intimate partner homicide continues downward trend

Monitoring changes in the level of intimate partner violence is important to the development and evaluation of policies and programs designed to prevent or address intimate partner violence. Annual changes in police-reported data can reflect both actual changes in the incidence of intimate partner violence and changes in the willingness of victims to report the violence to police. Data from the GSS show a decrease in the proportion of spousal violence that came to the attention of police, from 28% in 2004 to 22% in 2009 (Brennan 2011). Issues of reporting are less prominent in homicide incidents, and consequently, changes in homicides can be considered a strong barometer of trends in intimate partner violence (Nivette 2011; Gannon et al. 2005).

Consistent with trends in homicides overall, rates of homicide against intimate partners have been generally declining over the past twenty years. Rates in 2010 were over half those recorded in 1991 and 20% lower than ten years ago. The decrease was evident for homicides against both spouses and dating partners. The magnitude of the decline in rates of intimate partner homicide was greater than drops seen for homicides against non-spousal family members, friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

This downward trend in intimate partner homicides has been largely driven by considerable decreases in intimate partner homicides against women (Chart  2.10). Over the last twenty years, the female rate of intimate partner homicides, which accounts for the majority of all intimate partner homicides, dropped from 10.5 per million in 1991 to 4.4 per million in 2010. The rate against men has fluctuated over time, but generally dropped by 30%.

Chart 2.10
Victims of intimate partner homicide, by sex of the victim, 1991 to 2010

Data table for chart 2.10

Chart 2.10 Victims of intimate partner homicide, by sex of the victim, 1991 to 2010

Note: Rates are calculated on the basis of 1,000,000 population. Population based upon July 1st estimates from Statistics Canada, Demography Division. Intimate partners include legally married, separated, divorced, common-law, and dating partners (current and previous). A small number of homicides of dating partners under 15 years of age were excluded in rate calculations. Data on homicides between dating partners are not available prior to 1991. The Homicide Survey was revised and expanded in 1991 in an effort to respond to changing information needs. Excludes homicides where the age and/or sex of the victim was unknown.
Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Homicide Survey.

Trends in spousal homicide reflect the general decline in intimate partner homicides. In particular, the spousal homicide rate has been generally declining over the past two decades, with rates 53% lower than twenty years ago and 17% lower than in 2000 (Table 2.7). That said, the overall spousal homicide rates remained stable in 2010 for the fourth consecutive year. Despite annual fluctuations, rates of dating homicide are also lower than in the past, similar to the drops in rates of spousal homicide (Table 2.8).

Prairie provinces report the highest rates of intimate partner violence

Geographically, the rates of intimate partner violence tend to mirror those for violent crime in general. For instance, in 2010, Canada's territories had police-reported rates of intimate partner violence that were substantially higher than those reported in the provinces, with rates at least three times higher than the national average. At the provincial level, Manitoba and Saskatchewan recorded the highest overall rates of intimate partner violence, including intimate partner homicides (Table 2.9; Table 2.10). This was true for both male and female victims. Saskatchewan, however, was the only province to report a higher rate of male intimate partner homicides compared to female intimate partner homicides. Ontario, Quebec and Prince Edward Island recorded the lowest rates of intimate partner violence.

Thunder Bay records the highest levels of intimate partner violence

For the first time, it is possible to examine variations in intimate partner violence by census metropolitan area (CMA) (Table 2.11).Note 23,Note 24 Generally speaking, CMAs had lower rates of intimate partner violence than non-CMA areas, which includes small cities, towns, and rural areas. On average, there were 294 intimate partner victims per 100,000 population in CMAs, compared to a rate of 542 victims per 100,000 population in non-CMAs.

In 2010, all CMAs in the provinces of Quebec and Alberta had rates below the national average of 363 victims per 100,000 population. The lowest rate of intimate partner violence in the country, however, was recorded by Ottawa, followed by Sherbrooke, Barrie and Saguenay. Thunder Bay recorded the highest rate of intimate partner violence. Regina and Saskatoon contributed to Saskatchewan's high rate of intimate partner violence with the second and fifth highest CMA rates.

There were some regional similarities between intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence. Although variations exist in the exact ranking of CMAs from those with the highest to lowest rates, the same CMAs had the highest rates of violence, regardless of whether the violence was perpetrated by an intimate partner or another type of offender.

Summary

Intimate partner violence is more common than non-spousal family violence, as well as stranger violence. Violence perpetrated against intimate partners also differs from other forms of violent crime, as victims were more often women. Intimate partner victims were also more likely than other victims of violent crime to be first victimized when they were a child.

The severity of police-reported violence was heightened when the victim was an intimate partner. Victims of intimate partner violence were more frequently physically assaulted than victims of non-intimate partner violence. They were also more often injured as a result of the violence compared to victims of non-intimate partner violence. These factors, along with pro-charging policies, may partly explain the higher rate of criminal charges laid or recommended against an accused intimate partner compared to other types of violent offenders.

Notwithstanding these differences, trends and regional variations in intimate partner violence generally reflect patterns in non-intimate partner violence. For instance, rates of both intimate partner and non-intimate partner homicides have dropped over the previous twenty years. At the regional level, both rates of intimate partner violence and non-intimate partner violence were highest in the territories, followed by the prairie provinces.

Detailed data tables

Table 2.1 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by relationship of accused to victim and sex of victim, Canada, 2010

Table 2.2 Victims of police-reported spousal violence, by age group and sex of victim, Canada, 2010

Table 2.3 Victims of police-reported dating violence, by age group and sex of victim, Canada, 2010

Table 2.4 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by intimate and non-intimate partners, type of offence and sex of victim, Canada, 2010

Table 2.5 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by intimate and non-intimate partners and most serious weapon present, Canada, 2010

Table 2.6 Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, by clearance status and type of intimate partner relationship, Canada, 2010

Table 2.7 Victims of spousal homicides, by sex, Canada, 1991 to 2010

Table 2.8 Victims of dating homicide, by sex, Canada, 1991 to 2010

Table 2.9 Victims of police-reported violent crime, by intimate and non-intimate partner relationship and province and territory, 2010

Table 2.10 Victims of intimate partner homicide, by sex of victim and province and territory, 2000 to 2010

Table 2.11 Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2010

References

Bedi, G. and C. Goddard. 2007. "Intimate partner violence: What are the impacts on children." Australian Psychologist. Vol. 42, no. 1. p. 66-77.

Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 2011. "Understanding intimate partner violence." Fact Sheet. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. (accessed August 15, 2011).

Brennan, S. 2011. "Self-reported spousal violence, 2009." Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224-X.

Dawson, M. 2001. "Examination of declining intimate partner homicide rates." A Literature Review. Ottawa. Department of Justice Canada.

Gannon, M., K. Mihorean, K. Beattie, A. Taylor-Butts and R. Kong, 2005. Criminal Justice Indicators. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-227-X.

Garner, J.H. and C.D. Maxwell. 2009. "Prosecution and conviction rates for intimate partner violence." Criminal Justice Review. Vol. 34, no. 1. p. 44-79.

Hotton Mahony, T. 2010. "Police-reported dating violence in Canada, 2008." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Justice Canada. 2009. Family Violence: Department of Justice Canada Overview Paper. (accessed December 12, 2011).

Mihorean, K. 2006. "Factors related to reporting spousal violence to police." L. Ogrodnik (ed.) Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2006. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224-X.

Nivette, A. 2011. "Cross-national predictors of crime: A meta-analysis." Homicide Studies. Sage Publications. Vol. 15, no. 2. p. 103-131.

Ogrodnik, L. 2006. "Spousal violence and repeat police contact." L. Ogrodnik (ed.) Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2006. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-224-X.

Perreault, S. and S. Brennan. 2010. "Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Prince Edward Island (PEI) Premier's Action Committee on Family Violence Prevention Administration Committee. 2010. Federal, Provincial/Territorial and Other Organizations' Definitions of Family Violence in Use in Canada. Unpublished.

Rodgers, K. 1994. "Wife assault: The findings of a national survey." Juristat. Vol. 14, no. 9. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.

Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada. 2005. "Intimate partner violence consensus statement." Journal of Obstetrics Gynaecology Canada. Vol. 27, no. 4. p. 365–388.

World Health Organization (WHO). 2002. "Chapter 4: Violence in intimate partners." World Report on Violence and Health.

Notes

  • E use with caution
  1. In 1993, Statistics Canada undertook the Violence Against Women Survey, which asked women about their victimization experiences perpetrated by spouses. Analytical reports included Rodgers, K. 1994. "Wife assault: The findings of a national survey." Juristat. Vol. 14, no. 9. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002-X.
  2. Until this year, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile generally examined violence against spouses. Other types of intimate partner relationships were excluded.
  3. Analysis using the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey is based upon victims aged 15 to 89 years. Victims aged 90 years and older have been excluded due to the possible miscoding of unknown age within this age category.
  4. Excluded are incidents of dating violence involving victims under 15 years of age. Dating violence victims aged 12 to 14 years account for 1% of the total number of dating partner victims. For more information, see Text box 2.3, "Dating violence against young people aged 12 to 14".
  5. General Social Survey (GSS) data from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut were collected using a different methodology and are therefore excluded from this analysis. For detailed analysis of self-reported spousal violence, see Brennan 2011.
  6. The higher risk of dating violence is despite the fact that the rate of dating violence is underestimated. Underestimation is a result of the inflated size of population used in the calculation of dating violence rates. That is, the calculation of a dating violence rate uses the entire population of unmarried persons, regardless of their dating relationship status. For more information, see Text box 2.1, "How intimate partner violence is measured".
  7. 'Other intimate relationships' are defined in the Incident-based UCR Survey as "a person with whom the victim had a sexual relationship or a mutual sexual attraction but to which none of the other relationship options apply".
  8. Population data on separated individuals became available in 2007. As a result, analysis of homicide data, which relies on 10 years of data, excludes separated individuals from the unmarried population.
  9. Previous research has indicated that with rate calculation of dating violence using the unmarried population is influenced by age-specific trends in marital unions (Hotton Mahony 2010). That is, the younger population is less likely than the older population to be married, as older adults are more likely to enter legal marriages or common-law relationships. As a result, the size of the unmarried persons is higher for younger adults than for older adults.
  10. Data are based on the 1998/1999 cycle of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth. More recent data are not available at the national level.
  11. Excludes Montreal due to the unavailability of clearance data in 2010.
  12. Analysis is based on spousal violence victims, including legally married, current common-law, legally separated, separated common-law, and divorced partners. Information on history of violence involving dating partners is not available from the Homicide Survey.
  13. Analysis is based on only those homicides with a single accused.
  14. Data from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut were collected using a different methodology and are therefore excluded.
  15. Unless otherwise noted, differences are statistically significant at p <0.05.
  16. Spousal violence refers to current and former legally married and common-law partners. Dating partners are not included.
  17. Data on violence at the time of pregnancy is not captured by the Incident-based UCR Survey.
  18. The GSS on Victimization contains a module which asks respondents about their experiences of spousal victimization. Excluded are victims of dating partner violence. Data from Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut are excluded.
  19. Includes only spousal violence victims with one or more children. It also excludes a small number of incidents where the victim reported they were a victim of both current and previous spousal violence. Data from Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut are excluded.
  20. Information is based on homicides where the details of the interactions between the accused and the victim were known. This represents 56% of intimate partner homicides and 71% of non-intimate partner homicides.
  21. Excludes Montreal due to the unavailability of clearance data.
  22. Pro-charging policies compel charges be laid where the evidence is sufficient to establish that there has been an incident of spousal violence, regardless of the victim's wishes. This removes the responsibility for the decision to charge from the victim and onto the police and Crown counsel.
  23. It is not possible to examine census metropolitan area (CMA) rates of spousal and dating violence, since population data for spouses and unmarried persons are not available at the CMA level.
  24. A CMA consists of one or more neighbouring municipalities situated around a major urban core. A CMA must have a total population of at 100,000 of which 50,000 or more live in the urban core. To be included in the CMA, other adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the central urban area, as measured by commuting flows derived from census data. A CMA typically comprises more than one police service.