Introduction

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Violence against women has been recognized, at both the national and international levels, as a serious and ongoing impediment to gender equality and women's human rights and fundamental freedoms (United Nations 1993). By understanding the various dimensions of this global problem through data collection and analysis, decision makers are better able to develop and evaluate measures designed to prevent and eliminate violence against women.

In particular, measures based on gender-specific data analysis can more effectively address factors associated with violence against girls and women, as well as the particular needs of victims. Previous research has consistently shown that violence against women differs in important ways from violence against men, notably who is most often the perpetrator (e.g., family, acquaintance, or stranger), where this victimization occurs (within or outside the home), and the types of offences (Johnson 2006, Johnson and Dawson 2011). Other key gender differences include the severity of the violence and consequences of victimization (Vaillancourt 2010, Johnson and Dawson 2011).

Gender-based analysis on violence against women, while helping to inform policies and programs, can also serve to increase general awareness on the nature and extent of violence against women in the Canadian context.

In 2000, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers responsible for Status of Women commissioned Statistics Canada to develop a set of statistical indicators on violence against women aimed at establishing benchmarks for monitoring changes over time and highlighting emerging issues. These indicators were first published in a report entitled Assessing Violence Against Women: A Statistical Profile (2002).The report was subsequently updated and expanded in 2006. The current report represents the third edition of this profile, which sets out to examine the current scope, nature and consequences of violence against women in Canada, as well as trends in women's experiences of violence.

Defining violence against women

The scope and definition of violence against women varies widely, ranging from definitions restricted to specific forms of violence against women to the more inclusive definition adopted by the United Nations (UN). The 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women has defined violence against women as:

any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life (UN 1993).

This definition encompasses all forms of violence against women and includes the wide array of violence perpetrated in both the public and private spheres of women's lives. For the purpose of this article, Statistics Canada uses this internationally accepted definition. In doing so, it is possible to situate women's experiences of violence in various contexts, and to illustrate how this violence differs in prevalence, severity, and impact from violence perpetrated against men.

At the same time, it is noteworthy that the types of violence examined in this report are largely limited to those acts that reach the criminal threshold. While it is understood that violence against women exists on a continuum from name calling to homicide (World Health Organization n.d.), statistical data presented in this article are based primarily on Criminal Code definitions. One exception is the analysis of self-reported emotional and financial abuse within the context of spousal violence. These forms of violence typically do not constitute crimes under the Criminal Code.

Measuring violence against women

To provide a comprehensive picture of the extent and nature of violence against women, both police-reported crime data and self-reported victimization data are used. Each source has its own benefits and limitations to measuring violence against women.

Police-reported surveys provide an indicator of the extent and nature of all Criminal Code offences that come to the attention of police. These administrative data are collected on an annual basis and include all police services in Canada. As a result, yearly trend analysis, as well as regional analysis at the provincial/territorial and census metropolitan area (CMA) levels, is possible. Two police-reported surveys, namely the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Homicide Survey, collect data on the characteristics of victims, accused and incidents. Overall violent crime rates are based on the number of victims per 100,000 population, while homicide rates are based on the number of victims per million population.

Police-reported surveys are limited to only those criminal incidents that are reported to and substantiated by police. Self-reported data from the General Social Survey (GSS) complement police-reported data by providing information on self-reported incidents of victimization that are both reported and unreported to police. It is also able to provide information on non-violent forms of abuse (e.g., emotional and financial abuse), consequences of victimization, levels of reporting to police, and social service utilization.

Conducted every five years since 1988, the GSS on victimization is a sample survey of Canadians aged 15 years and older. This excludes individuals living in institutions (e.g., long-term care facilities, prisons), individuals unable to speak English or French, and households without landline telephones or only cell phones. One component of the survey interviews Canadians on their experiences of victimization over the previous 12-month period. Captured are eight offence types, three of which are violent offences (physical assault, sexual assault and robbery). These incidents can be examined alongside a range of the socio-demographic characteristics of victims, providing 12-month estimates of the prevalence of self-reported violent incidents against women. Prevalence rates are expressed as a rate of incidents per 1,000 population.

In addition, since 1999, the GSS on victimization has contained a special module on spousal violence, which captures detailed information on the dynamics of violence within spousal and common-law relationships. Canadians who had contact with a spouse in the five years prior to the interview are asked a series of questions on violence by their current and/or previous spouse and common-law partners. The survey is able to produce 12-month and 5-year estimates of spousal violence. Since many questions ask about victims' overall experiences of spousal victimization, rather than specific incidents of violence, the prevalence of spousal violence is presented as a percentage of Canadian population who were victimized, rather than a rate of incidents per 1,000 population.

For the purpose of this article, analysis of self-reported spousal violence is primarily based on 5-year prevalence rates in order to facilitate reliable estimates of small subgroups in the population, such as Aboriginal women. In some instances, notably when analyzing particular risk factors for spousal violence, a one-year snapshot is used, recognizing that some factors, such as age and household income, can change over time. For violence outside of spousal relationships, analysis is based on 12-month incident prevalence rates.

As with any sample survey, there is a possibility of sampling error with the GSS. Estimates are suppressed when it is determined that the probability of sampling error is too high to be reliably presented. Unless otherwise stated, all differences are statistically significant.

To provide an indicator of the availability and use of services for female victims, the analysis in this article also draws on information from two administrative surveys, namely the Transition Home Survey and the Victims' Services Survey. Both surveys are conducted every two years.

The organization of this Juristat article

While the majority of this article will focus on violence against women aged 15 years and older, it is recognized that violence directed at females often begins before adolescence. Consequently, the article also examines the victimization experiences of girls. Where possible, data are disaggregated by geographic and population groupings to provide a sense of the diversity of women's experiences of victimization. These can include variations by region, age, Aboriginal identity, and sexual orientation.

Within this article, special attention is paid to the situation of violence against Aboriginal women. Recent reports have shown that levels of victimization are more elevated among this particular group of women (Brennan 2011, Perreault 2011). Due to a lack of consistent reporting of Aboriginal status by police services, analysis on the victimization of Aboriginal women is largely limited to self-reported victimization data from the GSS.

Where possible, findings are presented by various levels of geography to highlight regional variations in the prevalence and nature of violence against women across Canada.

This Juristat article is organized into four sections:

  • Prevalence and severity of violence against women;
  • Risk factors associated with violence against women;
  • Impact of violence against women; and,
  • Responses to violence against women.

1) Prevalence and severity of violence against women
This analysis tracks trends in violence against women over time, providing an indicator of whether the situation of violence against women has improved or worsened in Canada. In addition to profiling the nature and extent of all forms of violence against women, this section will also examine specific forms of violence where women are predominantly the victim, highlighting the gendered dimension of the issue of violence against women. These forms of violence include intimate partner violence, sexual assault and criminal harassment (stalking). Both police-reported and self-reported victimization data are used.

2) Risk factors associated with violence against women
Through mainly descriptive analysis of the socio-demographic, lifestyle, and community factors linked to violence against women, this section will help shed light on the particular subgroups and situations of women most at-risk of violence. The primary source of information comes from self-reported victimization data, with some analysis using police-reported data.

3) Impact of violence against women
The impact of violence against women extends beyond the immediate physical consequences to women and can include long-term physical and mental health repercussions on the victim, as well as consequences on the family and larger society. This section explores these impacts in detail, using primarily self-reported data on victimization.

4) Responses to violence against women
This section will examine the multiple levels of response to the issue of violence against women, including the involvement of police, the use and availability of social supports for women, and the response to the accused. A range of data sources are employed.

References

Brennan, S. 2011. "Violent victimization of Aboriginal women in the Canadian provinces, 2009." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002.

Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers responsible for the Status of Women. 2002. Assessing Violence Against Women: A Statistical Profile. Status of Women Canada. Ottawa.

Johnson, H. 2006. Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-570.

Johnson, H., and M. Dawson. 2011. Violence Against Women: Research and Policy Perspectives. Don Mills, ON. Oxford University Press.

Perreault, S. 2011. "Violent victimization of Aboriginal people in the Canadian provinces, 2009." Juristat. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85-002.

United Nations, General Assembly. 1993. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. A/RES/48/104.

Vaillancourt, R. 2010. "Gender differences in police-reported violent crime in Canada, 2008." Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 85F0033M. No.24.

World Health Organization. n.d. Addressing Violence Against Women and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals. (accessed September 28, 2012).

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