Section 2: Police-reported family violence against children and youth, 2009

Family violence against children and youth continues to be a pervasive issue in Canadian society. Using police-reported data, this section focuses on the nature and extent of physical assaults and sexual offences perpetrated by family members against children and youth. These types of violence may be committed by parents, siblings or extended family members related by blood, marriage or adoption. 1 

Family members commit almost one-third of physical assaults and sexualoffences against children and youth

In 2009, police reported almost 55,000 children and youth victims (0 to 17 years) of a physical assault or sexual offence (Table 2.1). Of these, about 3 in 10, or close to 15,000 children and youth, were victimized by a member of their own family. Another 54% were victimized by a friend or acquaintance and 15% by a stranger. These findings are consistent with international literature which states that most violent acts committed against children and youth are perpetrated by individuals who are part of the victim's immediate environment (United Nations, 2006).

Expressed as a rate, there were 214 children and youth victims of family violence for every 100,000 persons aged 0 to 17 years in 2009 (Table 2.2). Data from police services shows that the rate of family violence against children and youth has remained relatively stable since this information became available in 2004. 2 

Text box 1: Measuring violence against children and youth

The information presented in this section on sexual offences and physical assaults against children is based upon police-reported data collected as part of the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey. These data represent the number of criminal incidents that have been reported to, and substantiated by Canadian police services. In 2009, information from this survey covered approximately 99% of the Canadian population.

Sexual offence: Includes sexual assault (level 1), sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (level 2), aggravated sexual assault (level 3) and the "other sexual crimes" category. The term "other sexual crimes" includes a group of offences that primarily address incidents of sexual abuse directed at children such as: sexual interference, sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching and incest.

Physical assault: Includes common assault (level 1), assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (level 2), aggravated assault (level 3), unlawfully causing bodily harm, discharge firearm with intent, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and other assaults.

It is important to note that the data presented in this section may under-estimate the true extent of family violence against children and youth as many cases may not come to the attention of legal authorities. In addition, other types of family violence such as criminal harassment, abduction and emotional or psychological abuse are not included in this analysis.

Minor physical assaults most common type of family violence

Of the 15,000 child and youth victims of family-related violence in 2009, about two-thirds (67%) were physically assaulted. The majority of these offences (81%) were level 1 assault, the category of least physical harm to victims. Serious assaults, namely aggravated assault and assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, accounted for about 18% of all physical assaults committed by family members against children and youth. The remaining 1% involved other assaults and firearm offences.

The other one-third (33%) of children and youth victims of family violence suffered sexual offences. As with physical assaults, most (77%) were classified as level 1 sexual assault, the category of least serious injury to the victim. More serious forms of sexual offences, including aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm, accounted for less than 1% of all sexual offences against children and youth. A variety of other sexual crimes, such as sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching and luring a child via a computer, comprised the remaining 23% of sexual offences committed by family members against children and youth.

Parents commit more than half of all family-related physical assaultsand sexual offences against children and youth

Parents 3  were responsible for more than half (59%) of all family-related sexual offences and physical assaults against children and youth victims in 2009. For every 100,000 children and youth in Canada in 2009, 126 were physically or sexually assaulted by their parent. This figure was about three times higher than the rate committed by siblings (41 per 100,000) or other family members (47 per 100,000) (Table 2.3, Chart 2.1).

The youngest child victims (under the age of three years) were most vulnerable to violence by a parent (Table 2.4). In 2009, about 8 in 10 victims (or 81%) in this age group were assaulted by their parent. This compares to 60% of 3 to 11 year-olds and 55% of 12 to 17 year-olds.

Girls victimized by family members more often than boys

Overall, police-reported data show that girls under the age of 18 were more likely than boys of the same age to be victims of family violence. This finding was due largely to victimizations involving sexual offences. In 2009, the rate of sexual offences by family members that came to the attention of police was four times higher for girls than boys (113 versus 28 per 100,000 children and youth population) (Table 2.3). Higher rates of sexual victimization against girls held true regardless of the victim's age.

The age at which sexual offences were committed by family members against children and youth differed between girls and boys. For girls, the rate of sexual victimization tended to increase throughout childhood and peak at 14 years of age. For boys, however, the rates were highest between 5 and 8 years of age (Chart 2.2).

Rates of physical assault perpetrated by family members against female and male children and youth were closer than those for sexual offences (149 versus 140 per 100,000 children and youth population). For both girls and boys, the rates were highest during the teenage years (Chart 2.3).

Few physical assaults or sexual offences result in serious injury

Some incidents of family violence cause physical injury to victims. While relatively few children and youth required professional medical attention as a result of the incident, 57% of those who had been physically assaulted and 16% of those who had been sexually victimized required minor treatment, such as first aid (e.g. bandage, ice) (Table 2.5). These proportions were similar to those reported for children and youth who had been physically assaulted or sexually victimized by a non-family member (58% and 14%).

Summary

Police-reported data from 2009 show that close to one-third of physical and sexual offences against children and youth were committed by family members, with parents committing more than half of all family-related physical assaults and sexual offences.

Physical assaults accounted for just over two-thirds of family-related violence reported to the police, while sexual offences accounted for the remaining one-third. Girls were more likely than boys to be assaulted, particularly sexually assaulted. For both physical and sexual offences committed against children, the majority were classified as level 1 assaults, the category of least serious injury to the victim.

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