The nature of sexual offences

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Victimization and police-reported data both indicate that less severe forms of sexual assault are most common. According to the 2004 GSS, the majority (81%) of self-reported sexual assault incidents took the form of unwanted sexual touching while sexual attacks accounted for approximately 1 in 5 incidents (19%). Police also report that least serious types of sexual (level 1) assault comprise the majority (86%) of sexual offences. The more serious forms of sexual assault1 and other sexual offences, such as invitation to sexual touching and sexual exploitation, made up the remaining 14%.

Females and young people experience higher rates of sexual assault

Consistent with literature in the area (Sable et al., 2006), both police and victimization data indicate that rates of sexual victimization are higher among females, regardless of the type of sexual assault experienced (Table 3). The 2004 GSS show that sexual victimization rates for females were almost 5 times the rate for males (3,248 incidents per 100,000 versus 664 incidents per 100,000). Similarly, police-reported data for 2007 indicate that female rates of sexual victimization were 5.6 times higher than male rates (120 versus 21 per 100,000 population).2

Table 3 Number and rate of sexual victimization by victim characteristics, 1999 and 2004. Opens a new browser window.

Table 3
Number and rate of sexual victimization by victim characteristics, 1999 and 2004

Looking at the particular types of sexual offences, police-reported data show that the differences in victimization rates between females and males were consistently notable across all categories of sexual assault. However, the gap between female and male rates, though still noteworthy, was moderately smaller for level 3 sexual assaults and sexual assaults classified as 'other sexual offences', compared to rates for level 1 and 2 sexual assaults. Specifically, in 2007, the female victimization rates for levels 1 and 2 sexual assault were each about 6 times higher than the rates for males. In comparison, aggravated sexual assault (level 3) rates were 4 times greater for women versus men (0.64 versus 0.15 per 100,000 population), and for other sexual offences, the rate for females was about 3 times higher than the rate for males (13 versus 4 per 100,000 population).3

Being young, attending school and frequent participation in evening activities are all factors that have been identified as increasing the risk of violent victimization (Perreault, 2008; Gannon and Mihorean, 2005). Youth and students may have higher rates of sexual assault because of lifestyle factors. These individuals tend to engage more frequently in recreational activities, and are in close proximity to many different individuals at any given time (Cass, 2007).

Age is implicated as a risk factor for sexual victimization according to data from victimization surveys and police-reported data, alike. For example, findings from the 2004 GSS indicate that the rate of sexual assault for Canadians aged 15 to 24 was almost 18 times greater than the rate recorded for Canadians aged 55 years and older (5,563 versus 315 per 100,000 population). Police-reported data, which captures information on victims of every age, illustrate that in 2007, over half (58%) of sexual assault victims were under the age of 18, with children under 12 accounting for 25%. The vast majority of these young victims were female (81%). However, nearly all young victims, regardless of sex, experienced a level 1 sexual assault (82%) or a crime recorded under the category of 'other sexual offences' (17%).

Higher rates of sexual assault were also reported to victimization surveys by students and those who frequently engaged in evening activities, such as going out to restaurants, bars or the movies or visiting friends. The 2004 GSS found that students had significantly higher rates of sexual assault in comparison to those whose main activity consisted of working and that those who participated in 30 or more evening activities per month had rates of sexual victimization that were 4.5 times higher than those who engaged in less than 10 evening activities in a month.

Accused most likely to be male, young, and known to victims

While females are disproportionately the victims of sexual offences, males are disproportionately the accused. According to 2007 police-reported data, 97% of persons accused of sexual offences were male, higher than the representation of males among persons accused of all other types of violent crime (78%).

Overall, individuals accused of sexual offences tended to be relatively older than persons accused of other violent crimes. Nevertheless, rates of sexual offending were highest among persons aged 12 to 17 (90 per 100,000 population), followed by 18 to 34 year olds (55 per 100,000 population) and 35 to 44 year olds (42 per 100,000 population).

Both police-reported and victimization surveys suggest that sexual assault incidents are most likely to occur when a victim and offender are known to each other. Over half (55%) of the sexual assaults reported to the GSS in 2004 involved an offender who was a friend or acquaintance of the victim, with stranger assaults accounting for 35% of incidents.4 In the case of police-reported data, the relationship between the victim and accused was unknown in 19% of cases. However in cases where the relationship could be determined, police-reported data for 2007 show that the victim and accused were known to each other in 82% of sexual assault incidents, and in approximately 18% of incidents, the accused was a stranger to the victim.

Police-reported data, which include victims of every age, indicate that the accused was a family member in nearly a third (31%) of sexual offence incidents that came to the attention of law enforcement in 2007, with extended family members (10%), the victim's parents (10%), or some other immediate family member (7%) identified as the accused most frequently. Less often, relatives accused in sexual assaults were current or former spouses (4%), and rarely were they the victim's child (0.3%). Similar to the proportion of sexual offences where the accused was a relative, 28% of police-reported sexual assaults involved offenders who were casual acquaintances of the victim. To a lesser extent, offenders were identified as friends (8%), authority figures (6%), current or former boyfriends/girlfriends (5%), or business acquaintances (4%) of the victims.5

The discrepancy between the two sources in relation to the information each provides on incidents involving family members, may be explained, in part, by the GSS sample. The GSS surveys individuals aged 15 and older, whereas police-reported data cover victims of all ages, including young children. By excluding children from its sample, the GSS cannot provide information on child victims. Research has shown that children are most likely to be victimized by family members (AuCoin, 2005). Thus, the low number of incidents where the victim and accused were related may be a reflection of this exclusion. In addition, it is also important to note that the GSS data on sexual assaults exclude incidents involving spouses.

More serious sexual offences most likely to occur in private residences

According to the 2004 GSS, more than half (51%) of sexual assault incidents occurred in a commercial or institutional establishment,6 followed by a residence or surrounding location (31%), a street or other public place (12%), or in another location (6%).

The location of the incident varied with the specific offence type. More than half (56%) of sexual attacks occurred in and around a residence; whereas, over half (57%) of incidents of unwanted sexual touching occurred in a commercial establishment. Police-reported data indicate that 68% of aggravated sexual assaults occurred in or around a residence, compared to 65% of the less serious offence, level 1 sexual assault.


  1. Includes sexual assault with a weapon (level 2) and aggravated sexual assault (level 3).
  2. GSS data show no significant difference in the proportion of male and female sexual assault victims who reported the incident to police.
  3. Among the specific offence types recorded on the GSS, the rate of unwanted sexual touching was about 5 times higher for females in comparison to males (2,632 versus 549 per 100,000 population). The rate of sexual attacks for women was 598 incidents per 100,000 population. However, a comparable figure could not be produced for men, as the number of sexual attacks reported by men were too few to enable this type of analysis.
  4. Incidents involving family members and other relations were too few in number to enable analysis with data from the 2004 GSS.
  5. Percentages are based on the total number of incidents where the relationship between the victim and accused was known.
  6. Commercial and institutional establishments include restaurants and bars, schools and school grounds, commercial and office buildings, shopping centres, hospitals, prisons, or rehabilitation centres.