Social justice

social justice

About Family Violence in Canada

“Family violence” includes many different forms of abuse that adults or children may experience in their intimate, kinship or dependent relationships. Family violence also includes being mistreated or being neglected by these members.

As we gain more understanding about the kinds and amount of violence in close relationships and in dealings with other family members, the definition of family violence will continue to change.

Some common types of family violence are:

  •  physical abuse
  •  sexual abuse and exploitation (being used for a sexual purpose)
  •  neglect
  •  psychological or emotional abuse
  •  economic or financial abuse
  • Family violence can have serious—and sometimes fatal—consequences for victims and for those that see or hear the violence.
  • Although the Criminal Code does not refer to specific “family violence offences,” many Criminal Code offences could be used to charge someone with acts of family violence. These offences could be assault, sexual assault, criminal harassment (often called “stalking”), making threats against someone and murder. The Criminal Code also provides measures to prevent family violence, such as protection orders and certain procedures for protecting victims of family violence. For more information on the law that could be applied, please see Laws.

    How Widespread is Family Violence in Canada?

    We do not yet know just how much family violence there is in Canada. This is because if the victim does not report it to anyone, it stays hidden. The Government of Canada is working to increase our knowledge about family violence by doing research, studies and surveys. Some good national information has come from these sources, including:

    Some Family Violence Statistics in Canada

    The above sources give us some idea about the extent of family violence in Canada :

    1. Victimization Survey data:
      • An estimated 7 percent of Canadian women and men aged 15 years and over who were in a current or previous, marital or common-law relationship, experienced some form of spousal violence in the five years prior to the 2004 GSS. This includes a rate of 7 percent for women (653,000 women) and 6 percent for men (546,000 men).
      • Not all incidents of spousal or intimate partner violence are reported to the police. According to the 2004 GSS, less than one-third (28 percent) of spousal violence victims reported the violence to the police and, before they did, almost two-thirds (61 percent) had experienced more than one violent incident.
      • The 2004 GSS indicates that Aboriginal people were three times more likely than those who were non-Aboriginal to be victims of spousal violence. Overall, 21 percent of Aboriginal people (24 percent of Aboriginal women and 18 percent of Aboriginal men) said that they had suffered violence from a current or previous spouse or common-law partner in the five-year period up to 2004. The rate for non-Aboriginal people was 7 percent in the same period.
      • According to the 2004 GSS, more than 2.3 million Canadians aged 15 years and older had been stalked in the five years prior to the survey. About 17 percent of stalking victims reported being stalked by current or former intimate partners.
      • Family violence harms many people who are not the direct target. According to the 2004 GSS, a person other than the spouse was harmed or threatened in 11 percent of spousal assaults in the previous five years of which 44 percent of these were children under the age of 15. In addition, 394,000 spousal violence victims, representing one third (33 percent) of all victims of spousal violence, reported that children saw or heard this violence.
    2. Police-reported spousal violence in Canada
      • In 2007, nearly 40,200 incidents of spousal violence (i.e., violence against legally married, common-law, separated and divorced partners) were reported to police. This represents about 12% of all police-reported violent crime in Canada.
      • The majority of victims of spousal violence continue to be females, accounting for 83% of victims.
      • Police laid charges in more than three-quarters of spousal violence incidents reported in 2007. Incidents involving female victims were more likely to result in charges being laid than those involving male victims.
    3. Police-reported family violence against children and youth
      • Police-reported data for 2007 indicate that children and youth under the age of 18 were most likely to be physically or sexually assaulted by someone they know (85% of incidents).
      • Nearly 53,400 children and youth were the victims of a police-reported assault in 2007, with about 3 in 10 incidents of assaults against children and youth perpetrated by a family member.
      • In 2008, an estimated 235,842 child maltreatment investigations were conducted in Canada. Thirty-six percent of these were substantiated (confirmed after an investigation). Another 8 percent were suspected but could not be confirmed by available evidence.
    4. Family homicides
      • Rates of spousal homicide, which involve persons in legal marriages, those who are separated or divorced from such unions, and those in common-law relationships, declined over the 3 decades from 1978 to 2007. In 2007 the spousal homicide rate of 4 per million spouses was the lowest in over 30 years.
      • Women continue to be more likely than men to be victims of spousal homicide. In 2007, almost 4 times as many women were killed by a current or former spouse as men.
      • Homicides of children and youth (under the age of 18) represented about 9% of all homicides in 2007. Most child and youth homicide victims were killed by someone they knew. In 2007, 41% of child and youth homicides were committed by a family member, 27% by someone known to the victim but other than a family member, 20% by strangers and the remaining 13% of child and youth homicides were unsolved.
      • Parents were the perpetrators in the majority of child and youth homicides committed by family members. Fathers (54%) were more likely than mothers (34%) to be the perpetrators.

    Many experts suggest that the amount of family violence may be much higher than these figures show. This is because surveys, studies and police reports do not capture all cases of violence and abuse. For example, research has shown that many abuse victims do not – or cannot – report their abuse to the police. (For information on getting help, see For Victims of Family Violence) Most victims who do report spousal violence to the police had suffered more than one violent incident before reporting the latest abuse.

    For more detailed statistics, see Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2009.

    For more information on family violence, please see Justice Canada’s Overview Papers:.


    1The spousal violence questions in the 1999, the 2004, and the 2009 General Social Survey built on the earlier work of the groundbreaking 1993 Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS) conducted by Statistics Canada.

  • Web Resource: Department of Justice – www.justice.gc.ca