Fact sheet: Intimate partner violence
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Intimate partner violence (IPV), also known as spousal or domestic violence,Footnote 1 is a prevalent form of gender-based violence (GBV). It refers to multiple forms of harm caused by a current or former intimate partner or spouse.
IPV can happen in many forms of relationships, including:
- within a marriage, common-law or dating relationship
- regardless of the gender and sexual orientation of the partners
- at any time during a relationship and even after it has ended
- whether or not partners live together or are sexually intimate with one another
The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies IPV as a major global public health concern, as it affects millions of people and can result in immediate and long-lasting health, social and economic consequences.Footnote 2 IPV impacts people of all genders, ages, socioeconomic, racial, educational, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. However, women account for the vast majority of people who experience this form of gender-based violence and it is most often perpetrated by men.Footnote 3 There are serious impacts on children who are exposed to IPV, and exposure to IPV is considered a form of child maltreatment.
IPV can occur in both public and private spaces, as well as online, and can include:
- physical abuse: intentional or threatened use of physical force, including pushing, hitting, cutting, punching, slapping, shoving, strangulation
- criminal harassment (also referred to as stalking): repeated conduct that creates fear for one’s safety or the safety of a loved one. The repeated conduct can include making threats, obscene phone calls, following, watching, tracking, contacting on the Internet, including through texts or email messages
- sexual violence: sexual acts without consent, threats of repercussions for refusing sexual activity, forcing someone to watch or participate in the making of pornography, sexually degrading language and belittling sexual commentsFootnote 4
- emotional /psychological abuse: insults, belittling, constant humiliation, intimidation, threats of harm, threats to take away children, harm or threat of harm to petsFootnote 5
- financial abuse (also referred to as economic abuse): control or misuse of money, assets or property, control of a partner’s ability to access school or a job
- spiritual abuse: using a partner’s spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate or control them
- reproductive coercion: controlling reproductive choices, pregnancy outcomes and/or access to health services
- coercive control: patterns of control and abuse that cause fear or terror, including coercion (using force and/or threats to alter behaviour) and controlFootnote 6 (regulating or dominating a partner’s behaviour and choices, isolating a person from family and friends, and restricting access to employment, education or medical care)Footnote 5
- technology-facilitated violence (also referred to as cyberviolence): use of technologies to facilitate virtual or in-person harm including observing and listening to a person, tracking their location, to scare, intimidate or humiliate a person
General application offences contained in the Criminal Code of Canada prohibit many forms of IPV, including:
- physical and sexual assault
- some forms of emotional/psychological abuse and neglect
- financial abuseFootnote 1
Six provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan) and three territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon) have enacted specific legislation on family violence.Footnote 7
In 1983, the Criminal Code was amended to replace outdated sexual offence laws with the current sexual assault offences. Among other things, these amendments ensured that a person could be charged with sexually assaulting their spouse. In 1993, the offence of criminal harassment (also referred to as stalking) was enacted. Most recently, in June 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to IPV, including by defining ‘intimate partner’ for all Criminal Code purposes and clarifying that the term includes a current or former spouse, common-law partner and dating partner. The changes also reversed the onus of proof for bail for an accused charged with a violent offence involving an intimate partner, in cases where the accused had a prior conviction for violence against an intimate partner. This means that instead of the Crown having to prove why the accused should be held in custody while awaiting trial, the accused now has to prove to the court why they should be released.
By 1986, every Canadian jurisdiction had implemented mandatory charging and prosecutorial policies with respect to IPV. The mandatory charging policies require that police apply the same charging policy in all types of criminal offending, namely that charges be laid in IPV cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed. Similarly, the mandatory prosecution policies generally direct that IPV cases should be prosecuted where there is a reasonable expectation or prospect of conviction (based on the evidence) and where it is in the public interest to prosecute. This approach ensures that the victim/survivor is not responsible for whether or not charges are laid or whether or not there will be a trial. Some jurisdictions have implemented specialized domestic violence courts.Footnote 8
Services that are available for victims/survivors of IPV include women’s shelters, transition houses, victim services, counselling programs and sexual assault centres.
The Government of Canada is working to increase its knowledge about this form of violence. Police-reported data show that women are overrepresented among those who experience IPV, including among victims of intimate partner homicides. As is the case with many forms of violence, those who experience IPV often do not to report it to the police for a variety of reasons, including: fear of stigma/shame,Footnote 9 the belief that abuse is a private matter,Footnote 10 fear of court system intervention, or lack of trust in the criminal justice system.Footnote 11
Here are some key facts:
Police-reported dataFootnote 12(2019):
- In Canada in 2019, of the 107,810 people aged 15 and over who experienced intimate partner violence (IPV) 79% were women.Footnote 13
- As in previous years, 2019 rates of IPV were more than 3.5 times higher among women than among men (536 versus 149 per 100,000 population).Footnote 13
Self-reported dataFootnote 14 (2018):
- Overall, 44% of women who had ever been in an intimate partner relationship—or about 6.2 million women aged 15 and over —reported experiencing some kind of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse in the context of an intimate relationship in their lifetime (since the age of 15). More specifically, women were significantly more likely than men to have experienced any form of IPV, including physical abuse (23% versus 17%, respectively), sexual abuse (12% versus 2%), and psychological abuse (43% versus 35%).Footnote 15
- Women, relative to men, were considerably more likely to have experienced the most severe forms of IPV in their lifetime (since the age of 15): being made to perform sex acts they did not want to perform (8% versus 1%), being confined or locked in a room or other space (3% versus 0.5%), being forced to have sex (10% versus 2%), being choked (7% versus 1%), and having harm or threats of harm directed towards their pets (4% versus 0.8%).Footnote 15
- Among people who experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime (since the age of 15), women are about four time more likely than men (37% versus 9%, respectively) to have ever been afraid of a partner. 55% of women who experienced physical or sexual IPV feared a partner at some point. Being afraid of a partner can indicate intimate partner violence that is more coercive, more severe, and more likely to reflect a pattern of abusive behaviours.Footnote 15
- Women who have experienced physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15 were about twice as likely as women with no such history to have experienced IPV either since age 15 (67% versus 35%) or in the past 12 months (18% versus 10%).Footnote 15
- Among people who experienced IPV in the 12 months preceding the survey, women were twice as likely as men to have experienced at least one form of IPV on a daily or almost daily basis (12% versus 6%, respectively).Footnote 15
- Three in ten (29%) women 15 to 24 years of age reported having experienced at least one incident of IPV in the 12 months preceding the survey, more than double the proportion found among women between the ages of 25 to 34 or 35 to 44, and close to six times higher than that among women 65 years of age or older.Footnote 15
Young women (aged 15 to 24 years)
- Among young women who reported ever being in an intimate partner relationship, almost three in ten (29%) of those aged 15-24 years experienced some form of IPV in the 12 months preceding the survey. This proportion was much higher than that observed among women aged 25 years and older (10%).Footnote 16
- Young women were five times more likely than women aged 25 years and older to have been sexually assaulted (5% versus 1% respectively), three times more likely to have been physically assaulted (6% and 2%, respectively), and almost three times more likely to have been emotionally, financially or psychologically abused by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months preceding the survey (28% versus 10%).Footnote 16
- Indigenous women (61%) in Canada were more likely to have ever experienced IPV in their lifetime (since the age of 15) when compared with non-Indigenous women (44%).Footnote 17
- In the 12 months preceding the survey, 1 in 6 (17%) Indigenous women experienced at least one form of IPV—psychological, physical or sexual—compared with 12% of non-Indigenous women.Footnote 17
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and people of a sexual orientation that is not heterosexual (LGB+) women
- Overall, 67% of LGB+ women who had ever been in an intimate partner relationship had experienced at least one type of IPV since the age of 15, compare to 44% among heterosexual women.Footnote 18
- Almost half (49%) of LGB+ women indicated that they had been physically or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner since the age of 15, almost double what was indicated by heterosexual women (25%)Footnote 18
- One in five (20%) LGB+ women had indicated that they had experienced some forms of IPV within the past year, almost twice what was said by heterosexual women (12%).Footnote 18
Women living with disabilities
- Among people who had ever been in an intimate partner relationship, more than half (55%) of women with disabilities reported experiencing some form of IPV in their lifetime (since the age of 15), compared to 37% of women without disabilitiesFootnote 19
- In the 12 months preceding the survey, 16% of women with disabilities experienced some form of IPV, compared to 10% of women without disabilitiesFootnote 19
- Among LGBTQ2 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two-Spirit) women with disabilities, almost seven in ten (71%) experienced some form of intimate partner violence since the age of 15.Footnote 19
Visible minority women
- Among those who had ever been in an intimate partner relationship, 29% of women belonging to an ethno-cultural group designated as a visible minority reported experiencing some kind of psychological, physical, or sexual violence committed by an intimate partner in their lifetime (since the age of 15)Footnote 20
- Visible minority women and non-visible minority women were equally likely to have experienced intimate partner violence in the form of physical abuse (both 2%) or sexual abuse (both 1%) in the past 12 months.Footnote 20
- One-quarter (25%) of visible minority women between the ages of 15 and 24 experienced IPV in the past 12 months.Footnote 20
Intimate partner homicide
- Between 2014 and 2019, there were 497 victims of intimate partner homicide, and—similar to intimate partner violence in general—80% (400 victims) were women.Footnote 13
- While Indigenous women account for about 5% of all women in Canada, they accounted for 21% Footnote 21of all women killed by an intimate partner between 2014 and 2019 (83 victims). In 2020, 53 women, 11 of whom were Indigenous, were killed by their partner in Canada.Footnote 22
You may access the following list of additional support services for people affected by GBV.
- The Public Health Agency of Canada’s Stop Family Violence website is a one-stop source of information on family violence and has resources and information for anyone experiencing family violence.
- Justice Canada’s Victim Services Directory helps service providers, victims and individuals locate services for victims of crime across Canada.
This fact sheet was developed in collaboration with other federal government departments.
Publication date: fall 2020. Updated statistics in fall 2021.
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