Making the Links in Family Violence Cases: Collaboration among the Family, Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems

Annex 1: Family violence statistics

1. What do we know about the prevalence of family violence in Canada?

There are three main sources of information used to measure family violence in Canada: self-reported victimization data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization,Footnote 1 police-reported information from the annual Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Survey and the Homicide Survey, and child protection reported information from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS). The following statistics provide an overview of what we know about family violence in Canada.Footnote 2

1.1 Family violence – general

  • According to police-reported data in 2011 there were almost 95,000 victims of family violence in Canada who reported to the police, accounting for one quarter of all victims of police-reported violent crime. Almost half (49%) of family violence victims were victims of spousal and ex-spousal violence while the other half (51%) were children, siblings or extended family members.
  • According to police-reported data in 2010, victims of family violence were more likely (46%) to sustain injury as a result of the violence than victims of non-family violence (41%).
  • In 2011, 69% of the victims of police-reported family violence were women or girls. Women accounted for 80% of all police-reported spousal violence victims.
  • In 2011, 56% of family violence incidents resulted in charges being laid or recommended. Charges were more commonly laid in cases where the victim was female than when the victim was male (61% versus 46%).

1.2 Spousal violence

  • According to the 2009 GSS on victimization, 6% of individuals with a current or former spouse reported being physically or sexually victimized by their spouse in the preceding five years; 2% reported experiencing victimization in the previous year.
  • The proportion of Canadians who have experienced spousal violence is higher for individuals with ex-spouses or partners, than current spouses or partners. In 2009, 17% of Canadians who had been in contact with an ex-marital or common-law partner in the previous 5 years had been physically or sexually assaulted by them during that period; 4% of Canadians with a current spouse or partner experienced violence by their current spouse or partner during that same time period.
  • Data from the 2009 GSS reveal that among those who reported experiencing violence by an ex-spouse in the past five years,Footnote 3 14% indicated that they experienced violence both while living together and after the separation; 32% reported that they experienced violence after separation; and over two thirds (68%) indicated that the violence ended once they separated from their spouse/partner.Footnote 4
  • Overall, women report more serious forms of violence than men. In 2009, three times as many women who reported current spousal violence indicated that they had been sexually assaulted, beaten, choked or threatened with a gun or a knife by their partner in the previous five years (34% of women and 10% of men). A higher percentage of women (54%) than men (27%)E who experienced violence after separation indicated that they were physically injured as a result of the violence.Footnote 5 Almost half (48%) of women reported fearing for their lives as a result of the post-separation violence.Footnote 6
  • The socio-demographic characteristics of victims of spousal violence are related to rates of violence over a five year period: those who identified in the GSS as gay or lesbian were twice as likely as those identifying as heterosexual to report having experienced spousal violence and 8% of those who reported having an activity limitation (a physical or mental condition limiting daily activities) experienced spousal violence, in comparison to 6% of those who did not have such a limitation. In contrast, those who identified themselves as visible minorities or immigrants did not have increased rates of spousal violence.Footnote 7
  • Aboriginal women, in particular, were at greater risk than non-Aboriginal women of being victims of spousal violence. About 15% of Aboriginal women who had a spouse or common-law partner in the past five years reported being a victim of spousal violence, more than twice the proportion among non-Aboriginal women (6%).Footnote 8
  • Not only were Aboriginal people more likely than non-Aboriginal people to be physically or sexually assaulted by a spouse or partner (current or former), they were also more likely to report having been victimized multiple times. More than half (59%) of Aboriginal victims of spousal violence reported being victimized more than once in the past five years and 50% reported being victimized more than three times. In comparison, 43% of non-Aboriginal victims reported being victimized more than once and 29% more than three times.
  • Less than one quarter of spousal violence victims report the violence to the police. In 2009, 22% of spousal violence victims indicated that police found out about the incident; this is in contrast to 28% in 2004. The decrease in reporting came primarily from women. Also in 2009, the majority of incidents of ex-spousal violence were not reported to the police – with just over one third (36%) of respondents reporting that the police became aware of the incident either through themselves or another way.Footnote 9
  • In 2009, 10% of victims of spousal violence obtained a restraining or protective order against their abuser.
  • Almost two thirds of spousal violence victims (63%) had been victimized more than once prior to calling the police and almost half of these victims (28%) stated they had been victimized more than ten times before contacting police.
  • Statistics from British Columbia provide a snapshot about what happens in that province in criminal cases where charges are laid. Over the decade spanning 2002/03 – 2011/12, the conviction rate for charges submitted by the police and approved by the Crown is 49%; in non-domestic violence cases, 70% of charges result in a conviction. Stays of proceedings are also 11% higher than in non-domestic violence cases. In cases in which a trial date is not set, there is a higher rate of peace bonds and a lower rate of stays, more consistent with non-domestic violence cases. This suggests that domestic violence trials end with stays more frequently than non-domestic violence cases.Footnote 10

1.3 Family violence against children and youth

  • Police-reported data indicates that in 2011, just over 18,300 children or youth under 18 years of age were victims of family violence. This represents about one quarter of all violent offences committed against children and youth.
  • In 2011, the police-reported rate of family violence against girls was 56% higher than boys. Girls were four times more likely to be a victim of a sexual assault or other sexual offence committed by a family member.
  • In 2011, police laid or recommended charges in 44% of incidents of family violence against children and youth, whereas charges were laid in 59% of family violence incidents against adult victims.

1.4 Witnessing spousal violence

  • Results from the GSS indicate that between 2004 and 2009, there was an increase in the proportion of spousal violence victims reporting that children saw or heard the assaults (from 43% to 52%).
  • According to the 2009 GSS, the exposure of children to spousal violence was most prevalent when the spousal violence victim was female or was estranged from their legal or common-law spouse. Parents were also four times more likely to involve the police when a child witnessed the spousal violence incident than when children were not present (39% versus 10%).

1.5 Homicide

  • Between 2001 and 2011, family members accounted for 34% of all solved homicides. The rate of family homicides has been declining over the past thirty years, with a rate in 2011 that was 47% lower than in 1981.
  • In 2011, there were 89 victims of intimate partner homicide in Canada, which includes current or former married, common-law and same-sex spouses, as well as those in a dating relationship.Footnote 11 Between 2001 and 2010, the average number of victims of intimate partner homicide was 95. Indeed, the rate of intimate partner homicide was 24% lower in 2011 than it was in 2001.Footnote 12
  • Female victims account for the majority of spousal homicide victims. In 2011, the rate of female victims of intimate partner homicide increased by 19%, the third increase in three years. In contrast, the rate for male victims of intimate partner homicide in 2011 was the lowest recorded since data collection began (0.08 per 100,000 males).Footnote 13
  • In 2011, 36% of intimate partner homicides were committed by current and former common-law spouses, 36% were committed by a legal spouse and 26% were committed by other intimate partners. A woman’s risk of intimate partner homicide was highest after separation. From 2007 to 2011, a woman’s risk of being killed by a legally separated spouse was nearly six times higher than the risk from a legally married spouse.Footnote 14
  • Almost half (44%) of those accused of family-related homicide in 2011 had a history of family violence with the victim.Footnote 15
  • Between 1994 and 2005, just under one-fifth (22%) of those accused of killing or attempting to kill their spouse had come into contact with the police between one to three times for spousal violence offences.Footnote 16
  • Between 1997 and 2005, 26% of the 687 spousal homicides (not including dating relationships) resulted in the suicide of the accused.Footnote 17
  • Between 2001 and 2011, 77% of murder-suicides involved at least one victim that was related to the accused. Over the same time period, the most prevalent type of murder-suicides involved a male killing his current or former legal or common law spouse (54%). Narratives on police files indicate that separation was a common theme in murder-suicides. Half of the spousal narratives indicated that the couple had either separated, were in the process of separating or had expressed a desire to separate.Footnote 18
  • 72% of all domestic homicides in Ontario reviewed from 2003-2011 by the Ontario Domestic Violence Death Review Committee, involved perpetrators and victims who had already separated or who were in the midst of a separation; separation was thus the most common risk factor identified.Footnote 19

1.6 Impacts of family violence

  • According to the 2009 GSS, 3 in 10 victims of spousal violence reported being physically injured as a result of family violence; women were more than twice as likely as men to report an injury, with 42% of women reporting an injury and 18% of men. Of those individuals who reported an injury, 13% indicated that they were hospitalized as a result of the violence.
  • In addition to physical injuries, more than three quarters reported being emotionally impacted by the violence. The most common reactions were feeling upset, confused or frustrated; other reactions were to feel angry, hurt, disappointed, fearful or depressed.
  • Some victims of spousal violence indicated that the violence resulted in disruptions to their daily lives, and 18% of victims stated that they had to take time away or time off from their daily activities as a result of the violence. Women were three times more likely than men to report this.
  • According to a recent study of the economic costs of spousal violence in Canada, the total economic impact of spousal violence in 2009 was $7.4 billion, amounting to $220 per capita.Footnote 20 The justice system bore 7.3% ($545.2 million) of the total economic impact, where $320.1 million was borne by the criminal justice system and $225.1 million was borne by the civil justice system. A breakdown of the total criminal justice system costs by specific cost items reveals that policing services accounted for the majority of expenditures (45.5%), followed by corrections (31.7%), courts (9.5%), prosecutions (7.9%), and legal aid (5.5%). For civil justice system costs, 80.8% was attributed to child protection systems, 18.2% to separations and divorces, and 1.0% to civil protection orders.
  • The most direct economic impact is borne by primary victims. Of the total estimated costs, $6.0 billion was incurred by victims as a direct result of spousal violence for items such as medical attention, hospitalizations, lost wages, missed school days, and stolen/damaged property. The intangible costs of pain and suffering and loss of life accounted for 91.2% of the total victim costs. Of the remaining tangible costs ($525.0 million), other personal costs, including legal costs for divorce and separation, and moving expenses, represented 51.7%, followed by costs associated with mental health issues (34.2%), productivity losses (10.2%), and health care costs (4.0%).The impact of spousal violence ultimately extends to every member of society. The total economic impact borne by third parties and others was about $889.9 million, including funeral expenses ($1.4 million), loss of affection to family members ($37.2 million), costs to other people who were hurt or threatened in the incidents ($11.2 million), social service operating costs ($410.6 million), losses to employers ($77.9 million), the negative impact on children exposed to spousal violence ($235.2 million), and additional government expenditures ($116.3 million) not already included elsewhere (note that much government funding goes toward providing victim services, running shelters and transition homes, operating national crime prevention strategies, etc., many of which are estimated as separate cost items).Footnote 21

2. What do we know about the prevalence of reported child protection cases?

The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect (CIS) is a national study that estimates the extent of reported child abuse in Canada based on data from child welfare authorities. The CIS 2008 is the third CIS study conducted at the national level. The results provide key data on the incidence of reported child maltreatment and the characteristics of the children and families investigated by Canadian child welfare services. During the fall of 2008, the CIS 2008 tracked 15,980 child maltreatment investigations conducted using a representative sample of 112 child welfare service areas across Canada.Footnote 22 The CIS indicates as follows:

  • Of the estimated 235,842 child-maltreatment-related investigations in Canada in 2008, 74% related to incidents of abuse or neglect that allegedly had already occurred and 26% concerned a risk of future maltreatment. In 2008, 36% of investigations were substantiated,Footnote 23 30% were unfounded, 8% found insufficient evidence but kept the files open, 5% found there was a risk of future maltreatment, 17% found no future risk of maltreatment and 4% were inconclusive. In 2008, there were placements in 8% of investigations, and no placements in 92% of investigations. However, even where there was no placement, ongoing services were provided in 27% of the investigations in 2008.
  • With respect to child abuse reported to child welfare authorities in Canada, the two most common categories of substantiated maltreatment in 2008 were exposure to intimate partner violence (34%) and neglect (34%) as the primary category of maltreatment. Physical abuse was the primary form of maltreatment in 20% of substantiated investigations in 2008, emotional maltreatment accounted for 9% and sexual abuse was the principal concern in 3% of substantiated cases.
  • Physical harm was identified in 8% of the substantiated maltreatment cases in 2008 (harm was noted but did not require treatment in 5% of the cases and was sufficiently severe to require medical treatment in 3% of the cases). Information on emotional harm was also gathered in 2008: emotional harm was noted in 29% of substantiated cases and in 17% of the cases the harm was severe enough to require treatment.
  • In 46% of substantiated investigations in 2008, at least one child functioning issue was indicated in relation to physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioural characteristics. Academic difficulties were the most frequent functioning concern (occurring in 23% of substantiated cases), depression, anxiety and withdrawal was the second most common concern (19%), child aggression was raised in 15%, attachment issues in 14%, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) appeared in 11% and intellectual or developmental disabilities arose in another 11% of cases.
  • Aboriginal children are over-represented in the foster care system, and the rate of substantiated child maltreatment investigations is four times higher for Aboriginal children than for non-Aboriginal children. The CIS indicated that 22% of substantiated cases (an estimated 18,510 investigations) involved children of Aboriginal heritage in 2008 (15% Status First Nations, 3% non-status First Nation, 2% Métis 1% Inuit and 1% other Aboriginal heritage).

3. What do we know about family violence in the context of the family justice system?

Although much is known about family violence in the criminal and child protection contexts, less robust information is available with respect to the family justice system. The available statistics indicate as follows:

  • Every year in Canada, a significant number of couples decide to separate. The 2006 General Social Survey shows that between 2001 and 2006, just fewer than two million Canadians ended a common-law or marital union – either through separation or divorce.Footnote 24
  • In 2008, the proportion of married couples who were expected to divorce before their 30th wedding anniversary was 40.7%, up from 37.9% in 2004.Footnote 25
  • According to the 2006 GSS, approximately 4 in 10 separating or divorcing couples had dependent children when they ended their relationship.Footnote 26 Sixty-two percent (62%) of those who separated or divorced between 2001 and 2006 had agreements for the amount of time children would spend with each parent. Roughly the same number (61%) had agreements setting out how parents would make major decisions for their children.Footnote 27
  • Custodial outcomes for divorcing parents from 2010-2012, from selected courts in Canada revealFootnote 28:
    • Physical custody (where the child resides) – in 62.2 % of cases, children resided primarily with their mothers, in 9.4 % of cases primarily with their fathers, in 21.3% of cases there was a shared custody arrangement, whereby the child would live with each parent at least 40% of the time, and in 5.0% of cases there was a split custody arrangement whereby at least one child resided with each parent.
    • Legal Custody (who makes major decisions with respect to the child) – in 74.8% of cases there was a joint custody arrangement whereby both parents would make the major decisions together. In 19.5% of cases the mother had sole responsibility to make major decisions and in 2.9% of cases the father had the sole responsibility to make major decisions.
  • Statistics derived from a review of court file data in selected courts indicates that family violence is mentioned in 8% of divorce cases.Footnote 29
  • Data from the 2009 GSS indicate that among respondents with a child or children with an ex-spouse/partner,Footnote 30 the respondent had experienced violence by an ex-spouse/partner in 29% of cases where the children resided primarily with the respondent. In 25% of cases in which a child’s principal residence was that of the ex-spouse/partner, the respondent reported experiencing ex-spousal violence. Finally, where the child spent about the same amount of time in each house, the respondent experienced ex-spousal violence in 20% of cases.Footnote 31
  • Practices with respect to screening for family violence vary throughout the family justice system. According to a small scale survey of mediators conducted in 2007, the majority do screen for family violence (93%).Footnote 32 Lawyers may be less likely to screen for family violence on a systematic basis. In a survey of lawyers attending the National Family Law Program in 2010, 83% indicated that they never or rarely use a screening tool (e.g. standardized test) to identify cases of family violence.Footnote 33
  • The 2006 GSS indicates that 53% of Canadians who went through a separation or divorce between 2001-2006, at the time of the survey, had not contacted, or used a lawyer or duty counsel for themselves or their child(ren). This indicates that a large number of individuals who may have family law issues do not seek legal advice or representation. These individuals, however, may have used other family justice services to receive advice or resolve their issues.
  • The 2006 GSS indicates that about three quarters (74.0%) of recently separated or divorced individuals with dependent childrenFootnote 34 used a formal service of some kind between 2001 and 2006, compared to less than half (44.7%) of those who separated or divorced without dependent children.

4. What do we know about the incidence of parallel proceedings in family violence cases?

There is very little definitive Canadian information about the incidence of parallel family, child protection or criminal proceedings involving the same family. There is information from several sources, however, which gives us some sense of the scope of the issue:

  • Data is available from an evaluation underway of the Integrated Domestic Violence Court in Toronto, Ontario (discussed in detail in Chapter 5, Volume I). In order to provide a comparison group of cases not heard in the Integrated Domestic Violence Court, the study examined court files from 2003-2010; there were 11,154 family files available onsite for review at the 311 Jarvis Street courthouse. Researchers examined every third file and found that, of these, there were 398 files where there was or had been a case in the criminal domestic violence court. This means that approximately in 10.7% of family cases there was also a criminal proceeding in relation to domestic violence.
  • Of lawyers surveyed in 2010 at the National Family Law Program, over one third (38%) indicated that in situations involving family violence, their clients often or always were also before the criminal courts while the family law proceeding is ongoing. Anecdotal reports from family law lawyers also indicate that this is an issue that arises in a significant number of cases.Footnote 35
  • Data from the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect, provides information with respect to child maltreatment cases in 2008:Footnote 36
    • There were 50,304 cases in which intimate partner violence was a primary, secondary or tertiary ground for a child maltreatment investigation. In 36% of these cases, charges were laid in the adult domestic violence case; this represents 18,010 cases where there was a child maltreatment investigation and a criminal proceeding.
    • Criminal charges were laid in 28% of cases in which there was also a maltreatment investigation and a child custody dispute; this represents 2,049 cases where a child protection worker reported that the criminal, family and child protection systems were all involved with the family.
    • In 6% of cases where there was a maltreatment-related investigation in respect of a youth aged 12-15, in the past six months the youth had also been charged, incarcerated or subject to alternative measures in the Youth Criminal Justice system.
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