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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
- in a heterosexual or LGBTQ2 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Two-Spirit) relationship
- 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:
- Intimate partner violence accounted for about one-third (30%) of all incidents of violent crime reported to the police in 2018.Footnote 3
- Police-reported data show that in 2018, 99,452 people in Canada experienced intimate partner violence. Women were the vast majority of those who experienced this form of violence, accounting for 79% of survivors (78,852 women versus 20,600 men).Footnote 3
- Rates of police-reported IPV in 2018 were about four times higher for women than for men in Canada (507 versus 134 incidents per 100,000 population).Footnote 3
- Among women in 2018, the highest rate of police-reported IPV was observed for women aged 25 to 34 years (1,104 incidents per 100,000 population). Women living in rural areas also showed higher rates of IPV than their urban counterparts (789 versus 447 incidents).Footnote 3
- Self-reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) show that Indigenous women were three times more likely to have experienced spousal violence than non-Indigenous women.Footnote 12
- Results from the 2014 GSS also indicate that women living with a disability were twice as likely as women without a disability to have experienced intimate partner violence.Footnote 13
- According to 2018 police-reported data, the most common form of IPV experienced by women was physical assault (373 incidents per 100,000 population). The highest rate of physical assault was observed against women aged 25 to 34 (829 incidents per 100,000).Footnote 3
- Police-reported data for 2018 show that rates of intimate partner sexual assault were almost 30 times higher for women than men (29 incidents versus 1 per 100,000 population). Rates of sexual assaults were the highest among women aged 15 to 24 (50 incidents per 100,000 population).Footnote 3
- Intimate partner violence most often occurred at a private residence (84%) in 2018. Police-reported data show that among people who experienced IPV, half did so in a home they shared with the accused (50%) and about one-third in a home not shared with the accused (30%). For one in ten victims (10%), the violence took place in an open area such as a street, park, or parking lot.Footnote 3
- Residential facilities for victims of abuse (for example shelters) across Canada reported over 68,000 admissions in 2017-2018, the vast majority being women (60.3%) and their accompanying children (39.6%).Footnote 14
- In 2009, the estimated total cost of IPV in Canada was $7.4 billion (includes estimates for pain and suffering, as well as direct costs such as medical care costs and lost productivity).Footnote 15
Intimate partner homicide
- Data from police-reported incidents indicate that women in Canada are overrepresented among victims of intimate partner homicides. Of the 945 intimate partner homicides which occurred between 2008 and 2018, about 8 in 10 (79%) involved female victims.Footnote 3
- Between 2008 and 2018, most female victims of intimate partner homicide were killed by a current or former legally married or common-law husband (73%) and boyfriends were responsible for the other quarter (26%) of female victims’ deaths.Footnote 3
- Among homicides between spouses, 6 in 10 (60%) of those that occurred between 2008 and 2018 were preceded by a known history of family violence.Footnote 3
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
- Date modified: