The Facts About Violence Against Women

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We help women in Canada to move out of violence by funding emergency shelters, support programs, and effective follow-up programs. We also invest in school-based violence-prevention programs, where girls and boys learn how to stop the violence — for good.

1. How much do Canadians know about sexual consent?
2. Since crime rates in Canada are falling, is violence against women still a serious problem?

3. But isn’t there less domestic violence now than in the past?

4. What is violence against women?

5. What causes violence against women?

6. Aren’t males just as likely to be victims as females?

7. If a woman is being abused, why doesn’t she just leave the relationship?

8. Who is most at risk?

9. What effect does domestic violence have on children?

10. What should I do if I think someone is being abused?

11. Can violence against women ever be stopped?


How much do canadians know about sexual consent?

According to a 2015 survey commissioned by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, only 1 in 3 Canadians know what sexual consent means.

  • Almost all Canadians (96%) believe all sexual activities should be consensual yet only 1 in 3 Canadians understand what it means to give consent.
  • 1 in 5 Canadians between the ages of 18 to 34 believe if a woman sends an explicit photo through email or text, this always means she is giving consent to a sexual activity.
  • 1 in 10 Canadians believe consent to sexual activity is not needed between long-term partners and spouses. 

Since crime rates in Canada are falling, is violence against women still a serious problem?

  • Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16.1
  • 67% of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.2
  • Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner.  In 2011, from the 89 police reported spousal homicides, 76 of the victims (over 85%) were women.3
  • On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women (along with their 3,000 children) are forced to sleep in an emergency shelter to escape domestic violence. Every night, about 200 women are turned away because the shelters are full. 4
  • Each year, over 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence—that’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada.5 Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the real number is much higher.
  • As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.6 Both Amnesty International and the United Nations have called upon the Canadian government to take action on this issue, without success.7,8  According to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “if this figure were applied proportionately to the rest of the female population there would be over 18,000 missing Canadian women and girls.”9 
  • According to the Department of Justice, each year Canadians collectively spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence. This figure includes immediate costs such as emergency room visits and future costs such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering.10
  • In a 2009 Canadian national survey, women reported 460,000 incidents of sexual assault in just one year. 11 Only about 10% of all sexual assaults are reported to police.12  When it comes to sexual assault, women are frequently not believed, blamed for being assaulted, “or subjected to callous or insensitive treatment, when police fail to take evidence, or when their cases are dropped arbitrarily.” 13 Only a handful of reported assaults ever result in a conviction: each year, only about 1,500 sexual assault offenders are actually convicted.14   
  • About 80% of sex trafficking victims in Canada are women and girls.15
  • More than one in ten Canadian women say they have been stalked by someone in a way that made them fear for their life.16
  • Provincially, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which have consistently recorded the highest provincial rates of police-reported violent crime, had rates of violence against women in 2011 that were about double the national rate. Ontario and Quebec had the lowest rates of violence against women. As is the case with violent crime overall, the territories have consistently recorded the highest rates of police-reported violence against women. The rate of violent crime against women in Nunavut was nearly 13 times higher than the rate for Canada. 17

But isn’t there less domestic violence now than in the past?

  • Like all violent crime in Canada, rates of domestic violence have fallen in recent years.18  This decline is partly due to increased social equality and financial freedom for women, which makes it easier for them to leave abusive relationships at earlier stages. It is also due to years of effort by groups who are working to end domestic violence. Their achievements include improved public awareness, more treatment programs for violent men, improved training for police officers and Crown attorneys, having the police lay charges rather than the victim, more co-ordination of community services, and the creation of domestic violence legislation in some areas of Canada.19
  • Still, despite this good news, some disturbing trends are emerging:
  • In 2010, the rate of intimate partner homicide committed against females increased by 19%, the third increase in four years. During that same period, the rate for male victims fell by almost half. 20
  • After falling for a decade, rates of domestic violence have now flat-lined. In 2009, the rate of self-reported spousal violence was the same as in 2004. 21
  • Victims are now less likely to report an incident to police.22
  • More women are experiencing violence after leaving their abuser.23

What is violence against women?

  • The United Nations defines violence against women as:
    • “Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."24
  • This violence can include:25     
    • Physical abuse: Slapping, choking, or punching her. Using hands or objects as weapons. Threatening her with a knife or gun. Committing murder.
    • Sexual abuse: Using threats, intimidation, or physical force to force her into unwanted sexual acts.
    • Emotional or verbal abuse:  Threatening to kill her (or to kill the children, other family members or pets), threatening to commit suicide, making humiliating or degrading comments about her body or behaviour, forcing her to commit degrading acts, isolating her from friends or family, confining her to the house, destroying her possessions, and other actions designed to demean her or to restrict her freedom and independence. 
    • Financial abuse: Stealing or controlling her money or valuables (of particular concern to older women). Forcing her to work. Denying her the right to work.
    • Spiritual abuse: Using her religious or spiritual beliefs to manipulate, dominate, and control her.
    • Criminal harassment/stalking: Following her or watching her in a persistent, malicious, and unwanted manner. Invading her privacy in a way that threatens her personal safety.

What causes violence against women?

  • In our society, gender inequality is visible in many areas, including politics, religion, media, cultural norms, and the workplace. Both men and women receive many messages—both blatant and covert—that men are more important than women. This fundamental inequality creates a rationale for humiliation, intimidation, control, abuse, and even murder. 
  • In this context, it becomes easier for a man to believe that he has the right to be in charge and to control a woman, even if it requires violence. This is not only wrong, it’s against the law. 26
  • Violence against women is rooted in the belief that women deserve less social power and it is therefore acceptable – maybe even necessary – to exert power over them. This mindset also drives many other forms of violence, such as racism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and religious persecution.27
  • There is no evidence that alcohol or mental illness causes men to be violent against women. Men who assault their partners rarely assault their friends, neighbours, bosses, or strangers.  In fact, when it comes to alcohol, there is a clear double standard: while alcohol consumption by an offender is often used to excuse their behaviour, victims who have been drinking are often blamed for their own victimization.

Aren’t males just as likely to be victims as females?

  • We strongly believe that ALL violence is unacceptable, and we applaud other campaigns that work to end violence. As a women’s organization, our mission focuses on women and girls. However, our teen violence prevention programs are co-ed, designed for both boys and girls.
  • According to police, men (49%) and women (51%) in Canada are equally at risk of violent victimization. However, men are much more likely to be assaulted by a stranger or someone from outside their family, while women are much more likely to be assaulted by someone they know.28
  • About half (49%) of all female murder victims in Canada are killed by a former or current intimate partner. In contrast, only 7% of male murder victims were killed by intimate partners. 29
  • Some self-reported research shows women are almost as likely to use violence against their partner as men.30 Although some people claim that men are too embarrassed to admit a woman has abused them, the reverse is actually true: in self-reported research, men tend to over-estimate their partner’s violence while under-estimating their own. At the same time, women over-estimate their own violence, and under-estimate their partner's. This explains why self-reported research often shows similar levels of violence by men and women, even though other research clearly shows that women are disproportionately the victim.
  • In addition, self-reported research does not clarify that men are far more likely to initiate violence, while women are more likely to use violence in self-defence.31
  • Most men are not abusive to their families. However, when family violence does occur, the victims are overwhelmingly female:
    • 83% of all police-reported domestic assaults are against women.32 This pattern is consistent for every province and territory across Canada.33
    • In spousal violence, three times as many women experience serious violence such as choking, beating, being threatened with a knife or gun, and sexual violence. Women are more likely to be physically injured,34 to get a restraining order,35 and to fear for their lives.36
    • For the past 30 years in Canada, women are three to four times as likely to be killed by their spouse.37
    • About 80% of victims of dating violence are female.38
    • Girls experience sexual assault at much higher rates than boys: 82% of all victims under the age of 18 are female. 39
    • Girls are four times as likely as boys to be sexually assaulted by a family member. 40


  • Women often stay because the abuser has threatened to kill them if they leave, or to kill himself, or to kill the children.41
  • Women believe these threats, for good reason - the most dangerous time for an abused women is when she attempts to leave her abuser.42 About 25% of all women who are murdered by their spouse had left the relationship.43 In one study, half of the murdered women were killed within two months of leaving the relationship.44
  • Some women stay because the abuser has threatened to harm or kill a household pet. In one study, over 60% of women living in an emergency shelter had their pet or their children’s pet harmed and/or killed by an abusive partner.45
  • Almost 60% of all dating violence happens after the woman has broken off the relationship.46
  • Women sometimes stay because they are financially dependent on their partner. Over 1.22 million Canadian women live in poverty, along with their children. Women who leave a partner to raise children on their own are more than five times likely to be poor than if they had stayed.47
  • Some women stay because they have strong beliefs about keeping family together. Sometimes, relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.
  • Domestic abuse is often a gradual process, with the frequency of assaults and seriousness of the violence slowly escalating over time. Since abusers often express deep remorse and promise to change, it can take years for women to admit that the violence will never stop and the relationship is unsalvageable. In the meantime, the long-term experience of being abused can destroy women’s self-confidence, making it more difficult to believe they deserve better treatment, that she can find the courage to leave, or can manage on their own.

Who is most at risk?

  • Violence against women happens in all cultures and religions, in all ethnic and racial communities, at every age, and in every income group.
  • However, some women are especially at risk:
    • Aboriginal women (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) are more than eight times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner than non-Aboriginal women.48 Aboriginal women are 3.5 times more likely to be victims of violence compared to non-Aboriginal women. 49
  • According to both police-reported and self-reported data, younger women are at a much higher risk of violent victimization. 50 66% of all female victims of sexual assault are under the age of twenty-four (11% are under the age of eleven). 51  The rates of violent crime against women aged 15 to 24 is 42% higher than rates for women aged 25 to 34, and nearly double than the rates for women aged 35 to 44. 52 Women aged 15 to 24 are killed at nearly three times the rate for all female victims of domestic homicide.
  • 60% of women with a disability experience some form of violence.53  According to the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada, women with disabilities experience the same types of violence as other women in addition to other forms related to their disability, including: increased difficulty leaving an abuser due to mobility or communication issues, higher rates of emotional abuse, being prevented from using a necessary assistive device (wheelchair, cane, respirator, etc.), and abuse by institutional caregivers and/or other residents.54
  • Immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence due to economic dependence, language barriers, and a lack of knowledge about community resources. 55  Newcomers who arrive in Canada traumatized by war or oppressive governments are much less likely to report physical or sexual violence to the authorities, for fear of further victimization or even deportation.
  • Many racialized women face barriers to reporting incidents of physical or sexual assault or seeking help. “A study with young women of colour in Toronto found that one-in-five experienced racism in the health care system which included cultural insensitivity, racial slurs, and poor quality care.”56 

What effect does domestic violence have on children?

  • Although adults may think “the kids don’t know,” research shows that children see or hear many domestic violence assaults.57
  • Each year in Canada, an estimated 362,000 children witness or experience family violence.58
  • Domestic violence is more common in homes with young children than homes with older children. 59
  • Children who witness this violence are at immediate risk of being physically injured. 60  Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to be victims of physical abuse.
  • According to the RCMP, a child who witnesses spousal violence is experiencing a form of child abuse, since research shows that “witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly.”61
  • While not all children who witness violence suffer direct physical abuse, they frequently develop long-term behavioural and psychological problems. 62
  • Exposure to violence can affect children’s brain development and ability to learn, and lead to a wide range of behavioural and emotional issues such as anxiety, aggression, bullying, phobias, and insomnia. 63  
  • Research shows that children who witness violence are more likely to grow up to become victims or abusers.  64
  • Children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes. 65

What should I do if I think someone is being abused?

  • If someone is in immediate danger, call 911 or the emergency number in your community.
  • Put her safety first. Never talk to anyone about abuse in front of their suspected abuser. Unless she specifically asks for it, never give her materials about domestic abuse or leave information through voice messages or emails that might be discovered by her abuser. However, abuse thrives in secrecy, so speak up if you can do so safely.
  • If she wants to talk, listen. If she doesn’t, simply tell her she does not deserve to be harmed and that you are concerned for her safety. Ask her if there is anything you can do to help, but don’t offer to do anything that makes you uncomfortable or feels unsafe.
  • If she decides to stay in the relationship, try not to judge her. Remember, leaving an abuser can be extremely dangerous. Sometimes, the most valuable thing you can offer a woman who is being abused is your respect.
  • Learn about emergency services in your community, such as your local women’s shelter or sexual assault centre. Search on-line, or consult the front pages of your telephone directory.

Can violence against women ever be stopped?

  • Although some people may think violence against women is not very serious or is a ‘private’ matter, these attitudes can be changed. Drinking and driving was once treated almost as a joke, but thanks to strong advocacy campaigns, it is no longer socially acceptable and is subject to serious criminal penalties. In the same way, public education, violence prevention programs, and a strong criminal justice response can bring about an end to violence against women in Canada.
  • Violence prevention works. Research shows that high school violence prevention programs are highly effective. Even years after attending one of our programs, students experienced long-term benefits such as better dating relationships, the ability to recognize and leave an unhealthy relationship, and increased self-confidence, assertiveness, and leadership.
  • You can help. If your local school doesn’t offer a teen violence prevention program, ask it to start one. And let your elected representatives know that you think violence against women and girls is a serious problem in Canada. Ask them what they are doing to end the violence.


1 The Violence Against Women Survey, Statistics Canada, 1993. Although more up-to-date data would be preferable, no future Statistics Canada survey asked women about their life-time experience of violence. Available:

2 Angus Reid Omnibus Survey, Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2012.

3 “Homicide in Canada, 2011,” Statistics Canada, p. 11. Available:

4 “Shelters for Abuse Women in Canada, 2010,” Juristat, Marta Burczycka and Adam Cotter, Statistics Canada, June 27, 2011. Based on shelter admission for a randomly selected day, April 15, 2010.  Available:

5 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2009, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, p. 5. Available:

6 What Their Stories Tell Us: Research findings from the Sisters In Spirit initiative, Native Women’s Association of Canada, 2010, p. 18. Available:

7 Canada: Missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls: Families deserve answers – and justice, Amnesty International, Media Release March 8, 2011, Available:

8 “Canada must probe cases of slain, missing aboriginal women: UN,” The Canadian Press, CBC News, November 24, 2008. Available:

9 Voices of our Sisters in Spirit: A Report to Families and Communities(2nd ed.)., Native Women’s Association of Canada, 2009.

10 An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009. Available:  

11 Samuel Perreault and Shannon Brennan. Statistics Canada. Available:"> 

12 “Self-reported victimizations reported to police, 1999, 2004 and 2009,” Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009, Samuel Perreault and Shannon Brennan, Statistics Canada, 2010. Available:

13 Fact Sheet: Violence Against Women, Holly Johnson and Emily Colpitts, CRIAW-ICREF. Available:

14 “Limits of a Criminal Justice Response: Trends in Police and Court Processing of Sexual Assault,” Holly Johnson, Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, edited by Elizabeth Sheehy, University of Ottawa Press 2012, p. 631. All data from Statistics Canada.

15 Scope of Canadian Women’s Foundation Trafficking Task Force, Canadian Women’s Foundation, November 2010.

16 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2005  p. 34. Available:

17 Violence Against Women, 2011, Statistics Canada. Available:

18 Ibid. p. 17.

19 Ibid. p. 18.

20 Homicide in Canada, 2011, Statistics Canada, p. 11. Available:

21 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, January 2011, p. 8. Available:

22 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, p. 11. Available:

23 Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, p. 18. Available: and Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2011, p. 9. Available:

24 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993) Available:

25 Adapted from: Spousal Abuse: A fact sheet from the Department of Justice Canada, 2001. Available:

26 Consolidation Criminal Code R.S.C., 1985, Government of Canada, 1985, ch. C-46. Available:

27 Violence Against Women Information, Amnesty International. Available:

28 Gender Differences in Police-Reported Violent Crime in Canada 2008, Roxan Vaillancourt, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, p. 5. Available:

29 Family Violence in Canada, 2011, Statistics Canada, p. 38. 

30 See for example, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010. Available:

31 “Gender Symmetry in Domestic Violence: A Substantive and Methodological Research Review,” Michael S. Kimmel, Violence Against Women, 2002. From a summary written by Rus Ervin Funk, Available:

32 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2009, p. 5. Available:

33 Ibid. p. 25.

34 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, p. 10. Available:

35 Ibid. p. 12.

36 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2005. Available:

37 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, p. 33. Available:

38 Victims of police-reported dating violence, by age group and sex of victim, Canada, 2010, Statistics Canada, June 5 2013. Available:

39 Child and Youth Victims of Police-reported Violent Crime, 2008, Lucie Ogrodnik, Canadian Centre For Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, March 2010, p. 12. Available:

40 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, p. 21. Available:

41 Getting Out and Staying Out: Issues Surrounding a Woman’s Ability to Remain Out of an Abusive Relationship, Kimberly E. Horrill and Helene Berman, Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children, The University of Western Ontario, 2004. Available:

42 Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, p. 38.Available:

43 Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2010, p. 33. Available:

44 Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2006, p. 38. Available:

45 Animal Abuse and Family Violence.Envision Counselling And Support Centre 2012, Available:

46 Police-reported dating violence in Canada, 2008, p. 7.

47 Canadian women on their own are poorest of the poor, Monica Townson, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Sept. 8, 2009. Available:

48 Violence Against Women Fact Sheet, Status of WomenCanada. Available:

49 Violence Against Aboriginal Women,Government of Canada, Newfoundland Labrador, 2005. Available:

50 Violence Against Women, 2013, Statistics Canada. Available:

51 2009 Annual Statistical Report, Toronto Police Services, p. 17. Available:

52 Violence Against Women, 2013, Statistics Canada. Available:

53 Women with Disabilities and Violence Fact Sheet, DAWN Canada, undated. Available:,%20Factsheet%202010.pdf

54 Women with Disabilities and Violence Fact Sheet, DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada (DAWN-RAFH), 2010. Available:,%20Factsheet%202010.pdf

55 Addressing Domestic Violence in Immigrant Communities: Critical Issues for Culturally Competent Services, Sheetal Rana, National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women. Available:

56 Racial Discrimination as a Health Risk for Female Youth: Implications for Policy and Healthcare Delivery in Canada, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre and The Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2003. Available:

57 Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends 2013, p. 86. Available:

58 Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children, Joint report by UNICEF, The Body Shop International, and the Secretariat for the United Nations Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children, 2006, p. Available:

59 Ibid.

60 Children Witnessing Family Violence,” by Mia Dauvergne and Holly Johnson, Juristat,Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics - Statistics Canada. 21.6 (2001): p. 4. Available:

61 Ibid.

62 Ibid.

63 Child Abuse/Children Exposed to Violence Information Sheet, Alberta Children and Youth Services, October 2008. Available:

64 The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children: Where does it Hurt? Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Available:

65 “PTSD, Other Disorders Evident in Kids Who Witness Domestic Violence,” Eve Bender,Psychiatric News, American Psychiatric Association, June 4, 2004, p. 14. Available: