The Facts about Gender-Based Violence

What is gender-based violence?

It is the types of abuse that women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans and non-binary people are at highest risk of experiencing. It can take physical and emotional forms, such as: name-calling, hitting, pushing, blocking, stalking/criminal harassment, rape, sexual assault, control, and manipulation. Many forms of this abuse are against the law.

It can happen between people in romantic relationships. It can happen in families, at work, and between friends and acquaintances and strangers. It often occurs in private places between people who know each other.

Anybody can be abused, no matter their background, identity, or circumstance. But women, girls, and gender-diverse people are at high risk of gender-based violence. Some are at even higher risks, due to the additional discrimination and barriers they face. This includes women with disabilities, Indigenous women, racialized women, trans and non-binary people, and women who are homeless or underhoused. People facing abuse may have not have access to services that meet their needs (e.g. people in rural or remote areas).

The United Nations says, “gender-based violence refers to harmful acts directed at an individual based on their gender. It is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power and harmful norms.” It disproportionately impacts women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people. It includes sexual, physical, mental, and economic forms of abuse inflicted in public or in private as well as “threats of violence, coercion, and manipulation” (UNHCR; UN Women).

Women and Gender Equality Canada says: “While violence affects all people, some people are more at risk of experiencing violence because of various forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism. Certain populations experience high levels of violence, including women; young women and girls; Indigenous women and girls; LGBTQ2 (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit) and gender diverse individuals; women living in Northern, rural, and remote communities; and women living with disabilities. The intersection of any two or more risk factors may increase a person’s risk and vulnerability to violence”.

Why is ending gender-based violence so urgent?

  • It costs lives: approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner (Statistics Canada, 2019).
  • The toll on those who are harmed is significant. It’s hard on those around them, too. Children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes (Eve Bender, Psychiatric News, 2004).
  • It costs billions of dollars: $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone (Department of Justice, 2009).
  • Domestic violence can carry over into the workplace, threatening women’s ability to maintain economic independence. More than half (53%) of study respondents who experienced domestic violence said that at least one type of abusive act happened at or near their workplace. Almost 40% of those who had experienced domestic abuse said it made it difficult for them to get to work, and 8.5% said that they lost their jobs because of it (Jennifer C.D. MacGregor et al., Safety and Health at Work, 2016).

Frequently Asked Questions about Gender-Based Violence

More than 4 in 10 women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetimes.

In 2018, 44% of women reported experiencing some form of psychological, physical, or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes (Statistics Canada, 2021). Research shows that “women disproportionately experience the most severe forms of IPV, such as being choked, being assaulted or threatened with a weapon, or being sexually assaulted” (Adam Cotter, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021).

Approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner (Joel Roy and Sharon Marcellus, Statistics Canada, 2019).

The proportion of women killed by a spouse or intimate partner is over eight times greater than the proportion of men (Statistics Canada, 2020).

In 2020, 160 women and girls were killed by violence. This is a concerning increase from 118 women and girls killed by violence in 2019. In 2020, one in five women killed in Canada was First Nation, Métis, or Inuit (Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, 2020).

Two thirds (64%) of people in Canada know a woman who has experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2021).

Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other women in Canada, and 16 times more likely than white women (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019).

Women are more likely than men (39% vs 35%) to report experiencing violent crime at some point since age 15 (Statistics Canada, 2019).

Women are five times more likely than men to experience sexual assault (Adam Cotter, Statistics Canada, 2021).

Approximately 4.7 million women, 30% of all women 15 years of age and older, report that they have experienced sexual assault at least once since the age of 15. This is compared to 8% men (Statistics Canada, 2019).

Women are more likely to experience elder abuse from a family member and account for 58% of senior survivors of family violence (Statistics Canada, 2019).

On any given night in Canada, 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters because it isn’t safe at home. Out of the 4,476 women and 3,493 children staying in shelters on the snapshot date of April 16, 2014, 78% (or 3,491 women and 2,742 children) were there primarily because of abuse (Sara Beattie and Hope Hutchins, Statistics Canada, 2014).

On any given night, about 300 women and children are turned away because shelters are already full (Sara Beattie and Hope Hutchins, Statistics Canada, 2014).

Rates of intimate partner violence experienced by rural women are five times higher than for rural men and 75% higher than urban women (Shana Conroy, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021; Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, 2021).

For girls and young women in the north, the rate of experiencing violent crime is four times higher than Canada’s overall population. The violence is more likely to be severe and result in physical injury (Shana Conroy, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021; Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, 2021).

Cyber violence, which includes online threats, harassment, and stalking, has emerged as an extension of violence against women and is sometimes referred to as technology-facilitated gender-based violence, abuse, and harassment (UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, 2015; Cynthia Khoo, Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, 2021).

Over two-thirds (69%) of those experience incidents of cybercrime are women. They account for 84% of those who experience sexual violations associated with a cybercrime and 65% of those involving non-sexual violent violations (Benjamin Mazowita and Mireille Vézina, Statistics Canada, 2014).

It is estimated that, each year, $7.4 billion is spent to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone. This includes immediate costs, such as emergency room visits and related costs, such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals, and intangible costs such as pain and suffering (Department of Justice, 2009).

Gender-based happens in all communities, cultures, and faith groups, at every age, and in every income group. However, some women are especially at risk.

About six in 10 Indigenous women have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetimes (Loanna Heidinger, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021).

Indigenous women are killed at nearly seven times the rate of non-Indigenous women (Statistics Canada, 2018).

More than six in 10 Indigenous women have been physically or sexually assaulted at some point since the age of 15, compared with more than four in 10 non-Indigenous women (Statistics Canada, 2021).

According to both police-reported and self-reported data, younger women are at a much higher risk of violent victimization (Statistics Canada, 2011).

Women aged 15 to 19 and women aged 20 to 24 are five times more likely than women aged 25 years and older to have been physically or sexually assaulted by a non-intimate partner (Laura Savage, Statistics Canada, 2021).

Women with a disability are three times more likely to experience violent victimization than women living without a disability (Adam Cotter, Statistics Canada, 2021). Women with disabilities experience unique concerns such as: increased difficulty leaving an abuser due to mobility or communication issues; greater difficulty accessing shelter services and/or transportation; higher rates of emotional abuse; being prevented from using an assistive device (e.g. wheelchair or cane); and abuse by institutional caregivers and/or other residents (DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, 2014).

Immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence due to economic dependence, language barriers, and a lack of knowledge about community resources. Newcomers traumatized by war or oppressive governments are much less likely to report physical or sexual violence to authorities, for fear of further victimization and deportation (Rupaleem Bhuyan et al., University of Toronto, 2014).

Women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are three to four times more likely than heterosexual women to report experiencing spousal violence (Laura Simpson, Statistics Canada, 2018). Forty-nine per cent of “sexual minority” women indicate they have been physically or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner since age 15, almost double what is indicated by heterosexual women (Brianna Jaffray, Statistics Canada, 2021).

Transgender people are more likely to have experienced violence since age 15, and more likely to experience inappropriate behaviours in public, online, and at work than cisgender people (Brianna Jaffray, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, Statistics Canada, 2020). Three in five transgender women experienced Intimate Partner Violence since the age of 16 (Trans PULSE Canada Survey, 2019).

Studies show that when racialized women report violence, their experiences are often taken less seriously within the criminal law system and their perpetrators routinely receive less harsh punishments (Rakhi Ruparelia, in Elizabeth Sheehy, ed.,Sexual Assault in Canada: Law, Legal Practice and Women’s Activism, 2014).

“In Canada, racialized sex workers — including black, indigenous, and other people of color, as well as visible minority immigrant and migrant workers — face severe health and rights inequities, and concerns have been raised regarding racialized policing and barriers to reporting violence to police. Fear of authorities is amplified among racialized im/migrant sex workers, who often face discrimination, language barriers, privacy concerns, and precarious legal status … Indigenous women face twelvefold greater odds of being murdered or missing relative to non-Indigenous women, and these odds are exacerbated among sex workers.” Research shows that decriminalizing all aspects of sex work is necessary to remove legal barriers, end punitive policing that restrict sex workers’ access to recourse and safer occupational conditions, and dismantle the belief that sex workers are unworthy of protection (McBride et al., 2020).

Some forms of violence may be decreasing. For example, like most violent crime in Canada, rates of police-reported domestic violence have fallen over time (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2015). Declines may be partly due to increased 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 violence. Their achievements include improved public awareness, programs for violent men, improved training for police officers and Crown attorneys, more coordination of community services, and the creation of domestic violence legislation in some areas of Canada (Statistics Canada, 2006; Maire Sinha, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2013).

But trends can shift. Rates of family violence against children and youth, as well as intimate partner violence, had been in decline since 2009. But in recent years, rates for these types of violence have started to climb again (Statistics Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2018).

There are differences in types of violence too. For example, sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada not declining. Since 1999, rates of sexual assault have remained relatively unchanged (Samuel Perrault, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2015).

And there are regional differences. While spousal violence in the provinces was significantly lower in 2019 than in 1999, spousal violence remained unchanged in the territories (10.2% versus 9.8%) during that time (Shana Conroy, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021).

It’s also important to remember that gender-based violence tends to be underreported. Seventy per cent of people who experience spousal violence and 93% of people who experience childhood abuse have not spoken to authorities (Marta Burczycka and Shana Conroy, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, 2018).

Research shows that gender-based violence risk and rates can increase following disasters, including times of civil unrest and pandemics (World Health Organization, 2005; Amber Peterman et al., Center for Global Development, 2020; Alyssa Mari Thurston et al., BMJ Global Health, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic in Canada was no exception. There are many red flags: one in ten women are concerned about the possibility of violence in the home and crisis lines reported increases in calls in April and May 2020 (Women and Gender Equality Canada, 2020).

Gender inequalities and injustices happen everywhere: in families, politics, communities, faith groups, media, workplaces, schools, and more. We are taught patriarchal and sexist cultural messages that make it seem natural and acceptable for men to have more power than women and people of other genders (Status of Women Canada). In this context, the belief that men have a right to control and harm women, girls, and gender-diverse people is common.

Colonial systems and laws are a significant root cause of gender-based violence in Canada, particularly against First Nations, Metis, and Inuit women (Native Women’s Association of Canada). Other forms of discrimination combine with gender-based discrimination to make some groups more at risk of this violence, such as women with disabilities and young women (Women and Gender Equality Canada).

The United Nations says, “Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world”. For example, gender equality is a predictor of peace (UN Women, 2015). It boosts business performance and, if achieved, will add $12 trillion to global growth (Vivian Hunt et al., McKinsey and Company, 2015; Jonathan Woetzel et al., McKinsey Global Institute, 2015). In short, gender justice benefits everyone.

All violence is unacceptable and any effort to end violence is worthy. But statistics indicate that women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people experience violence at higher rates than men, and gender-based violence requires unique solutions. 

Women self-report violent victimization at a rate nearly double that of men. Even after controlling for other factors such as age and other individual characteristics and experiences, the odds of being victimized are 38% higher for women than men. This difference is largely due to women’s higher risk of sexual violence. The self-report research also confirms that some face elevated risk of violence, such as women with disabilities and people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual (Adam Cotter, Statistics Canada, 2021).

A large majority (79%) of those reporting intimate partner violence to police are women. Sixty-seven per cent of people who experience family violence are women and girls. (Shana Conroy, Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021).

In terms of domestic violence, some research shows men are almost as likely as women to experience it. However, women are more likely than men to experience the most severe forms of spousal victimization, such as multiple victimizations and higher rates of physical injuries (Maire Sinha, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 2013). While women’s violence against men in relationships can happen, it leads to less injury and it is less likely to be motivated by a desire to dominate and control. Men are more likely to initiate violence, while women are more likely to use violence in self-defence. Markedly different strategies are needed to prevent and intervene in abuse perpetrated by men versus abuse perpetrated by women (Michael S. Kimmel, Violence Against Women, 2002).

There are many reasons you might stay in a violent relationship.

The person abusing you might threaten to kill or hurt you, themselves, or children and other loved ones if you try to leave (Kimberley E. Horrill and Helene Berman, Centre for Research on Violence Against Women and Children, 2004).

The most dangerous time for an abused women is when she attempts to leave her abuser (Holly Johnson, Statistics Canada, 2006). In cases of murder-suicides, separation is a common theme (Shannon Brennan and Jillian Boyce, Juristat, 2013). Women are six times more likely to be killed by an ex-partner than by a current partner, and many women say that they were abused by a partner after the relationship ended, and that the violence escalated following a break-up (Maire Sinha, Juristat, 2013; Statistics Canada, 2016). Almost 60% of police-reported dating violence happens after the relationship has ended (Tina Hotton Mahony, Juristat, 2008).

Animal abuse is related to intimate partner abuse. Women report pets and animals being threatened or harmed by abusers. Women delay leaving abusive relationships as a result. Shelters may also not be able to accommodate animals, which can make it difficult to find a way to leave (Rochelle Stevenson et al., Journal of Women and Social Work, 2017).

You might also stay in an abusive relationship because you are financially dependent on your partner.

Some women stay because they have strong beliefs about keeping the family together. Sometimes, relatives or in-laws blame the woman for the violence and insist she stay.

The mental health consequences of abuse can make it even more difficult to leave. Sixty-four per cent of women being abused exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Sara Perez et al., Violence Against Women, 2012). Abusive relationships can develop in a gradual process where violence escalates over time (Government of Manitoba). The experience can harm mental health and self-confidence, instill fear, and make it difficult for to believe a safer future is even possible.

Although adults may think “kids don’t know,” research shows children see or hear many domestic violence assaults (Marie Sinha, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada 2013).

Children who witness 10 or more incidents of parental domestic violence before the age of 16 are at least twice as likely to attempt suicide (E. Fuller-Thomson et al., Child: Care, Health and Development, 2016). Children who witness violence in the home have twice the rate of psychiatric disorders as children from non-violent homes (Eve Bender, Psychiatric News, 2004).

Exposure to violence can affect children’s development and ability to learn, and lead to a wide range of behavioural and emotional issues such as anxiety, aggression, bullying and phobias. Research shows that children who witness violence are more likely to grow up to abuse or face abuse (Alison Cunningham and Linda Baker, Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System, 2007).

If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Many of us are unsure of how to support those who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships. A Canadian Women’s Foundation survey indicated that only 1 in 6 people in Canada are very confident that they would know what to say or do to support someone experiencing sexual or emotional abuse. And only 1 in 5 are very confident that they would know what to say or do to support someone experiencing physical abuse.

If you sign up to become a Signal for Help Responder, you can download an action guide that helps loved ones, friends, coworkers, and neighbours recognize the signs, and help them respond with supportive, stigma-free conversations.

If someone tells you that they are experiencing abuse, here are some starting points for offering support:

  • Focus on the person being hurt. Your job is to support them. Make sure you are not putting your anger, shock, sadness, or fear first in the conversation.
  • Remember that everyone copes with abuse differently. They may do things differently than you. That is okay. Be there to support them as they explore what works for them.
  • Listen and let them lead. Instead of telling them what you would do or what they should do, ask them how you can best support them.
  • Be judgement-free. Instead of saying “What did you do?”, “How did you make them mad?”, “Why don’t you leave?” or “You chose this relationship,” say: “It’s not your fault.” “I’m here for you.” “How are you doing right now?”
  • Be patient and open-minded: abusive relationships are complicated, scary, confusing, and traumatic. Figuring things out takes time. You may need to have more conversations with this person. Don’t push. There is no one right answer, no quick fix, and everyone deals with these things differently.
  • Refer them to relevant support services if they would like help.

Last Update: October 29, 2021

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