Update of the Statistics section: May 12, 2022

Prevalence among adults

Highlights

  • In Canada, 1 woman out of 3 and 1 man out of 11 have reported being a victim of sexual assault since the age of 15.
  • Although men are subjected to sexual assault, women are three to five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men.
  • Although adults of all ages may be sexually assaulted, young adults under the age of 25 are the group with the highest proportion of sexual assaults.
  • In more than 8 cases out of 10, sexual assaults against adults are committed by a person known to the victim, such as an acquaintance, a current or former spouse or intimate partner, or a friend.
  • Women are sexually assaulted by a current or former spouse or intimate partner more often than men.
  • Sexual assault with a weapon or causing physical injuries accounts for only 3% of sexual assaults against adults.
  • Only a small proportion (5% to 6%) of sexual assaults are reported to the police each year.

What is the prevalence of sexual assault among adults?

In Québec, in 2019, more than one third (38%) of all victims of police-reported sexual offences were adults (aged 18 and older). Among victims of all ages, adults accounted for the majority (54%) of sexual assault victims and a small minority (9%) of victims of other sexual offences(see the Sources and methodological considerations section for more information on the measurement of sexual offences). In 2019, police services recorded 3 382 sexual offences against adults, including 3 073 sexual assaults and 309 other sexual offences(1). According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, sexual assault accounted for 11% of all criminal victimization offences in 2019. More specifically, sexual assaults accounted for nearly half (47 %) of violent victimization incidents (sexual assault, robbery or physical assault) self-reported by females aged 15 and older and 16% of incidents self-reported by men aged 15 and older(2).

According to the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), 15% of the Québec population aged 15 and older reported having been a victim of sexual assault by a person other than an intimate partner after the age of 15, which corresponds to 1 073 000 people in Québec. The prevalence of victimization was 19% for Canada as a whole, which is equivalent to 5 987 000 Canadians(3). Data from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization estimated a rate of 30 incidents of sexual assault per 1 000 population aged 15 and older in the year prior to the survey. However, it is important to note that both surveys did not include in their prevalence rates sexual assault by intimate partners (see the Sources and methodological considerations section for more information on measuring adult sexual assault)(2).

 

Who are the adult victims of sexual assault?

In 2020, women accounted for the vast majority of police-reported adult victims of sexual offences (91% in Québec and 92% in Canada)(4). In Québec, according to data from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) conducted in 2018, 25% of woman and 6% of men reported having been sexually assaulted by a person other than an intimate partner since the age of 15. In Canada, the rates were 30% for women and 8% for men(3). When sexual assaults by an intimate partner (current or former) are included, the Canadian data reveal that 33% of woman and 9% of men reported being sexually assaulted since the age of 15. In the year preceding the survey, the prevalence of self-reported sexual assault among women aged 15 and older in Canada was estimated at 3.6% and among men, at 1.3%(3). According to data from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization, which excludes sexual assault by intimate partners, the rate of self-reported sexual assault was five times higher among women (50 per 1 000 population) than among men (9 per 1 000 population)(2) .

According to police-reported data, in 2019, the 18 to 24 age group in Québec had the highest proportion of sexual assault in the adult population, accounting for 39% of adult victims and 21% of victims of all ages(1). In Canada, according to data from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization, the 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 age groups had the highest rates of sexual assault in the adult population, accounting for 103 per 1 000 population and 50 per 1 000 population, respectively. In comparison, the rate was 2 per 1 000 population for people aged 65 and older. The sexual assault rate for women aged 15 to 24 was seven times higher (187 per 1 000 population) than the rate for men in the same age group (27 per 1 000 population), while that for women in the 25 to 34 age group (85 per 1 000 population) was five times higher than that for men of the same age (16 per 1 000 population)(2).

What are the types and severity levels of sexual assaults among adult victims?

In Québec, in 2019, the majority of police-reported sexual offences against adults were sexual assaults (91%), with the remainder classified as other sexual offences (9%; see the Sources and methodological considerations section for more information about the measurement of sexual offences). Almost all of the sexual assaults committed against adults (97%) were sexual assaults (level 1), while a small minority were sexual assaults with a weapon (level 2; 2.3%) or aggravated sexual assaults (level 3; 0.7%)(1). Among other police-reported sexual offences, adults accounted for the majority of all victims of offences involving the publication of intimate images without consent and voyeurism (51% and 65%, respectively)(1).

According to the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) the most common type of sexual assault experienced by both men and women aged 15 and older in the past year was unwanted sexual contact(3). In addition, the vast majority of sexual assaults reported by women were committed without the presence of a weapon (93 %) and did not cause physical injuries (90%)(3). However, among sexual assaults by an intimate partner or other person reported by police in Canada in 2017, a larger proportion (23%) of incidents caused physical injuries to the victim, most often minor injuries (98% of cases)(5). This difference in prevalence might be due, at least in part, to differences in the definition of sexual assault in the various sources of data, and to the fact that being injured or assaulted with a weapon could increase a person’s tendency to report violent incidents (sexual assault, robbery or physical assault) to the police (see the Filing reports with the police section)(2).

Where do sexual assaults occur?

In 2017, the majority (61%) of police-reported incidents of sexual assault perpetrated by an intimate partner or other person in Canada occurred on private property(5). However, when data pertaining to assaults by an intimate partner are excluded, as in the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), the most serious incidents of sexual assaults self-reported by women were committed in a commercial or institutional establishment (38%), in or around a private residence or property (36 %), or on the street or other public place (18%). Male victims reported that the sexual assault occurred most often in a commercial or institutional establishment (47%), followed by in or around a private residence or property (35%)(3).

Who are the perpetrators of sexual assault committed against adults?

In Canada, in 2020, the majority of adult victims of police-reported sexual assault knew the accused (83%). The sexual assault was most often committed by an acquaintance (28%), a current or former spouse or intimate partner (27%), a stranger (17%), or a friend (10%; see Chart 1). Women were sexually assaulted by a current or former spouse or intimate partner (29% of cases) more often than men (12% of cases)(6). According to data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), among women who reported being sexually assaulted in the year prior to the survey, the perpetrator was a friend or acquaintance in 44% of cases, while in another 44% of cases it was a stranger or someone known by sight only. However, these findings do not take into account incidents of sexual violence between intimate partners(3).

Graph 1 - Distribution (in %) of adult victims (aged 18 and over) targeted by police-reported sexual assaults, by relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2020

 

* Includes current and former married spouses or common-law partners, current and former girlfriends and boyfriends, current and former intimate partners, and people in a sexual relationship with the victim regardless of whether they cohabit.
** Includes people whose relationship to the victim is unknown and other persons in a non-family relationship. .
Source: Statistics Canada (2021). « Family and non-family victims of police-reported violent crime and traffic offences causing bodily harm or death, by victim age and gender, detailed relationship of accused to victim, and type of violation » (Retrieved on April 19, 2022).

According to data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), the vast majority (95%) of female victims aged 15 and older reported that the most serious sexual assault they had experienced in the year prior to the survey was perpetrated by a man, while slightly more than half (56%) of the men who had been victimized said that a woman was responsible. The majority (91%) of reported sexual assaults reported were committed by a single person(3).

Filing reports with the police

Data from the 2018 SSPPS reveal that one victim out of five felt blamed for their own victimization, by the perpetrator, family or friends. Women who reported having been sexually assaulted by a friend or an acquaintance were three times more likely to have felt blamed than women who had been victimized by a stranger (31% versus 10%)(3).

Data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) revealed that only 5% of the most serious sexual assault incidents reported by women aged 15 and older in the 12 months prior to the survey were reported to police in Canada(3). A similar finding emerged from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization: only 6% of sexual assaults reported by Canadians aged 15 and older in the year prior to the survey were reported to the police, making sexual assault the most under-reported crime of all those measured by the General Social Survey on Victimization. This is a significantly lower proportion than for reports of robbery (47%) and physical assault (36%)(2).

Change in sexual assault rates among adults

According to the General Social Survey on Victimization, rates of self-reported sexual assault among victims aged 15 and older remained fairly stable from 1999 to 2014 (see Table 5). In 2019, the survey’s methodology was changed, particularly with the use of an online data collection questionnaire in addition to the telephone questionnaire. As a result, comparison of the 2019 results with previous cycles is not recommended. Therefore, the rates indicated in the following table are provided for informational purposes only. For more information on the change in sexual offence rates among victims of all ages over time, see the Overview section. 

 

Table 1 - Évolution des taux d’agressions sexuelles, selon le genre, Canada, 1999 à 2019

Year Women Men Total
Rate1 N (thousands) Rate1 N (thousands) Rate1 N (thousands)

1999

33*

410

8

92

21

502

2004

35*

460

7

86

21

546

2009

34*

472

15

204

24

677

2014

37*

553

5

80

22

633

2019a

50*

-

9

-

30

940

1 The rates are calculated per 1 000 population aged 15 and over.
† Reference category.
a Due to the change in methodology of the GSS in 2019 (involving, in particular, the use of an online questionnaire for data collection purposes), it is not recommended that the results for 2019 be compared with those of previous cycles.
* Significantly different value from that of the reference category (p< 0.05)
Sources: GSS 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019

Unwanted sexual behaviour in public and online

According to data from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS) conducted in Canada in 2018, 32% of women and 13% of men reported being subjected to unwanted sexual behaviour in public in the 12 months prior to the survey. The most common types of behaviours reported by women were unwanted sexual attention (25%), unsolicited touching (17%) and unwanted comments about their sex or gender (12%). These three behaviours were also those most commonly experienced by men, with prevalence rates of 6% for each type. In addition, 29% of women and 17% of men reported being targeted by unwanted sexual behaviour in the workplace in the 12 months prior to the survey, with sexual jokes being the most commonly reported behaviour(3).

With regard to unwanted online sexual behaviour measured in the survey, nearly twice as many women as men reported having received unwanted sexually suggestive or explicit images or messages (11% women and 6% of men) and being pressured to send, share or post sexually suggestive or explicit images or messages (4% of women and 2% of men) in the 12 months prior to the survey. As many women as men witnessed someone posting or sharing, or threatening to post or share, intimate or sexually explicit images of them without their consent (2% in each case)(3).

Vulnerable persons

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people

In Canada, in 2018, data from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces revealed that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people reported higher prevalence rates of sexual assault than heterosexual people. Nearly one third of gays and lesbians (31%) reported that they had been sexually assaulted since the age of 15 (39% of women and 27% of men) by someone other than an intimate partner, compared to 19% of heterosexual individuals. The prevalence was 45% among bisexual people, and more than half (55%) of bisexual women reported having been sexually assaulted since the age of 15(7). According to the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization, the sexual assault rate reported by bisexual people in the past year was 29 times higher than the rate among heterosexual individuals (541 incidents per 1 000 compared to 19 per 1 000)(2). In addition transgender people reported more frequently than cisgender individuals having experienced at least one sexual assault since the age of 15 (24% compared to 19%)(7).

Indigenous people

In Canada, according to data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces, Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) people are also over-represented among victims of sexual assault. In fact, 44% of Indigenous women and 13% of Indigenous men reported having been sexually assaulted since the age of  15, compared to 30% of non-Indigenous women and 8% of non-Indigenous men(3). According to data from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization, Indigenous people reported having experienced 35 incidents of sexual assault per 1 000 population in the past year, while the rate was 30 incidents per 1 000 population among non-Indigenous people(2). However, both surveys mentioned that Indigenous identity on its own does not increase the risk of being a victim of sexual assault when other variables (age, gender, child maltreatment) are considered(2,7).

Immigrants

In Canada, according to data from the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces, immigrant individuals reported lower prevalence rates of sexual assault experienced since the age of 15 than non-immigrants. However, female immigrants reported experiencing more sexual assault than male immigrants (20% versus 6%)(3). A similar finding emerged from the data of the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization, according to which immigrants were less likely than non-Immigrants to report being sexually assaulted in the past year (12 incidents per 1 000 population versus 36 per 1 000 population)(2). However, both surveys excluded respondents who did not speak French or English, which may have had an impact on the representativeness of immigrants in the survey, considering that, according to the 2016 Census of Canada, a larger proportion of immigrants do not speak French or English compared to non-immigrants(8).

Persons with a disability

In Canada, according to the 2018 Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces, women (39%) and men (13%) with a disability reported higher prevalence rates of sexual assault since the age of 15 than women (24%) and men (6%) without a disability(3). In 2019, 60 sexual assaults per 1 000 population with a disability were self-reported, while the rate among people without a disability was 14 per 1 000 population. Women with a disability had a much higher rate of sexual assault than women without a disability (94 per 1 000 population versus 22 per 1 000 population). Men with a disability also had higher victimization rates than men without a disability (15 per 1 000 versus 7 per 1 000)(2). That being said, age, gender and child maltreatment are associated to a greater extent with the risk of victimization and, when they are considered, the fact of having a disability or not does not increase on its own the risk of being sexually assaulted(2).

Students’ experiences of sexual assault at postsecondary schools

Several studies have focused on sexual victimization among students attending postsecondary institutions (CEGEPs, colleges, institutes, universities).

  • In Canada, the objective of the 2019 Survey on Individual Safety in the Postsecondary Student Population (SISPSP), conducted by Statistics Canada, was to collect data from the student population of postsecondary schools. The survey aimed to measure the nature and prevalence of sexual assault and unwanted and discriminatory sexualized behaviours among students aged 18 to 24 in the Canadian provinces (aged 17 to 24 in the case of students living in Québec). According to the SISPSP data, approximately one woman out of 10 (11%) and nearly one man out of 20 (4%) attending a postsecondary institution reported that they had been sexually assaulted in a postsecondary school setting in the past year. The proportion was 15% for women and 5% for men when considering sexual assaults experienced throughout all of their postsecondary education(9).
  • In Québec, more than one third (37%) of respondents to the 2016 Enquête sexualité, sécurité et interactions en milieu universitaire (ESSIMU) (survey on sexuality, safety and interactions in university settings), which included people working or studying in six Québec universities, reported at least one form of sexual victimization by another person affiliated with the university since entering university(10). A subsequent survey conducted in college settings in 2019, the Projet intercollégial d’étude sur le consentement, l’égalité et la sexualité (PIECES) (intercollegiate study project on consent, equality and sexuality), revealed a similar prevalence rate for victimization, with more than one third (36%) of the college student population reporting at least one form of sexual victimization by another person affiliated with their college since entering that institution(11).

References

  1. Ministère de la Sécurité publique (2021). Criminalité au Québec - Infractions sexuelles en 2019, [en ligne], Québec, Ministère de la Sécurité publique (Retrieved on January 13, 2022).
  2. Cotter, A. (2021). Intimate partner violence in Canada, 2018: An overview, [online], Statistics Canada, « Juristat » (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  3. Cotter, A., et L. Savage (2019). Gender-based violence and unwanted sexual behaviour in Canada, 2018: Initial findings from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces, [online], Statistics Canada, « Juristat » (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  4. Moreau, G. (2021). Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020, [online], Statistics Canada, « Juristat » (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  5. Rotenberg, C., & A. Cotter (2018). Police-reported sexual assaults in Canada before and after #MeToo, 2016 and 2017, [online], Statistics Canada, « Juristat » (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  6. Statistics Canada (2021). « Family and non-family victims of police-reported violent crime and traffic offences causing bodily harm or death, by victim age and gender, detailed relationship of accused to victim, and type of violation », in Statistics Canada, [online] (Retrieved on February 14, 2022).
  7. Jaffray, B. (2020). Experiences of violent victimization and unwanted sexual behaviours among gay, lesbian, bisexual and other sexual minority people, and the transgender population, in Canada, 2018, [online], Statistics Canada (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  8. Statistics Canada (2017). Census in Brief: Linguistic integration of immigrants and official language populations in Canada, [online], Statistics Canada, « Census in Brief » (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  9. Burczycka, M. (2020). Students’ experiences of unwanted sexualized behaviours and sexual assault at postsecondary schools in the Canadian provinces, 2019, [online], Statistics Canada, « Juristat » (Retrieved on February 28, 2022)
  10. Bergeron, M., M. Hébert, S. Ricci, M.-F. Goyer, N. Duhamel & L. Kurtzman (2016). Violences sexuelles en milieu universitaire au Québec : Rapport de recherche de l’enquête ESSIMU, [online], Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal (Retrieved on January 19, 2022).
  11. Bergeron, M., A. Gagnon, M.-È. Blackburn, D. M-Lavoie, C. Paré, S. Roy, A. Szabo & C. Bourget (2020). Rapport de recherche de l’enquête PIECES: Violences sexuelles en milieu collégial au Québec, [online], Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal (Retrieved on January 19, 2022).

Author: Maude Lachapelle, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ
In collaboration with: Dominique Gagné, Scientific Advisor, INSPQ, and Dave Poitras, Specialized Scientific Advisor, INSPQ

Last update: 

May-12-22
 
 

References

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