Update of Statistics section: May 12, 2022

Prevalence among Children and Youth

Highlights

  • In Québec, approximately 1 female out of 9 and 1 male out of 20 have reported being sexually abused by an adult before the age of 15.
  • Children and youth account for the majority of victims of sexual offences recorded by police services.
  • Although boys are subjected to sexual abuse, girls are victimized three to five times more often than boys.
  • Girls are more likely to be victims of sexual offences during adolescence, whereas boys are more likely to be victimized during childhood.
  • Sexual abuse of children and youth usually involves multiple incidents of sexual contact.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 sexual abuse cases are committed by a person known to the young victim, such as a family member, an acquaintance, a friend or an intimate partner.
  • In Québec, in recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of offences involving the publication of intimate images without consent, child pornography and luring of children.

What is the prevalence of sexual abuse among children and youth?

Youth protection service data cannot be used to determine the exact prevalence  of sexual abuse, given that the number of child victims known to child welfare services in Canada corresponds to only about 4% of child sexual abuse victims(1). Prevalence rates can be affected by:

  • Whether or not the victim or their family or friends decide to report the sexual abuse to the authorities;
  • Whether or not child protection services decide to accept the case;
  • Whether or not the cases are substantiated by services(2).

In Québec, between April 2020 and March 2021, 1 889 children were taken in charge by the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse (DPJ) because of sexual abuse situations or situations of serious risk of sexual abuse deemed founded and in which the security or development of the child is in danger(3). In 2014, according to the Québec Incidence Study on situations investigated by child protective services (QIS), 43 new cases of sexual abuse per 100 000 children were reported and substantiated by youth protection services. These cases represented 4% of all child maltreatment situations(4). In Canada, in 2019, the rate was 45 cases per 100 000 children, representing 3% of all maltreatment cases(5).

In Québec, in 2019, people under the age of 18 years accounted for the majority (62%) of all victims of sexual offences reported by police services, for a total of 5 636 offences (see the Sources and methodological considerations section for more information about the measurement of sexual offences). For the same period, minors represented just under half (46%) of sexual assaultvictims, for a total of 2 589 individuals, while they accounted for the vast majority (91%) of victims of other sexual offences, for a total of 3 047 individuals(6).

In Québec, in 2018, according to data from the Survey of Safety in Public and Private Spaces (SSPPS), 11% of females and 4% of males reported being a victim of at least one incident of sexual abuse by an adult before the age of 15, which corresponds to 7.5% of the Québec population. The prevalence in Canada was similar, with 12% of females and 4% of males reporting being the victim of at least one incident of sexual abuse before the age of 15, which represents 7.8% of the Canadian population(7). In Canada, in 2019, data from the General Social Survey  (GSS) on Victimization revealed that 10 % of females and 3% of males had reported being the victim of sexual abuse by an adult before the age of 15, which is equivalent to 6% of the Canadian population(8). However, it is important to point out that both surveys excluded from their prevalence rates sexual abuse committed by other young people or intimate partners (see the Sources and methodological considerations section for more information on measuring sexual abuse in childhood).

Several Québec studies, conducted using representative samples of youth aged 14 and older, have provided information on the prevalence of self-reported child sexual abuse. According to one of these studies, the Parcours amoureux des jeunes (PAJ) survey, for which data were collected in 2010-2011, nearly 15% of girls and 4% of boys aged 14 to 18 reported having experienced sexual abuse with physical contact during childhood(9). In 2016-2017, the Québec Health Survey of High School Students (QHSHSS) reported that 6% of youth aged 14 and older had reported being forced to have unwanted sexual intercourse (oral, vaginal or anal) in their lifetime. The prevalence was five times higher among girls (10%) than boys (2%)(10).

Some population-based studies report sexual abuse prevalence rates that are more broadly inclusive of sexual violence (e.g., sexual harassment and exhibitionism). In comparison, the data reported by youth protection and police services are based on a more restrictive definition of sexual abuse (with physical contact or penetration). These differences in measurement may partly explain the higher  self-reported prevalence sexual abuse in some population-based studies(11).

The most recent Québec study documenting the prevalence of sexual abuse before the age of 18 using a representative sample of the adult population dates back to 2006. In that study, more than one female out of five (22%) and one male out of 10 (10%) reported being a victim of at least one incident of sexual abuse with physical contact in childhood, which represents 16% of the Québec population(12). Other studies analyzing data compiled in several countries, including Canada and the United States, have reported that the proportion of the population having experienced sexual abuse with physical contact during childhood is 20% for women and 8% for men(11,13). Another study reporting data from 24 countries reported that the prevalence of sexual abuse before the age of 18 ranges from 8% to 31% among girls and 3% to 17% among boys. These differences can be explained, in particular, by the different types of sexual abuse considered, namely, sexual abuse with physical contact, sexual abuse without physical contact, forced sexual activity and mixed sexual abuse(14).

Who are the child and youth victims of sexual abuse?

In Québec, in most sexual abuse cases deemed founded by youth protection services, the victim was a girl (77%). More than half of the minor victims (51%) were aged 12 to 17, while one third (32%) were between the ages of 6 and 11. Girls aged 12 to 17 and 6 to 11 are the most over-represented age groups among minor victims of sexual abuse, accounting for 46% and 20%, respectively, of children who have experienced sexual abuse substantiated by youth protection services(4).

In Québec, in 2020, according to data reported by Statistics Canada, the number of sexual offences recorded by the police was five times higher for girls than for boys under the age of 18 (4 360 versus 780 offences). As in the case of sexual abuse reported by protection services, sexual offences against girls were more frequent during adolescence (73% of girls were victimized between the ages of 12 and 17), whereas boys were victimized more often during childhood (57% of boys were victimized under the age of 12)(15). Among all victims of sexual offences reported in 2019, those aged 15 to 17 accounted for the highest proportion of sexual assault victims (18%), while 12 to 14-year olds and 6 to 11-year olds accounted for the highest proportions of victims of other types of sexual offences (36% were aged 12 to 14 years and 26%, 6 to 11 years; see Table 1)(6).

According to population-based study data, three to five times more women than men report having experienced at least one incident of sexual abuse during childhood(7-9).

What are the types and severity of sexual abuse among child and youth victims?

In 2014, according to data reported by child protection services in Québec, the main types of sexual abuse committed in substantiated incidents were sexual touching (50%), followed by sexual abuse with penetration (14%) and oral sexual abuse (11%). Most of the children who had been targeted by sexual abuse substantiated by protection services had experienced multiple incidents (69%). Compared to other maltreatment categories, these children were also those who experienced a higher proportion (55%) of psychological sequelae. In almost all cases (97%), child victims of sexual abuse did not have physical injuries, and thus represented the category of maltreatment with the fewest physical injuries(4). That being said, it is important to note that, according to youth protection services, 16% of all children with substantiated maltreatment had experienced several types of maltreatment or displayed a behavioural disorder(4). Therefore, the psychological consequences experienced by child sexual abuse victims may stem from a large number of other factors that cannot be attributed solely to sexual abuse, such as the possibility that a child may have been a victim of other types of maltreatment.

In 2020, according to police service data reported by Statistics Canada, sexual assault with a weapon (level 2) or aggravated sexual assault (level 3) accounted for less than 1% of all recorded sexual offences in both Québec and Canada(15). In 2019, based on police service data published by the Ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec, 2 539 children had experienced sexual assault (level 1); 36, sexual assault with a weapon (level 2); and 5, aggravated sexual assault (level 3). Sexual interference, luring a child, invitation to sexual touching and publication of intimate images without consent were the other types of sexual offences reported in greater numbers by police services (see Table 1)(6).

Table 1 - Minors (aged 0 to 17) targeted by police-reported sexual offences in Québec, by age and type of offence, 2019

Sexual offences* 0 to 5 6 to 11 12 to 14 15 to 17 Total
N % N % N % N % N %

Total, sexual abuse

295

5.2

512

8.9

780

13.6

993

17.4

2 589

45.7

Sexual assault (level 1)

294

5.3

507

9.1

762

13.6

976

17.5

2 539

45.5

Sexual assault with a weapon (level 2)

1

0.9

4

3.7

16

15.0

15

14.0

36

33.6

Aggravated sexual assault (level 3)

0

0.0

1

3.7

2

7.4

2

7.4

5

18.5

Total, other sexual offences

428

12.6

861

25.4

1 198

35.3

560

16.5

3 047

90.8

Sexual interference

379

20.2

628

33.4

627

33.4

221

11.8

1855

98.7

Invitation to sexual touching

28

12.0

67

28.8

107

45.9

29

12.4

231

99.1

Sexual exploitation

0

0.0

1

3.7

2

7.4

24

88.9

27

100.0

Incest

14

36.8

16

42.1

2

5.3

1

2.6

33

86.8

Corrupting children

1

4.8

18

85.7

2

9.5

0

0.0

21

100.0

Luring a child

0

0.0

86

15.7

300

54.7

158

28.8

544

99.3

Publication of intimate images without consent

3

0.8

7

1.8

86

22.2

90

23.2

186

47.9

Making sexually explicit material available to a child

2

2.7

22

30.1

31

42.5

18

24.7

73

100.0

Voyeurism

0

0.0

7

4.7

32

21.5

12

8.1

51

34.2

*Non-exhaustive selection of sexual offences
The data presented are preliminary.
Source : Ministère de la Sécurité publique (2021). Criminalité au Québec - Infractions sexuelles en 2019, [online], Québec, Ministère de la Sécurité publique (Retrieved on  January 13, 2022).

Who are the perpetrators of child sexual abuse?

In Canada, in 2020, police service data showed that, in nearly 9 cases out of 10 (89%), people accused of sexual offences against a minor were known to the victim. Usually, the sexual offence was committed by a family member (39%), an acquaintance (24%), a friend (11%), a stranger (11%), or a current or former intimate partner (9%; see Chart 2)(16).

Chart 1 - Distribution (in %) of minor victims (aged 0 to 17) targeted by police-reported sexual offences, 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).

Girls were more often victimized by an intimate partner (current or former) or acquaintance, whereas boys were more often victimized by an immediate family member (see Table 2)(16). In fact, the Québec Health Survey of High School Students (QHSHSS) data from 2016-2017 reveal that, among youth aged 14 and older in high school, the number who reported being sexually assaulted by another youth was three times higher than the number who reported being sexually assaulted by an adult (4.5% versus 1.5%)(10).

Table 2 - Minor victims (aged 0 to 17) targeted by police-reported sexual offences in Canada, by victim gender and relationship of accused to victim, Canada, 2020

Accused Girls Boys Total
N % N % N %

Total, family member

6 065

38,2

1 334

46,7

7 235

38,5

Parent

2 427

15,3

554

19,4

2 984

15,9

Brother or sister

1 240

7,8

363

12,7

1 606

8,6

Other family member

2 217

14,0

417

14,6

2 645

14,1

Total, known person in a non-family relationship

8 066

50,8

1 209

42,3

9 290

49,5

Intimate partner (current or former)*

1 616

10,2

62

2,2

1 679

8,9

Friend

1 799

11,3

312

10,9

2 111

11,2

Acquaintance

3 961

24,9

595

20,8

4 569

24,3 

Authority figure

690

4,3

240

8,4

931

5,0

Stranger

1 759

11,1

288

10,1

2 048

10,9

Other**

178

1,1

25

0,9

204

1,1

TOTAL

15 887

100,0

2 856

100,0

18 777

100,0

* 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).

In Québec, in 2019, most sexual assault incidents (levels 1 to 3) and sexual offences (sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, luring a child, incest, making sexually explicit material available to a child and voyeurism) were committed by men (over 90% of cases). The proportion of female perpetrators was higher for the following offences: publication of intimate images without consent (16.7%) and sexual exploitation (25.0%)(6). According to data from the 2019 General Social Survey on Victimization, the vast majority of people who reported being sexually abused by an adult in childhood said that the perpetrator was male (96% of women and 84% of men)(8).

Change in sexual abuse rates among children and youth

In Québec, in 2019, the number of minor victims of sexual abuse grew more significantly than adult victims compared to 2018, with increases of 9.5% for youth and 4.3% for adults(6).

In Canada, certain police-reported offences have risen substantially in recent years. This includes child pornography, luring of children with a computer, and publication of intimate images without consent. Police-reported crime trend data reveal a significant increase in the number of child pornography cases (accessing, possession of, making, and distribution of child pornography), from 5 375 cases in 2019 to 7 274 in 2020, which is equivalent to an increase of 35%. It also represents an increase of 75% relative to the number of offences reported in 2016 (4 164). Luring of children with a computer also saw a significant increase from 1,461 cases in 2019, to 1,736 in 2020, an 18% increase. It also corresponds to an increase of 57% relative to the number of offences recorded in 2016 (1 108)(17). With the coming into effect of the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act in 2015, the publication of intimate images without consent is now considered an offence under the Criminal Code, and it has also increased significantly in recent years. In Canada, the number of offences of non-consensual publication of intimate images rose from  726 in 2019 to 827 in 2020, an increase of 14%(17).

In Québec, police service data have also reported an increase in the number of offences of non-consensual publication of intimate images, child pornography and the luring of children since 2016 (see Chart 2)(18).

Chart 2 - Change in the number of offences of non-consensual publication of intimate images, child pornography and the luring of children in Québec, from 2016 to 2020

Due to the complexity of cybercrime cases, child pornography data likely reflect the number of active or closed investigations for the year rather than the total number of cases reported to the police(17).

 

Source : Statistics Canada (2021). « Incident-based crime statistics, by detailed violations, Canada, provinces, territories and Census Metropolitan Areas », in Statistics Canada, [online] (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).

 

References

  1. Afifi, T. O., H. L. MacMillan, T. Taillieu, K. Cheung, S. Turner, L. Tonmyr et W. Hovdestad (2015). « Relationship between child abuse exposure and reported contact with child protection organizations: Results from the Canadian Community Health Survey », Child Abuse & Neglect, vol. 46, p. 198‑206.
  2. Collin-Vézina, D., et D. Turcotte (June 2011). L’abus sexuel envers les enfants au Canada : Les victimes, les auteurs et les contextes. Communication orale, Colloque international sur l’exploitation sexuelle des enfants et des conduites excessives. La Malbaie : Québec.
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  5. Fallon, B., et al (2021). Denouncing the continued overrepresentation of First Nations children in Canadian child welfare: Findings from the First Nations/Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect - 2019, [online], Ontario, Assembly of First Nations (Retrieved on December 15, 2021).
  6. Ministère de la Sécurité publique (2021). Criminalité au Québec - Infractions sexuelles en 2019, [online], Québec, Ministère de la Sécurité publique (Retrieved on January 13, 2022).
  7. 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).
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  9. Hébert, M., L. M. Amédée, M. Blais et A. Gauthier-Duchesne (2019). « Child sexual abuse among a representative sample of Quebec high school students: Prevalence and association with mental health problems and health-risk behaviors », The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 64, n° 12, p. 846‑854.
  10. Institut de la statistique du Québec (2018). Enquête québécoise sur la santé des jeunes du secondaire 2016-2017. Résultats de la deuxième édition. Tome 2 : L’adaptation sociale et la santé mentale des jeunes, [online], Québec, Institut de la statistique du Québec (Retrieved on February 14, 2022).
  11. Pereda, N., G. Guilera, M. Forns et J. Gómez-Benito (2009). « The prevalence of child sexual abuse in community and student samples: A meta-analysis », Clinical Psychology Review, vol. 29, n° 4, p. 328‑338.
  12. Tourigny, M., M. Hébert, J. Joly, M. Cyr et K. Baril (2008). « Prevalence and co‐occurrence of violence against children in the Quebec population », Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, vol. 32, n° 4, p. 331‑335.
  13. Stoltenborgh, M., M. H. van IJzendoorn, E. M. Euser et M. J. Bakermans-Kranenburg (2011). « A global perspective on child sexual abuse: Meta-analysis of prevalence around the world », Child Maltreatment, vol. 16, n° 2, p. 79‑101.
  14. Barth, J., L. Bermetz, E. Heim, S. Trelle et T. Tonia (2013). « The current prevalence of child sexual abuse worldwide: A systematic review and meta-analysis », International Journal of Public Health, vol. 58, n° 3, p. 469‑483.
  15. Statistics Canada (2021). « Victims of police-reported violent crime and traffic violations causing bodily harm or death, by type of violation, sex of victim and age of victim », in Statistics Canada, [online] (Retrieved on February 28, 2022).
  16. 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).
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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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