Statistics - Prevalence adults

How is the prevalence of sexual assault determined?

Two main information sources are used to determine the prevalence of sexual assault among adults:

  1. Police service data.+

    This type of data is based on sexual offences recorded annually by police services (incidence). However, although such data can be used to determine how many sexual offences were handled by these services, they represent only a small proportion of all sexual assaults. This is because sexual assault is not always disclosed and reported to the authorities and the cases that are reported are not always deemed to be well-founded. Police service data are derived primarily from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey – UCR2.

  2. Population survey data.+

    This type of data is the most reliable when it comes to determining the prevalence of sexual assault within a population. This is because population surveys are usually based on large, representative samples of the population and respondents answer questions about their victimization experiences anonymously. However, such surveys do not provide detailed information on the backgrounds and life experiences of victims. Population survey data are derived from national surveys, such as the General Social Survey, and certain scientific studies.

Prevalence and characteristics of adult sexual assault

  • Two main information sources can be used to determine the prevalence of sexual assault against adults: sexual offence data recorded annually by police services in Québec and Canada through the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey and victimization experiences anonymously self-reported in population surveys, including the Canadian General Social Survey (GSS).
  • These two information sources provide up-to-date data on the prevalence of sexual assault, on certain characteristics of victims and accused persons and on several other aspects of this type of assault.

Highlights

Sexual assault against adults affects a worrisome number of people in Canada, but it is less common than sexual abuse of minors.

  • In Québec in 2011, slightly over one third (36%) of victims of sexual offences reported to police were adults, whereas in Canada in 2007, adults aged 18 and over were victims of 42% of sexual offences.4,18 Sources: UCR2 - MSP 2011, Statistics Canada
  • In Québec, 1 756 sexual offences against adults were recorded by police services in 2011, whereas in Canada, 9 667 sexual offences against adults were compiled in 2008.4,19 Sources: UCR2 - MSP 2011, Statistics Canada
  • 22 incidents of sexual assault per 1 000 Canadians aged 15 and over were self-reported in the year prior to the 2014 GSS, which is equivalent to 633 000 incidents.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • It is estimated that less than 10% of sexual assaults experienced by adults will be reported to and recorded by police. Police data thus represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the total number of sexual assaults committed.

Even though adult males are victims of numerous sexual assaults, they are victimized less often than women.

  • Among adult victims of sexual offences reported to police services in both Québec and Canada in 2010 and 2008 respectively, 8% were men and 92% were women.4,19 Sources: UCR2 - MSP 2010, Statistics Canada
  • 87% of sexual assaults reported by respondents to the 2014 GSS were committed against females.34 Source: GSS 2014

Adults of all ages are victims of sexual assault. However, young adults under the age of 25 are the age group most commonly affected by sexual assault.

  • Among adults who reported sexual offences to police in Canada and Québec in 2008 and 2009 respectively, people aged 18 to 24 were the age group with the most victims, not only in the case of men but also in that of women.19,6 Sources: UCR2 - Statistics Canada, MSP 2009
  • In 2014, Canadians aged 15 to 24 reported the highest sexual assault rates in the adult population.34 Source: GSS 2014

Serious sexual assault, i.e., that committed with a weapon or causing injuries, constitutes a minority of sexual assaults against adults.

  • Sexual attacks, i.e., sexual assaults involving threats or physical violence, accounted for 19% of sexual assaults reported by Canadians aged 15 and over in 2009.20 Source: GSS 2009
  • Sexual assault with a weapon or aggravated sexual assault accounted for a minority of all police-recorded sexual offences against adults in both Québec (3%) and Canada (2%) in 2009 and 2008 respectively.6,21 Sources: UCR2 – MSP 2009, Statistics Canada

Compared to minors, adults seem to be victimized by strangers more often than by family members. Most sexual assaults against adults are committed by acquaintances.

  • In Québec in 2011 and Canada in 2008, most adult victims of sexual offences that were reported to police knew the accused (68% and 77% respectively).4,19 Sources: UCR2 - MSP 2011, Statistics Canada
  • In more than half (52%) of sexual assaults self-reported by Canadians in 2014, the accused was a friend, an acquaintance or a neighbour of the victim.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • In Québec in 2013, 29% of people who were accused of sexual offences against adults and were known to the victim were current or former spouses, or current or former intimate partners.32 Source: UCR2 - MSP 2013

Police service data

Highlights

  • In Québec in 2011, more than one third (36%) of victims of sexual offences reported to police were adults, whereas in Canada in 2007, adults aged 18 and over were victims of 42% of sexual offences.4 Source: UCR2 - Statistics Canada, MSP 2011
  • In Québec, 1 756 sexual offences against adults were recorded by police services in 2011, whereas in Canada, 9 667 sexual offences against adults were compiled in 2008.4,19 Sources: UCR2, MSP 2011, Statistics Canada
  • Among adult victims of sexual offences reported to police services in Québec and Canada in 2011 and 2008 respectively, the vast majority (95%) were women.4,19 Sources: UCR2, MSP 2011, Statistics Canada
  • Among adults who reported sexual offences to police in Canada and Québec in 2008 and 2009 respectively, people aged 18 to 24 were the age group with the most victims, not only in the case of men (42% of male victims) but also that of women (39% of female victims).19,6
    Sources: UCR2-Statistics Canada, MSP 2009
  • Sexual assault with a weapon or aggravated sexual assault accounted for a minority of all police-recorded sexual offences against adults in both Québec (3%) and Canada (2%) in 2009 and 2008 respectively.6,21 Sources: UCR2 – MSP 2009, Statistics Canada
  • In Québec in 2011 and Canada in 2008, most adult victims of sexual offences that were reported to police knew the accused (68% and 77% respectively).4,19 Sources: UCR2 - MSP 2011, Statistics Canada
 
 

Reports to police recorded through the UCR2 Survey provide only a partial picture of the situation. This is because police can only record up to four types of sexual offences committed during an incident. Furthermore, statistics derived and published from this information are related to only the most serious offences.4 Lastly, General Social Surveys (GSS) reveal that sexual offences reported to police in a given year account for only about 10% of all sexual offences committed.

Québec data

  • Prevalence of sexual offencesClick to see more.

    • 1 785 sexual offences against adults were reported to police in Québec in 2013.32 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013
    • One third (33.6%) of victims of sexual offences reported to police in Québec in 2013 were adults aged 18 and over.32 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013
  • Age and gender of victims Click to see more.

    • Among adult victims of police-recorded sexual offences in Québec in 2013, 91.5% were women. Indeed, women were victims of 1 634 offences out of 1 785, which represents 37.2% of all sexual offences.32 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013
    • Among adult victims of police-recorded sexual offences in Québec in 2013, 38.6% of female victims and 43.7% of male victims were between 18 and 24 years of age; this was the age group for which the largest number of offences were recorded, not only in the case of men but also in that of women.32 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013
    • The proportion of adult victims of sexual offences decreased with increased age in Québec in 2013.32 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013
  • Types and severity of sexual abuseClick to see more.

    • Almost all (92.7%) police-recorded sexual offences against adults in Québec in 2012 were common sexual assaults (level 1).33 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2012.
    • In 2012, sexual assault with a weapon (1.8%) and aggravated sexual assault (1.2%) were the categories of sexual offences against adults that were the least frequently recorded by police services.33 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2012
    • Other sexual offences against adults recorded by police in Québec in 2012 accounted for 4.3% of sexual offences against adults.33 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2012
  • Accused personsClick to see more.

    • In Québec in 2013, nearly three quarters (68.3%) of adult victims of sexual offences reported to police knew the accused, compared with 85.6% of minor victims.32 Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013
    • In the case of sexual offences against adults in 2013 where the victim knew the accused, the latter was an acquaintance (20.2%), a current or former spouse or a current or former intimate partner (19.8%), a business acquaintance (6.1%), a friend (8.0%), a parent or step-parent (3.2%), another member of the immediate family (3.8%), a distant relative (1.3%), or an authority figure (2.3%). Source: UCR2 – MSP 2013

Canadian data

  • Prevalence of sexual offencesClick to see more.

    • In 2015, police recorded 18 626 sexual offences against women in Canada and 2499 against men.35 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
    • In 2015, sexual offences against adults accounted for 10.7% of all violent crimes reported to police in Canada.35 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
    • According to police data, 45% of victims of reported sexual offences were over 18 years of age in Canada in 2013.31 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
  • Age and gender of victims Click to see more.

    • In 2011, the rate of sexual offences against women recorded by police across Canada was 11 times higher (99 per 100 000 population) than the rate of such offences against men (9 per 100 000 population).30 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
    • In 2011, sexual offences accounted for 8.2% of all violent crimes reported to police in Canada by females and for 0.8% of those reported by males.30 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
    • Canadian police data for 2008 indicate that the victims of sexual offences were most commonly between the ages of 18 and 24 and that the rate of recorded offences decreased with increased age, not only in the case of women but also in that of men (Table 9)19. Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
  • Types and severity of sexual abuseClick to see more.

    • Two thirds (61%) of victims of sexual offences recorded by Canadian police services in 2008 did not sustain physical injuries. However, injuries were sustained in 38% of sexual offences against women and in 30% of those against men.19 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
    • Most (59%) sexual offences against adults reported to police in Canada in 2008 were committed in a residential setting. Men were victims of 16% of sexual offences committed in an institutional setting, while women were victims of 6% of such offences.21 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
  • Accused personsClick to see more.

    • In 2008, according to offences recorded by Canadian police services, women were victims more often than men were of sexual offences committed by a current or former spouse or by someone they were currently dating or had formerly dated (8% and 7% respectively for women compared to 0% and 2% respectively for men).19 Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
    • Most (68%) sexual offences against adults reported to police in Canada in 2008 were committed by non-family members (e.g., friend, acquaintance, business acquaintance); 23% were strangers. Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada
Table 9. Rates of adult victims of sexual offences reported to police in Canada in 2008 by age group 19
  18 to 24 years 25 to 34 years 35 to 44 years 45 to 54 years 55 to 64 years 65 years and + Total
F H F H F H F H F H F H F H
Total sexual offences – Rate per 100 000 population aged 18 and over 246 19 112 8 63 6 31 3 12 1 6 1 68 6

Source: UCR2 – Statistics Canada

Source of data: Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey – UCR2Click to see more.

The Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR2) Survey collects detailed information on criminal incidents that have been brought to the attention of, and been substantiated by, Canadian police services. Every year, Statistics Canada and the Ministère de la Sécurité publique du Québec (MSP) publish annual statistics on police-reported crime in each province based on UCR2 Survey data, making it possible to document sex-related crime in Canada and Québec. The data come from 155 police services, which, in 2008, covered 98% of Canada’s population.

The statistics published concern sexual assault offences (sexual assault (level 1), sexual assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (level 2) and aggravated sexual assault (level 3)) and other sexual offences related primarily to sexual violence against children, namely, sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual exploitation, incest, non-consensual anal intercourse, anal intercourse between people under 18 years of age, bestiality and, since 2008, corrupting children, luring a child by means of a computer and voyeurism.

Population surveys

Highlights

  • Through the 2014 GSS, it was determined that for the year prior to the survey the sexual assault rate per 1 000 Canadians aged 15 or more was 22 incidents, which is equivalent to 633 000 incidents in Canada.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • The rates of sexual assault reported by people aged 15 and over were fairly stable in Canada in 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2014.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • 87% of sexual assaults reported by respondents to the 2014 GSS were committed against females.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • Over one third of victims aged 15 and over said that they had been sexually assaulted more than once during the year preceding the 2004 survey.23 Source: GSS 2004
  • Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 reported the highest sexual assault rates within the adult population during the year preceding the 2014 GSS.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • Sexual touching accounted for 71% of sexual assaults reported through the 2014 GSS.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • In more than half (52%) of sexual assaults self-reported by Canadians in 2014, the accused was a friend, an acquaintance or a neighboor of the victim.34 Source: GSS 2014

Canadian data

  • Prevalence of sexual assaultClick to see more.

    • On the basis of the 2014 GSS, it was estimated that 633 000 Canadian adults aged 15 and over had been victims of at least one sexual assault during the year prior to the survey, which corresponds to a rate of 22 incidents of sexual assault per 1 000 population aged 15 or more.34 Source: GSS 2014
    • In Canada, sexual assault accounted for 5% of criminal incidents self-reported by people aged 15 and over through the 2014 GSS.34 Source: GSS 2014
    • According to the 2014 GSS on Victimization, less than 1 in 10 incidents of sexual assault reported by Canadians 15 years of age and older were reported to police in Canada ― a proportion lower than that for robbery (45%) and physical assault (39%).34 Source: GSS 2014
  • Age and gender of victims Click to see more.

    • 87% of sexual assaults reported by respondents to the 2014 GSS were committed against females. In comparison, females were victims in 45% of physical assaults.34 Source: GSS 2014
    • The rate of sexual assault self-reported by women in Canada in 2014 (37 incidents per 1 000 population aged 15 and over) was more than seven times the rate for men (5 incidents per 1 000 population aged 15 and over) (Table 11).34 Source: GSS 2014
      Table 11. Self-reported incidents of sexual assault in Canada, 201434
        Number (thousands) Rate per 1 000 population aged 15 and over**
      Women 553 37
      Men 80T 5T

      TTo be interpreted with caution
      * Significant differences (p< 0.05) between rates
      Source: GSS 2014

    • The 1999 and 2004 GSS revealed that 3% of adult females in Canada had reported one sexual assault in the 12 months preceding the surveys.24 Sources: GSS 1999, 2004
    • According to the 2014 GSS, Canadians aged 15 to 24 reported the highest sexual assault rates among adults, with 71 incidents per 1 000 population aged 15 and over. In comparison, the overall rate of self-reported sexual assault for all age groups combined in 2014 was 22 incidents per 1 000 population aged 15 and over.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • Types and severity of sexual abuseClick to see more.

    • Unwanted sexual touching accounted for 71% of sexual assaults reported to the 2014 GSS, while more serious sexual attacks accounted for 29% of reported incidents.36 Source: GSS 2014
    • Over one third (37%) of sexual assault victims aged 15 and over in Canada reported that they had experienced more than one incident of sexual assault in the 12 months preceding the 2004 survey.23 Source: GSS 2004
    • In 2014, 79% of sexual assaults self-reported by Canadians aged 15 and older were committed by only one perpetrator.36 Sources: GSS 2014
    • The vast majority of sexual assault incidents reported by Canadians aged 15 and over in 2014 were committed without a weapon (86%) and did not cause injuries (93%).34 Source: GSS 2014
    • In 2014, slightly less than half (43%) of sexual assaults reported by Canadians through the GSS took place in a commercial establishment, such as a restaurant or a bar; 22% took place in a private residence; and 14% in the street or a public space.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • Accused personsClick to see more.

    • In more than half (52%) of sexual assaults self-reported by Canadians in 2014, the accused was a friend, an acquaintance or a neighboor of the victim, while in 44% of cases, the accused was a stranger.34Source: GSS 2014
    • In 2014, persons accused of sexual assaults that were reported through the GSS were females in 6% of cases.34 Source: GSS 2014
    • In 2009, sexual assaults in which the accused person was female (13% of sexual assaults reported through the GSS) targeted current or former spouses (5.8%), intimate partners (7.2%), other family members (24.6%), acquaintances (56.5%), or strangers (5.8%).22 Source: GSS 2009
    • In more than half (58%) of sexual assaults reported by Canadians aged 15 and over in 2014, the accused persons were between 18 and 34 years of age; in 8%, they were between 35 and 44 years of age; and in 22%, they were 45 and over.34 Source: GSS 2014
  • Change over timeClick to see more.

    • From 1999 to 2014, the rates of sexual victimization reported by Canadians aged 15 and over were fairly stable.34 (Table 12).
      Table 12. Self-reported incidents of sexual assault in Canada (1999, 2004, 2009, 2014)34
      Year Number (in thousands) Rate per 1 000 population aged 15 and over*
      1999 502 21
      2004 546 21
      2009 677 24
      2014 633 22

      Sources: ESG : 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014
      *No significant differences (p< 0.05) between rates

Lifetime prevalence of sexual assault among Canadian women

Detailed information on sexual assault among Canadian women was obtained by the nation-wide Violence Against Women Survey (VAWS) in 1993. Even though the data from this survey is now 20 years old, it was derived from the only population survey to have measured the lifetime prevalence of sexual assault among adult females, using a representative sample. At the time of the survey, 39% of Canadian women reported that they had been a victim of at least one sexual assault since the age of 16. The definition of sexual assault used in the survey included sexual attacks involving violence and unwanted sexual touching, both of which conform to the definitions of sexual assault set out in the Criminal Code.25

Source of data: General Social Survey (GSS)Click to see more.

Every five years, Statistics Canada publishes self-reported victimization data derived from the General Social Survey (GSS). This survey, which is conducted every five years, gathers data reported by Canadians aged 15 and over on criminal victimization experiences related to eight offences, including sexual assault, regardless of whether the experiences were reported to police or not. The most recent survey was conducted in 2014.
The GSS thus gathers information on crimes not reported to police. In 2014, such crimes accounted for roughly two thirds of criminal victimization incidents. However, the GSS relies on the memory of respondents, for it asks them to recall events precisely when they report them. Moreover, the events that respondents report to the GSS do not always meet the legal definition of a crime.

Note: The following data include the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Nunavut for the 2014 GSS.
 
 

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