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Statistics on Spousal Abuse: A Closer Look

February 28, 2011

In May of 2012, Statistics Canada released their General Social Survey on spousal violence in Canada for 2010. The researchers used data from police-reported data in 2010. As you read these statistics, it’s important to keep in mind that they represent data obtained by police. Many victims of domestic violence, though, do not always report their experiences to police.

Male and Female Victims: Reasons for Similar Statistics

In 2010, there were over 102,500 victims of intimate partner violence, including spousal and dating violence. This translates into a rate of 363 per 100,000 population aged 15 years and older and was almost 2.5 times higher than the rate recorded for family violence against a child, parent or other family member (150 victims per 100,000). These rates tended to be highest among female victims and among those aged 25 to 34 years. This contrasts non-intimate partner violence, where the victims were predominantly male and where rates were highest among those aged 15 to 24 years.

An important point to consider in such studies, though, is the manner in which spousal abuse is measured and defined. Typically, survey studies will use the Criminal Code of Canada to define an aggressive or violent act. Examples of such acts include pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, biting, and verbal threats of violence (view the article for a complete list). When a respondent indicates “yes” to any one of the items, the surveyor moves onto the next question.

Criticisms of survey statistics

One of the major criticisms of survey studies is that they usually fail to consider the consequences, motives, and contexts within which the violence takes place. More specifically, the data in survey studies often ignores the meanings and intentions behind violent behaviours. Women, for example, will report using violence primarily as a means of self-defence, to protect their children, or in retaliation for a previous abusive act. In survey studies, however, these reasons or circumstances are rarely explored. Additionally, the consequences of the violent act are ignored. For example, a slap is given the same value whether it’s delivered by a 125-pound woman or a 225-pound man. Clearly, though, the consequences would be very different for either person. In their in-depth interviews with 95 couples, Dobash and Dobash (2004) claimed that women’s violence differed from men’s violence in its frequency, intention, intensity, physical injury, and emotional impact. Women in their sample predominantly used violence in the context of self-defence or self-protection. Their violence was also rated by both partners as “not serious.”

In the end, both men and women have the capacity to be violent in their relationships. However, it is necessary to consider the reasons, contexts, motives, and consequences of the violent act before making any conclusions on the relationship between gender and spousal abuse.

Hoping your week is filled with much knowledge and growth…

Dr. Richard Amaral


Ministry of Industry, Statistics Canada (2010). Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile (Statistics Canada Report Catalogue no. 85-002-X).  Retrieved from

Dobash, R., & Dobash, R. (2004). Women’s violence to men in intimate relationships. British Journal of Criminology, 44, 324-349. Retrieved March 2, 2005, from SocIndex database.

Lindhorst, T., & Tajima, E. (2008). Reconceptualizing and operationalizing context in survey research on intimate partner violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23, 362-388. Retrieved from Sage Criminology database.

  1. Dr. Amaral, didn’t you do some research on this very topic?

    • Hi DR,

      Yes I did. I will be writing more about the topic of women and violence in future entries.

  2. Hi, great to read your domestic violence research. Your link to the Canadian statistics is no longer working.

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