Victims of Crime Research Digest, Issue No. 4

Canadians' Awareness of Victim Issues: A Benchmarking Study

  • Susan McDonald, Principal Researcher
    Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada

  • Katie Scrim, Researcher
    Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada


How much do Canadians know about victims of crime? Are they aware that specific services exist in every jurisdiction to assist victims? Do levels of awareness differ among jurisdictions and age groups or between men and women? Interesting questions! And we now have some answers.

In Canada, victim services have been growing over the past two decades. These agencies provide a range of services to assist victims of crime through different delivery models (e.g., police-based, community-based, system-based). We know from the national Victim Services Survey that 686 victim service providers helped almost 406,000 victims between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008,. The types of assistance that were most often provided directly by the agencies included:

  • general information (95%);
  • emotional support (93%);
  • liaising with other agencies on behalf of clients (91%);
  • information on the criminal justice system (91%); and
  • public awareness and prevention (90%) (Sauvé 2009).

According to the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, about 7.4 million Canadians aged 15 and older reported being a victim of a crime that year (Perreault and Brennan 2010, 6). We also know from the 2009 GSS that only 1.5% of victims used victim services following the crime incident; this increases to 2.5% if we look at violent incidents only.[1] While many of the victims may not have wanted to seek assistance from an agency, it is certainly possible that some victims might have sought assistance had they been aware that services existed.

In the fall of 2010, the Government of Canada undertook an awareness campaign on the availability of services for victims of crime. The Department of Justice Canada led this endeavour working closely with other federal departments and agencies. To assist with the media strategy for this campaign, a benchmark study was undertaken prior to the campaign to gauge Canadians' awareness of victim issues. This article presents some of the results from that study.


This research is important for a number of reasons. First of all, it supports and builds on other research findings regarding how Canadians learn about criminal justice issues and where they turn to for assistance. Research over the past two decades in Canada and elsewhere shows that victims of crime want information. Specifically, they want:

  • information about their specific case such as notification of hearings and release;
  • general information about the criminal justice system; and
  • practical information about services such as housing and financial support. (see for example Meredith and Paquette 2000; Prairie Research Associates 2006; Sims et al. 2006; Wemmers 1999; Wemmers and Canuto 2002).

Research also shows that Canadians learn about the criminal justice system primarily through the media, that is television, radio, and newspapers (see McDonald et al. 2007). The benchmarking study asked specifically how Canadians learned about victim services. We will be able to use these results to help inform additional research, policy and program directions.

Second, with the results from the present study, we now have representative data about Canadians' awareness of victim issues, including representation from those who have identified themselves as victims of crime. In Canada, there are two primary sources of data on victims of crime: self-reported data from the General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization and police-reported data from the Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR2). In addition, studies of varying sizes with differing capacities to generalize to the population may be undertaken. For example, there are studies that include interviews with sexual assault survivors from a particular area in the country or with clients from a particular program. As anyone doing research in the area knows, recruitment of a representative sample of victims as research participants poses many challenges and is often not feasible (Lauritsen and Archakova 2008). Because the data are representative, we are able to make general statements about Canadians' awareness of victim issues.


The Department of Justice Canada contracted Ekos Research Associates Inc. (Ekos) to undertake the data collection using a ten-minute telephone and online[2] survey. The survey instrument was designed by Justice officials and finalized in consultation with Ekos.

Respondents to the telephone survey were 18 years of age and older and were randomly selected (through random-digit dialing). The sample included all provinces and territories, and the survey was administered in both English and French. The sample distribution for this study is provided in Table 1.

Table 1: Sample Distribution
Province/Territory Sample Size Margin of Error (19 times out of 20)
Atlantic Provinces 176 ± 7.4%
Quebec 450 ± 4.6%
Ontario 700 ± 3.7%
Manitoba/ Saskatchewan 173 ± 7.4%
Alberta 200 ± 6.9%
British Columbia 251 ± 6.2%
Territories 56 ± 14.0%
Total 2,006 ± 2.2%

The survey was conducted from September 7 to 23, 2010. Survey results were weighted based on Statistics Canada data according to age, gender, and region to ensure the sample was representative of the general public aged 18 years and older. The response rate was 20.9% which is very reasonable for a public opinion survey.


Knowledge of Victim Issues and Services

All respondents were asked about their level of knowledge about compensation for victims of crime, restitution, victim services, testimonial supports, and victim impact statements. A four-point scale was used, with 1 meaning “no knowledge at all,” 2 meaning “a little knowledge,” 3 meaning “some knowledge,” and 4 meaning “a lot of knowledge.” The results are displayed in Figure 1.

Approximately 42% of respondents had no knowledge at all of victim services in Canada. Approximately the same proportion said they had no knowledge at all of other programs/services available to victims of crime, such as compensation and restitution.

Figure 1: Knowledge of Services/Programs Available for Victims of Crime

Figure 1: Knowledge of Services/Programs Available for Victims of Crime

[ Description of Figure 1 ]

The knowledge Canadians reported having of victim services varied by demographic factors. Respondents in western Canada reported greater levels of awareness than those from central/eastern Canada (see Figure 2). In addition, those who identified themselves as victims of crime were slightly more likely to report “a lot of knowledge” of victim services compared to those who had not been the victim of a crime (10% versus 5%, respectively).

When we examined knowledge by age, 91% of those under 25 years reported no knowledge at all (51%) or very little knowledge (40%). This younger age group (18-24) had the lowest reported knowledge of victim services of all age groups. Looking at gender, females reported slightly higher levels of knowledge of victim services than males: 24% of females reported either “some” or “a lot” of knowledge of victim services compared to 17% of males. This finding is understandable given that we know from previous studies that more women use victim services; for example, the Victim Services Survey[3] showed that on snapshot day (May 28, 2008), victim services across the country served 9,808 people of which 61% were female and 20% were male (for 19%, the gender was not recorded) (Sauvé 2009).

Figure 2: Some/A lot of Knowledge of Victim Services by Region

Figure 2: Some/A lot of Knowledge of Victim Services by Region

[ Description of Figure 2 ]

Victims of Crime and Assistance

From adult learning theory and research, we know that people learn through personal experience (see, for example, McDonald 2001). It was therefore important to know whether respondents had personal experience with victimization. When we asked respondents if they had been a victim of crime in the preceding twelve months,[4] approximately one fifth (19%) indicated “yes,” and out of those, more than half (57%) said that the incident had been reported to the police.

Among respondents who had been victims of a crime, 25% sought help from victim services as a result of being victimized, while a greater proportion of victims sought help from family members or friends/co-workers (39% and 37%, respectively) (see Figure 3). The quarter who sought help from victim services were asked how they had learned about these services. Referrals from other victim services (31%), friends/co-workers (28%), family (19%), and a pamphlet/brochure (19%) were the primary ways identified.

These results support other research that has found that victims rate natural supports as more useful than professional supports (Leymann and Lindell 1992). Research from small, qualitative studies with victims has also shown that people learn about the law and other relevant information from one another, but often this information is “inaccurate, incomplete, or out-of-date” (McDonald 2001); hence the importance of formal services being available particularly for information around the highly complex criminal justice system.

Figure 3: Sources of Help Sought by Victims of Crime

Figure 3: Sources of Help Sought by Victims of Crime

[ Description of Figure 3 ]

Respondents who had been the victim of a crime but did not seek help (n=268) were asked why. More than half (54%) said that it was because they did not want/need help, and 29% said it was because they felt the incident was too minor. Importantly, a smallproportion (6%) noted that it was because they did not know of any services available.

Canadians in General

Among those who did not identify as a victim of crime, the largest proportion found out about victim services through media such as radio/television (36%) and newspapers (27%). A lesser proportion found out about victim services through friends/co-workers (15%) and through victim services referrals (6%).

Almost all respondents (94%) said that if they, or a close friend or family member, were the victim of a violent crime, they would contact someone for help. Of these respondents, well over half (63%) said they would contact victim services for help. This is less than the proportion who said they would contact police (93%), family members (77%), and health care professionals (69%). More than one quarter (27%) said they would contact the government for help. Figure 4 illustrates these results.

Figure 4: Where Canadians Would Seek Help if Victimized

Figure 4: Where Canadians Would Seek Help if Victimized

[ Description of Figure 4 ]

Needs of Victims

When asked what they thought a victim of crime would need after being victimized, over half (53%) of respondents said professional counselling, 28% said support/someone to talk to, 19% said medical help, and 16% each said financial help and justice (e.g., a response from the system) (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Canadians' Perceptions of the Needs of Victims of Crime

Figure 5: Canadians' Perceptions of the Needs of Victims of Crime

[ Description of Figure 5 ]

Final Thoughts

Overall, these results suggest that there are a significant number of Canadians who are not aware of the services available and that over half of younger Canadians (aged 18-24) have no knowledge at all. The results also confirm that the reasons why victims do not access these services are varied.

As noted earlier in this short article, the results from this study are important not only for the media strategy of the 2010 awareness campaign but also in terms of future research and policy directions. For example, if victims of crime are aware of victim services but are not accessing them because they prefer natural supports (e.g., family and friends), do those natural supports have the resources and support necessary? Or if victims are not accessing services because they are afraid or ashamed, what responses are possible? This research has answered some questions, but it has also raised many interesting new ones.


  • Lauritsen, Janet L., and Ekaterina Archakova. 2008. Advancing the usefulness of research for victims of crime. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 24:92-102.
  • Leymann, Heinz, and Jan Lindell. 1992. Social support after armed robbery in the workplace. In The victimology handbook: Research findings, treatment, and public policy, ed. Emilio Viano, 285-304. New York: Garland Publishing.
  • McDonald, Susan, Jim Sturrock, Paul Verbrugge, and Ting Li. 2007. Public confidence in the justice system. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
  • McDonald, Susan, with Pamela Cross. 2001. Women's voices being heard: Responsive lawyering. Journal of Law and Social Policy 16:207-240.
  • Meredith, Colin, and Chantal Paquette. 2000. Summary report on focus groups on victim impact statements. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
  • Perreault, Samuel, and Shannon Brennan. 2010. Criminal victimization in Canada, 2009. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
  • Prairie Research Associates. 2006. Multi-site survey of victims of crime and criminal justice professionals across Canada. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
  • Sauvé, Julie. 2009. Victim services in Canada, 2007/08. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Accessed July 6, 2010, at:
  • Sims, Barbara, Berwood Yost, and Christina Abbott. 2006. The efficacy of victim services programs: Alleviating the psychological suffering of crime victims? Criminal Justice Policy Review 17(4): 387-406.
  • Wemmers, Jo-Anne, and Marisa Canuto. 2002. Victims' experiences with, expectations and perceptions of restorative justice: A critical review of the literature. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
  • Wemmers, Jo-Anne. 1999. Victim notification and public support for the criminal justice system. International Review of Victiminology 6:169.

  • [1] The 2.5% figure should be used with caution. This question was specific to victim services or victim witness assistance programs. Other choices included shelters or sexual assault centres or other types of assistance.
  • [2] Only the results of the telephone survey will be presented here.
  • [3] The national Victim Services Survey is funded by the Department of Justice Canada and is undertaken every three years by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics. The survey collects data for a twelve-month period on agencies that provide services to both primary and secondary victims of crime. It also provides a snapshot of the clientele served on a given day, called “snapshot day.” For the full publication, see
  • [4] The wording for this question was the same as that used on the General Social Survey for Victimization. This includes respondents who were the victim of either a violent or non-violent crime. Non-violent crime includes crimes against property, including theft of personal property and vandalism, for which victims may be less likely to seek help from an outside agency or police due to the potentially less serious nature of the incident. Violent crime includes robbery, physical assault, and sexual assault.
Date modified: