Victims of Crime Research Digest, Issue No. 4

Domestic Violence in Rural Canada

Melissa Northcott, Researcher
Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada

Introduction

In June 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Rural Affairs released its report entitled Beyond Freefall: Halting Rural Poverty. The report discussed a wide range of issues impacting rural Canada and noted, in the chapter on crime, the lack of empirical data on specific crimes in rural areas, including domestic violence. The report cited anecdotal evidence suggesting that “stresses caused by rising unemployment, declining populations and seasonal work are leading to an increase in the reported incidence of family violence in some parts of rural Canada (Senate of Canada 2008, 235).

Given the cited anecdotal evidence as well as the limited research on domestic violence in rural areas, this research sought to determine if there has been an increase in incidents of domestic violence in rural areas.

Available Research

While some of the limited existing literature indicates that there are no conclusive numbers regarding the incidence of domestic violence in rural Canada (Brookbank 1995), Statistics Canada has found that rates of spousal violence in rural areas may be similar to those in urban areas (e.g., Mihorean 2005; Pottie Bunge and Levett 1998). Other research on this topic has focused on the challenges faced in providing services to victims of domestic violence in rural areas, such as issues relating to lack of services and transportation, as well as isolation and difficulties relating to communication (Kasdorff and Erb 2010). Responses to these challenges by various organizations and by all levels of government have also been documented and include the creation of more shelters and social services, implementation of domestic violence courts, and provincial legislation to facilitate a better response to issues of domestic violence.

Although there is very little information available regarding domestic violence in rural areas of Canada, much research has been conducted on the issue of domestic violence in Canada generally. For example, there are a number of national surveys which record the incidence of spousal violence, such as the General Social Survey on Victimization (GSS), which collects self-reported data on crime every 5 years (Statistics Canada), and the annual Incident-Based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey(UCR2), which collects police-reported incidents of crime (Statistics Canada).

Research using the 2004 GSS found that the overall level of self-reported spousal violence remained stable at 7% between 1999 and 2004 (Mihorean 2005), while the 2007 UCR2 data found that the percentage of police-reported spousal violence declined 15% between 1998 and 2007 (Taylor Butts 2009). These reports also examine other elements relating to spousal violence, such as information related to gender, age and provincial and territorial differences.

Methodology

For this study, police-reported data on domestic violence was requested from the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS). Data from the Incident-Based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR2) was used to examine domestic violence incidents and rates of domestic violence per 100,000 in rural and urban Canada for the years 2004 until 2008. Due to issues with data coverage, however, incidents of domestic violence for only the years 2006 to 2008 were examined.[1]

Incidents of domestic violence are specified in the UCR2 through documentation of the relationship between the victim and the individual charged. Although there are other terms used for domestic violence, including spousal abuse, intimate partner violence, and family violence (Alberta Justice and Attorney General 2008), the term domestic violence was used in this study. Domestic violence was defined as incidents involving spouses and former spouses (common-law or married) or other family members. Other family members could include aunts, uncles, parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings and cousins.

For the purposes of this study, areas with a population of 5,000 and less were defined as rural, while areas with a population of over 5,000 were considered urban.

Results

The UCR2 data obtained from the CCJS were examined, and overall rates of police-reported incidents of domestic violence in rural and urban areas of Canada were determined. Data on specific domestic violence-related offences were also analyzed.

Overall Domestic Violence

As Table 1 shows, the total combined rate of domestic violence (in rural and urban areas) increased between 2006 and 2008. The rates of domestic violence perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members were higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

In rural areas, the rates of overall domestic violence perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members fluctuated, with an increase between 2006 and 2007, followed by a decrease in 2008. This shift was also seen in both the rates of domestic violence perpertrated by spouses/former spouses and the rates of domestic violence perpetrated by family members. However, the increase in the rates of domestic violence perpetrated by family members was larger than the increase in the rates of domestic violence perpetrated by spouses/former spouses. Additionally, the rates of overall domestic violence perpetrated by family members were higher than the rates of overall domestic violence perpetrated by spouses/former spouses.

In urban areas, the rates of overall domestic violence perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members also fluctuated, but with a decrease between 2006 and 2007, followed by an increase in 2008. While this shift was also seen in domestic violence perpetrated by spouses/former spouses, the rates of domestic violence perpetrated by family members remained the same between 2006 and 2007, then increased in 2008. The rates of overall domestic violence perpetrated by spouses/former spouses were higher than the rates of domestic violence perpetrated by family members. This is the opposite of what was seen in rural areas.

Table 1: Domestic Violence Violations, Rates per 100,000 Population, 2006-2008
Rural Urban Total (Rural and Urban)
Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Rural Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Urban
2006 330 461 791 131 103 234 247
2007 393 673 1066 125 103 229 248
2008 392 670 1062 129 111 240 259

Source: Statistics Canada, UCR2 Survey, 2006-2008.

Common Assault

Common assault was the most common form of domestic violence in both rural and urban areas in Canada between 2006 and 2008. As shown in Table 2, the total combined rate of common assault (rural and urban) increased during this time period. The rates of common assault perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members were higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

In rural areas, the total rate of common assault fluctuated, with an increase between 2006 and 2007, followed by a slight decrease in 2008. This shift was also seen in the rates of common assault perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members. However, there was a larger increase in the rates of common assault perpetrated by family members. In rural areas, the rates of common assault perpetrated by family members were greater than the rates of common assault perpetrated by spouses/ former spouses. The opposite was seen in urban areas.

Table 2: Common Assault–Level 1, Rates per 100,000 Population, 2006-2008
Rural Urban Total (Rural and Urban)
Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Rural Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Urban
2006 238 279 517 80 52 132 141
2007 286 418 704 78 53 131 144
2008 281 411 692 80 58 138 151

Source: Statistics Canada, UCR2 Survey, 2006-2008.

Sexual Assault

Table 3 shows that the total combined rate of sexual assault remained stable between 2006 and 2008. The rates of sexual assault perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members were higher in rural areas than in urban areas. In both rural and urban areas, the rates of sexual assault perpetrated by family members were higher than the rates of sexual assault perpetrated by spouses/former spouses.

Table 3: Sexual Assault-Level 1, Rates per 100,000 Population, 2006-2008
Rural Urban Total (Rural and Urban)
Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Rural Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Urban
2006 5 38 43 2 13 15 16
2007 6 53 59 2 12 14 15
2008 4 49 53 2 13 15 16

Source: Statistics Canada, UCR2 Survey, 2006-2008.

Criminal Harassment

As Table 4 indicates, the total combined rate of criminal harassment decreased slightly between 2006 and 2008. The rates of criminal harassment perpetrated by family members between 2006 and 2008 were slightly higher in rural areas than in urban areas, while the rates of criminal harassment perpetrated by spouses/former spouses were higher in urban areas. In rural areas, the total rates of criminal harassment remained fairly stable, while in urban areas the rate decreased slightly. In rural areas, the rates of criminal harassment perpetrated by spouses/former spouses and family members were similar; in urban areas, the rates of criminal harassment perpetrated by spouses/former spouses were higher than the rates of criminal harassment perpetrated by family members.

Table 4: Criminal Harassment, Rates per 100,000 Population, 2006-2008
Rural Urban Total (Rural and Urban)
Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Rural Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Urban
2006 4 2 7 11 2 13 13
2007 4 4 8 10 2 12 12
2008 5 4 8 9 2 11 11

Source: Statistics Canada, UCR2 Survey, 2006-2008.

Uttering Threats

As indicated in Table 5, the total combined rates of uttering threats remained stable between 2006 and 2008. The rates of uttering threats perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members were higher in rural areas than in urban areas.

In rural areas, the total rate of uttering threats increased between 2006 and 2008. While the rates of uttering threats perpetrated by spouses/former spouses fluctuated, with an increase between 2006 and 2007, followed by a slight decrease in 2008, the rates of uttering threats perpetrated by family members saw a larger increase between 2006 and 2007, followed by a further slight increase in 2008. In addition, the rates of uttering threats perpetrated by family members were higher than the rates of uttering threats by spouses/former spouses.

In urban areas, the total rate as well as the rates of uttering threats perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members remained stable.

Table 5: Uttering Threats, Rates per 100,000 Population, 2006-2008
Rural Urban Total (Rural and Urban)
Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Rural Spouse/ Former Spouse Family Total Urban
2006 15 34 49 15 16 31 31
2007 20 58 77 14 15 29 30
2008 19 63 81 14 16 29 31

Source: Statistics Canada, UCR2 Survey, 2006-2008.

Murder (First Degree, Second Degree and Manslaughter)

For the rates of murder, three murder offences are combined: first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter. As shown in Table 6, the total combined rates of murder (rural and urban) declined slightly between 2006 and 2008. There was a decrease in the total number (n) of homicides between 2006 and 2007, followed by a small increase in 2008. The rates of murder perpetrated by spouses/former spouses and family members were higher in rural areas than in urban areas. In rural areas, the number of murders and the rates of murder perpetrated by family members were higher than the number of murders and the rates of murder perpetrated by spouses/former spouses. In urban areas, the number of murders perpetrated by spouses/former spouses in 2006 was higher than the number perpetrated by family members, while in 2007 and 2008, the number of murders perpetrated by family members was higher. The rates of murder perpetrated by spouses/former spouses and family members were fairly similar in urban areas.

Table 6: Murder (1st Degree, 2nd Degree and Manslaughter), Rates per 100,000 Population, 2006-2008
Rural Urban Total (Rural and Urban)
Spouse/Former Spouse Family Total Rural Spouse/Former Spouse Family Total Urban
n rate n rate n rate n rate n rate n rate n rate
2006 4 0.59 9 1.33 13 1.92 67 0.23 62 0.22 129 0.45 142 0.48
2007 4 0.57 8 1.14 12 1.71 52 0.17 61 0.20 113 0.38 125 0.41
2008 7 0.90 13 1.67 20 2.57 51 0.16 60 0.19 111 0.35 131 0.40

Source: Statistics Canada, UCR2 Survey, 2006-2008.

Conclusion

The findings of this study provide information on the nature and the incidence of domestic violence in rural and urban areas of Canada. First, the findings indicate that for the majority of the offences explored, the perpetrator was most commonly a family member in rural areas, while the perpetrator tended to be a spouse/former spouse in urban areas. The study also found that the rates of police-reported incidents of domestic violence perpetrated by spouses/former spouses and by family members were higher in rural versus urban areas during the period between 2006 and 2008, as were the majority of the specific offences considered. As the Senate Standing Committee on Rural Affairs suggests in its report, the higher rates of domestic violence in rural areas may be a reflection of the stressors associated with living in rural communities, such as seasonal employment and unemployment (Senate of Canada 2008).

Although the rates of some specific offences increased and others decreased or remained stable, the total combined rate of police-reported domestic violence incidents in Canada increased between 2006 and 2008. The rates of domestic violence perpetrated by both spouses/former spouses and family members in rural areas also increased during this time period. Statistics Canada reports indicated that the percentage of self-reported incidents of spousal violence remained stable at 7% between 1999 and 2004 (Mihorean 2005) and that police-reported incidents of spousal violence declined 15% between 1998 and 2007 (Taylor-Butts 2009). However, the findings of this study indicate that when family-related domestic violence is included, an increase in the overall combined rate of domestic violence between 2006 and 2008 is seen. Nevertheless, this study has certain limitations that should be borne in mind when interpreting the findings.

As the data used in the study are limited to a three-year time frame, they cannot speak to trends in the incidents of domestic violence. Furthermore, the violations included in the definition of domestic violence used in this study and those included in the definition used in other studies are not identical; therefore, a direct comparison of overall domestic violence rates among studies is not possible.[2] Another factor which must be considered is population size. Even small changes in the number of incidents can have a large impact on crime rates in areas with a small population size. Although the reported rates of domestic violence in rural areas may have increased between 2006 and 2008, these rates are based on a small increase in the number of incidents of domestic violence. The impact of the incidents on rural communities, however, is felt throughout the community.

There are also issues related to underreporting that must be considered. For a number of reasons, domestic violence in rural areas is likely underreported. These reasons include factors associated with a culture of self-sufficiency, which leads to hesitation in seeking help; community denial and victim blaming, which are common in smaller communities; and geographical remoteness, which leads to difficulties in seeking services (Biesenthal et al. 2000; Hornosty and Doherty 2002; Jiwani et al. 1998; Kasdorff and Erb 2010; Lunn 2001).

Although this research adds to what we know, more work is needed to further improve our understanding of domestic violence in rural areas. Given the difficulties associated with underreporting, the picture we have of domestic violence in both rural and urban areas remains unclear. The rates of domestic violence in rural areas need to continue to be monitored so a pattern can be established. Furthermore, information should continue to be compiled and to be shared among those working directly with victims of domestic violence in rural areas in order to identify and establish best practices and strategies.

References

  • Biesenthal, Lorri., Lynne Dee Sproule, Mary Nelder, Susan Golton, Donna Mann, Denise Podovinnikoff, Inge Roosendaal, Shellie Warman, and Donna Lunn. 2000. The Ontario rural woman abuse study. Ottawa:Department of Justice Canada.
  • Brookbank, Candace. 1995. Spouse abuse in rural communities: A review of the literature. Ottawa: Department of Justice Canada.
  • Alberta Justice and Attorney General. 2008. Domestic violence handbook for police and crown prosecutors in Alberta. Edmonton: Government of Alberta. Accessed October 25, 2010 from: http://justice.alberta.ca/programs_services/families/Documents/Domestic%20Violence%20Handbook/DV_Handbook_2008.pdf.
  • Hornosty, Jennie, and Deborah Doherty. 2002. Responding to wife abuse in farm and rural communities. Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy.
  • Jiwani, Yasmin, Shelley Moore, and Patricia Kachuk. 1998. Rural women and violence: A study of two communities in British Columbia. Vancouver: The FREDA Centre for Research on Violence against Women and Children, Simon Fraser University. Accessed February 4, 2010, from http://www.harbour.sfu.ca/freda/articles/rural01.htm.
  • Kasdorff, Deborah, and Barbara Erb. 2010. Serving victims of violence in rural communities: Challenges and best practices. Victim/Witness Assistance Program, East Region, Ontario.
  • Lunn, Donna. 2001. Rural and farm women. Accessed February 4, 2010, from http://www.womanabuseprevention.com/html/rural_and_farm_women.html.
  • Mihorean, Karen. 2005. Trends in self-reported spousal violence. In Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile, ed. Kathy Aucoin 13-32.Ottawa: Statistics Canada.
  • Pottie Bunge, Valerie, and Andrea Levett. 1998. Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-224-X.
  • Senate of Canada. 2008. Beyond freefall: Halting rural poverty. Final report of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. Ottawa: Senate of Canada.
  • Statistics Canada. General Social Survey – Victimization (GSS). http://www.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-bin/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=4504&lang=en&db=imdb&adm=8&dis=2.
  • Statistics Canada. Uniform Crime Crime Reporting Survey (UCR). http://www.statcan.gc.ca/cgi-bin/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=3302&lang=en&db=imdb&adm=8&dis=2.
  • Taylor-Butts, Andrea. 2009. Fact sheet – Police-reported spousal violence in Canada. In Family violence in Canada: A statistical profile. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. Catalogue no. 85-224-X, 24-31.

  • [1] Note that the RCMP began using the UCR2 in 2006, which resulted in an increase in incident reporting among rural police that year. As such, only data for the years 2006 to 2008 are reported in order to ensure a more comprehensive portrayal of domestic violence in rural and urban areas.
  • [2] For example, other studies have included violations such as kidnapping, hostage taking and arson, which were not included in this study.
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