An Estimation of the Economic Impact of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009


Executive Summary

This report provides an estimate of the economic impact of spousal violence that occurred in Canada in 2009. Spousal violence is a widespread and unfortunate social reality that has an effect on all Canadians. Victims of spousal violence are susceptible to sustaining costly and long-lasting physical, emotional, and financial consequences. Children who are exposed to spousal violence suffer in many ways and are at increased risk of developing negative social behaviours or disorders as a result (Dauvergne and Johnson 2001). The victims' family, friends, and employers are also affected to varying degrees. Every member of society eventually feels the impact of spousal violence through the additional financial strain imposed on publicly funded systems and services.

The more Canadians understand about the costly and serious impact of spousal violence, the better prepared we are to continue efforts to prevent it and where it does occur, to protect and assist victims, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to take measures to break the cycle of violence.Estimating the economic impact of a social phenomenon such as spousal violence, a process known as costing, is a way to measure both the tangible and intangible impacts of that phenomenon. By placing a dollar value on the impact, a common unit of measurement is provided. The dollar value for the economic impact of spousal violence can then be compared to the corresponding estimates of other social phenomena. Proponents of costing contend that the understanding of economic impacts and the comparison of different social issues in the same units are important to policymakers, activists, social workers, and the public by assisting in the proper allocation of resources, and in evaluating the effectiveness of programs.

Two complementary data sources reflect the incidents of spousal violence in Canada: the police-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey 2 (UCR2) and the self-reported 2009 General Social Survey (GSS, cycle 23, Victimization). While the UCR2 captures detailed information on all Criminal Code violations reported to police services, the GSS interviews Canadians aged 15 and older regarding their experience of physical or sexual victimization regardless of whether or not the incident was reported to police. The UCR2 Survey reports that 46,918 spousal violence incidents were brought to the attention of police in 2009, 81% involving female victims and 19% involving male victims. More victims were victimized by current spouses (71%) than by former spouses (29%). According to the 2009 GSS, 335,697 Canadians were victims of 942,000 spousal violence incidents in 2009; 54% of the victims were female, and 46% of the victims were male. More victims were victimized by current spouses (69%) than by ex-spouses (31%).

It is important to note that police-based surveys (such as the UCR2) and self-reported surveys (such as the GSS) normally report different proportions of female and male victims of spousal violence. Specifically, police-based survey data show a significantly higher proportion of female victims of spousal violence while GSS data depict gender parity in experiences of spousal violence. Many studies offer some reasons for this discrepancy. For instance, Allen (2011) states that this inconsistency can be explained by the fact the two types of surveys may actually capture different types of spousal violence; police-based surveys capture the more serious intimate terrorism (IT), which involves the use of severe violence to gain domination and control over a spouse, whereas self-reported surveys capture the generally more minor common couple violence (CCV), which involves poor resolution of typical conflict issues without the appearance of one party trying to completely dominate or control the other. Kevan and Archer (2003) find that perpetration rates for CCV are fairly even between genders (45% perpetrated by men), but that the large majority of IT is perpetrated by men (87% perpetrated by men). These findings may help to explain the disparity in the results of the GSS and the UCR2.


In this study, the term “spousal” refers to relationships of married, common-law, separated, or divorced partners of at least 15 years of age. Both current and former marriage and common-law relationships are captured in these definitions, and both heterosexual and same-sex relationships are considered. Following this, “spousal violence” refers only to violence perpetrated by a spouse against his/her current or former spouse in any one of those types of relationships.

The purpose of this report is to measure the economic impact of all spousal violence that occurred in 2009, regardless of when those costs were incurred or will be incurred. Therefore, all incidents of spousal violence that were reported in 2009 are taken into account, and all costs that could be reasonably attributed to these incidents are included, whether the costs were realized in 2009 or at some later date. All types of economic costs (tangible, intangible, opportunity, short-term, long-term, etc.) are represented. In addition to offences defined by the Criminal Code such as homicide, sexual assault, assault, robbery, and criminal harassment, other equivalent violent acts listed in the GSS such as being threatened, pushed, grabbed, beaten, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or forced into sexual activity, are also included. The results are disaggregated by gender.

Different data sources are used for different cost categories to reflect the prevalence of spousal violence in Canada. The UCR2 is the main data source used in the Criminal Justice System section, whereas the 2009 GSS is the main data source used in the Victim Costs and Third-Party Costs sections. Other data sources include academic literature, reports and publications from government and research organizations, and other surveys. While this study attempts to encompass all ten provinces and all three territories, the lack of available data for the territories (in the GSS) has necessitated the exclusion of the territories from certain calculations in the Civil Justice System section, Victim Costs section, and Third-Party Costs section. However, given the national coverage of the UCR2, the Criminal Justice System section covers all thirteen jurisdictions in Canada.

Cost analysis of a widespread, complex social issue involves limitations related to data availability, data reliability, and scope and method. Although efforts are made to include all reasonable impacts of spousal violence, the lack of data has rendered this impossible. Some cost items are underestimated as a precaution while others are omitted completely. Underestimation occurs where it is necessary to make an assumption because of insufficient data and where more than one assumption is possible; in these cases, the assumption resulting in a more conservative estimate is used.

Data availability affects the Civil Justice System estimate in particular, as there is a lack of useable data on important issues such as separation and divorce, civil court costs, and civil protection orders. The issue of data reliability also pertains to the major data sources used. The GSS in particular lacks complete and comprehensive coverage that may result in some demographic groups being misrepresented, even after weighting techniques are applied. Issues arise from the structure of the GSS as well, one example being the lack of sufficient information to determine whether outcomes of violence were a result of one single incident or a series of repeated incidents.

The economic impact of spousal violence is categorized into three categories:

Each category contains sub-categories and individual cost items. See Summary Table 1 for details. Cost items fall under the category of the party that bears the actual impact, not the category of the party that bears the financial burden of the cost item. For example, medical costs resulting from an injury to the victim are counted under the “victim costs” category because the victim bears the impact of the injury, even though a third party (the publicly-funded health system) bears much of the financial cost of the medical treatment. Each cost item listed in Summary Table 1 is estimated using different data sources, assumptions, and methods according to the specific nature of each impact and the available data sources. Findings from academic literature must be applied to cost items that present challenges in estimating several intangible costs, such as the value of life and the value of pain and suffering.


Summary Table 1 presents the detailed estimates of the economic impact of spousal violence in Canada. The total economic impact of spousal violence in 2009 was $7.4 billion, amounting to $220 per Canadian.

The justice system bore 7.3% ($545.2 million) of the total economic impact, where $320.1 millionwas borne by the criminal justice system and $225.1 million was borne by the civil justice system. A breakdown of the total criminal justice system costs by specific cost items reveals that policing services accounted for the majority of expenditures (45.5%), followed by corrections (31.7%), courts (9.5%), prosecutions (7.9%), and legal aid (5.5%). For civil justice system costs, 80.8% was attributed to child protection systems, 18.2% to separations and divorces, and 1.0% to civil protection orders.

The most direct economic impact is borne by primary victims. Of the total estimated costs, $6.0 billion was incurred by victims as a direct result of spousal violence for items such asmedical attention, hospitalizations, lost wages, missed school days, and stolen/damaged property. The intangible costs of pain and suffering and loss of life accounted for 91.2% of the total victim costs. Of the remaining tangible costs ($525.0 million), other personal costs, including legal costs for divorce and separation, and moving expenses, represented 51.7%, followed by costs associated with mental health issues (34.2%), productivity losses (10.2%), and health care costs (4.0%).

The impact of spousal violence ultimately extends to every member of society. Any party with a relationship to the victim, from the children to employers, may consciously be aware of how the violence affects them. Persons and entities with no direct relationship to the victim are also affected, at the very least through the allocation of public funds. The total economic impact borne by third parties and others was about $889.9 million, including funeral expenses ($1.4 million), loss of affection to family members ($37.2 million), costs to other people who were hurt or threatened in the incidents ($11.2 million), social service operating costs ($410.6 million), losses to employers ($77.9 million), the negative impact on children exposed to spousal violence ($235.2 million), and other government expenditures ($116.3 million) not already includedelsewhere in the report (for example, provincial and federal government expenditures for shelters and victim services are included already under the categories of social services and victim services).

The majority ($5.5 billion) of the economic impact of spousal violence in 2009 was in the form of intangible costs to both victims (pain and suffering and loss of life) and family members (loss of affection and enjoyment). For tangible costs with an actual financial transaction, it is useful to know which party or system actually pays for the costs. This additional breakdown is provided in Summary Figure 1, where the costs are attributed to the state, individuals and private sector. Of the $1.7 billion of tangible costs (excluding lost future income of children), it is estimated that 63.8% ($1.1 billion) was paid by the state for cost items like the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, the health care system, and the operation of social services. Approximately 29.4% ($0.5 billion) was borne by victims through cost items including lost wages, lost education, and moving expenses. The remaining 6.9% ($0.1 billion) was borne by the private sector through lost output, lost productivity due to tardiness and distraction, and associated administration costs.


Spousal violence is very costly and it affects – directly or indirectly – all Canadians. An estimated$7.4 billion was or will be lost to society because of spousal violence incidents that occurred in 2009. The most significant portion of these costs is tied to victims' pain and suffering and loss of life. A large portion was also spent on preventing and responding to spousal violence. Due to data unavailability and the limitations of existing data in many areas of research, it is reasonable to suggest that the estimate of $7.4 billion is a conservative estimate. However, the available data provides a clear indication that spousal violence has a significant impact on all of Canadian society. It is therefore crucial to continue efforts to prevent spousal violence, and where it does occur, to protect and assist victims, to hold perpetrators accountable, and to take necessary measures to help ensure that the cycle does not persist for future generations.

Summary Table 1: Estimated Costs of Spousal Violence in Canada, 2009
  Violence against females ($) Violence against males ($) Total ($)
Justice System Costs
Criminal Justice System $271,964,457 $48,102,455 $320,066,911
Police $121,599,167 $23,975,267 $145,574,434
Court $25,763,472 $4,588,151 $30,351,623
Prosecution $21,346,584 $3,801,558 $25,148,142
Legal Aid $14,847,274 $2,644,113 $17,491,387
Corrections $88,407,960 $13,093,366 $101,501,325
Civil Justice System $182,257,357 $42,860,469 $225,117,826
Civil Protection Orders $1,752,400 $519,800 $2,272,200
Divorce and Separation $33,162,930 $7,778,959 $40,941,889
Child Protection Systems $147,342,027 $34,561,710 $181,903,737
Total Justice System Costs $454,221,814 $90,962,924 $545,184,737
Victim Costs
Health Care $8,159,984 $12,765,853 $20,925,837
Physician visits $149,571 $39,640 $189,211
Emergency department visits $4,490,409 $1,459,282 $5,949,691
Acute hospitalization $3,520,004 $11,266,931 $14,786,935
Mental Health Issues $146,868,486 $32,613,453 $179,481,939
Medical services $38,013,972 $10,030,455 $48,044,427
Work loss $98,178,631 $21,434,414 $119,613,045
Suicide attempts (medical cost) $10,675,883 $1,148,584 $11,824,467
Productivity Losses $37,125,687 $16,239,509 $53,365,196
Lost wages $20,943,599 $12,728,087 $33,671,686
Lost household services $15,450,178 $3,451,422 $18,901,600
Lost education $259,081 $0 $259,081
Lost childcare services $472,829 $60,000 $532,829
Other Personal Costs $211,865,378 $59,396,907 $271,262,285
Damaged or destroyed property $62,915,576 $26,306,202 $89,221,778
Divorce and separation (legal costs) $134,914,290 $31,646,562 $166,560,852
Special phone features $1,791,358 $254,044 $2,045,402
Moving expenses $12,244,154 $1,190,099 $13,434,253
Intangible Costs $3,290,719,565 $2,169,480,155 $5,460,199,720
Pain and suffering $2,251,037,864 $1,736,911,856 $3,987,949,720
Loss of life $1,039,681,701 $432,568,299 $1,472,250,000
Total Victim Costs $3,694,739,100 $2,290,495,877 $5,985,234,977
Third-Party Costs
Funeral Expenses $1,023,432 $425,808 $1,449,240
Loss of Affection and Enjoyment to Family Members $26,267,706 $10,902,294 $37,170,000
Costs to Other Persons Harmed/Threatened $9,047,144 $2,198,976 $11,246,120
Health care $1,413,201 $109,013 $1,522,214
Productivity losses $7,633,943 $2,089,963 $9,723,906
Social Services Operating Costs $353,039,335 $57,556,464 $410,595,799
Shelters and transition homes $285,420,000 $0 $285,420,000
Crisis lines $601,854 $9,163 $611,017
Support centres $62,855,527 $57,427,718 $120,283,245
Victim services $4,161,954 $119,583 $4,281,537
Losses to Employers $52,123,343 $25,795,217 $77,918,560
Lost output $6,194,356 $1,776,450 $7,970,806
Tardiness and distraction $44,858,528 $23,682,887 $68,541,415
Administration costs $1,070,459 $335,880 $1,406,339
Negative Impact on Children Exposed to Spousal Violence $153,241,598 $82,000,292 $235,241,890
Medical costs $741,415 $396,906 $1,138,321
Missed school days $901,057 $482,343 $1,383,400
Lost future income $148,447,357 $79,433,843 $227,881,200
Delinquent acts against property $3,151,769 $1,687,200 $4,838,969
Other Government Expenditures $96,270,249 $19,989,751 $116,260,000
Other federal expenditures $7,620,897 $1,409,790 $9,030,687
Other provincial/territorial expenditures $88,649,352 $18,579,961 $107,229,313
Total Third-Party Costs $691,012,807 $198,868,802 $889,881,609
Total Costs $4,839,973,721 $2,580,327,603 $7,420,301,324

Summary Figure 1: Tangible Costs by Who Pays, 2009 ($ million)


Summary Figure 1: One chart representing the proportion of costs in 2009 that were tangible, intangible, and lost future income to children, and a second chart representing the proportion of tangible costs in 2009 that were paid by the state, individuals, and the private sector.

Figure 1 - Text equivalent

The first pie chart on the left illustrates the proportion of costs by type of cost in 2009. The three types of costs are tangible, intangible, and lost future income to children. The largest section of the pie chart is intangible costs at $5,497 million, or 74.1% of total costs. The next largest section of the pie chart is tangible costs at $1,695 million, or 22.8% of total costs. The smallest section of the pie chart is lost future income to children at $228 million, or 3.1% of total costs. A second pie chart is on the right and illustrates the proportion of tangible costs in 2009 by who actually pays. The three parties who pay are the state, individuals, and the private sector. The state pays for the majority of tangible costs at 63.8%, individuals pay for 29.4% of tangible costs, and the private sector pays for 6.9% of total costs.