Violence Perpetrated by Ex-spouses in Canada

4. Conclusion

The purpose of this report was to provide an update to the 2001 Juristat article, Spousal Violence after Marital Separation, using data from the 2009 GSS. Analyses of the data from the 2009 GSS on Victimization show that approximately 17% of Canadians who were in contact with an ex-spouse in the five years preceding the GSS experienced violence by their ex-spouse either while living together or after separation, which is 8% lower than in 1999. It is a higher percentage than those who experience violence with a current partner or spouse in 2009 (4%). Consistent with results from the 1999 and 2004 GSS, women were significantly more likely to report violence by an ex-spouse either while living together or after separation in comparison to men.

Many of the respondents also reported that they experienced violence after separating from their ex-spouse. Again, a higher percentage of women than men reported experiencing violence after separation. While both women and men who experienced violence after separation reported severe and frequent violence, women reported experiencing the most severe types of violence.

The respondents also described many emotional consequences of ex-spousal violence, including anger, frustration, fear and depression. These are all similar to the emotional outcomes associated with spousal violence more generally (Black 2011). Many of these same emotional consequences were more prevalent among those who experienced violence after separation in comparison to those who stated that the violence ended at separation. Women who experienced violence after separation were more likely to report severe emotional consequences as a result of the violence in comparison to men.

The data also highlight the fact that as is the case with spousal violence in general, the police rarely became aware of the ex-spousal violence. The most common reasons for not reporting to the police included it was a personal matter and it was dealt with in another way; these reasons were more commonly provided by men than women. In addition, many of those who indicated that the police became aware of the violence indicated that they were satisfied with the police response.

Witnessing spousal violence as a child can have damaging cognitive, emotional and behavioural effects on children (Stiles 2002). Unfortunately, the data indicate that children were the witnesses of violence in many instances. Almost two-thirds of those who experienced violence by an ex-spouse stated that they thought that their child or children had seen or heard the violence. This percentage was even higher (72%) when the violence occurred after marital separation. In addition, more than 25% of respondents who had a child with an ex-spouse reported that they experienced ex-spousal violence, which was much higher than cases where the respondent did not have a child with an ex-spouse (13%).

The data also highlighted some important gender differences in regard to victims of homicide. First, females were at a much higher risk of being killed by an ex-spouse compared to males, accounting for 90% of victims of ex-spousal homicide between 2000 and 2011. Also, between 2007 and 2011, female victims were at a heightened risk of homicide by spouses from whom they were legally separated, while male victims were at the greatest risk of homicide by a common-law partner. In addition, data indicate that between 2000 and 2011, male accused who were ex-spouses were much more likely to commit suicide following a homicide in comparison to females.

The data also revealed that the majority of homicides perpetrated by ex-spouses between 2000 and 2011 involved a single victim, although a slightly higher percentage of homicides perpetrated by an ex-spouse involved multiple victims in comparison to homicides perpetrated by current spouses. Moreover, the majority of victims killed by an ex-spouse were killed in a residential location, most often the victim's residence; a weapon was used in almost every homicide committed by an ex-spouse; and a history of spousal violence was common in cases of homicides committed by ex-spouses.

The findings of this report help to shed some light on the prevalence and experiences of ex-spousal violence in Canada. The overall picture of ex-spousal violence is complex and multi-faceted, with many different factors to consider. What is shown is that many individuals experience violence by their ex-spouse and oftentimes, this violence can be severe. It is hoped that the information presented in this report will be useful for stakeholders who work in this complex area as they create policies and programs addressing ex-spousal violence in Canada.

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