Bill C-46: Records Applications Post-Mills,
A Caselaw Review

3. Statistics on Sexual Assault (cont'd)

3. Statistics on Sexual Assault (cont'd)

3.4 Characteristics of Crimes of Sexual Assault and of its Victims

3.4.1 The majority of sexual assault crimes are not reported to police

Sexual assault is among the crimes which are least likely to be reported to the police.[75] The 1999 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization found 78% of sexual assaults were not reported to the police.[76] In addition, incidents of sexual assault are not always reported immediately after the offence has taken place. In some cases, sexual offences are reported long after the incident has occurred.[77]

Victims do not report incidents of sexual assault to the police for many reasons.[78]

Explanations provided by victims include: the incident was dealt with another way (61%), it was not deemed to be important enough (50%), it was considered to be a personal matter (50%), or they did not want the police involved (47%). One third (33%) of victims who did not report felt that the police could not do anything about it, and approximately one fifth (18%) believed that the police would not help them. Another fifth (19%) of the victims of sexual assault did not report the incident to police because they feared revenge by the offender and 14% sought to avoid publicity regarding the incident.[79]

3.4.2 Privacy and confidentiality issues for victims

Privacy and confidentiality issues are critical for victims of sexual assault and they are related to reasons for victims failing to report these crimes to the police. According to the CCJS Sexual Offences in Canada report,

Reasons for not reporting to police that stand out for sexual assault victims, as compared to the other violent crimes measured by the GSS, relate to the sensitive nature of these events: higher proportions avoided calling the police because they considered it a personal matter that did not concern the police, or because they feared publicity.[80]

Victims of sexual offences are also less likely to seek assistance. The CCJS Sexual Offences in Canada report explains that, Just as sexual assault victims were less likely than victims of other violent crimes to report to the police, they were less likely to seek help from formal or informal supports. Smaller percentages [measured by the GSS], as compared to robbery or assault victims, said they spoke about the incident with family, friends or neighbours, or co-workers.[81]

3.4.3 High risk groups

Certain groups in the population can be identified as being more vulnerable to becoming victims of sexual assault. Gender is the most important factor.[82] Females are far more likely to be victims of sexual offences than any other type of violent offence. For example, in 2002, women represented approximately half of all victims of violent offences; however, women accounted for 85% of victims of sexual offences reported to a sample of police services.[83],[84] Sexual aggression against women is widespread in Canadian society and women may experience multiple incidents of this crime in their lifetimes. Statistics Canada's 1993 Violence Against Women Survey (which did not include incidents prior to 16 years of age) found that over half of all women who had reported incidents of sexual assault, reported more than one case of victimization. The Women's Safety Project survey, of the same year, found that 69% of women who reported having been sexually assaulted in childhood also reported having been sexually assaulted after the age of 16.[85]

Moreover, women are more likely to be victims of the more serious levels of sexual assault. According to the CCJS report on Sex Offenders, "Relative to males, females were more apt to be victims of sexual assault levels 2 and 3 and less apt to be victims of "other" sexual assaults."[86] Adult victims were also more likely to be victims of levels 2 and 3 sexual offences, compared to level 1 assaults which were most often perpetrated against children. Although consistently fewer victims were males, they make up a relatively high percentage of cases of young children who are victims of sexual offences.

Disadvantaged groups of females in Canadian society are particularly vulnerable to being victimized by sexual assault. Women with disabilities and those who are institutionalized, Aboriginal women, particularly in the North and Territories, single, separated or divorced women, and women who are unemployed or have low-incomes are at heightened risk of being sexually assaulted.

For example, Sobsey found that:

"Children and adults with disabilities are particularly at risk for becoming victims of sexual abuse or assault."[87]

The research of Stimpson and Best shows that:

"…40% of women with disabilities have been assaulted, sexually assaulted, or abused in some way." These researchers estimate that 83% of women with disabilities will be assaulted, sexually assaulted or abused in their lifetimes.[88]

Research based on the VAWS found that:

"…39% of ever-married women with a disability or a disabling health problem reported physical or sexual assault by a partner over the course of their married lives, compared to 29% of the female population."[89]

In addition, people with disabilities are at greater risk of suffering the most serious kinds of sexual aggression.[90] In 1993, the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women found that 18% of women in Canada have a disability. Sorenson summarizes findings in the literature:

In study after study, rates of violent crime are found to be 4 to 10 or more times higher [for persons with disabilities] than the rate against the general population. The rate of sexual assault is particularly chilling. One study found that 83% of women and 32% of men with developmental disabilities in their sample had been sexually assaulted. Other studies have found from 86% to 91% of women in their samples had been sexually assaulted.[91], [92]

A review of the research literature by Roberts shows that not only are women with disabilities who are institutionalized at higher risk of being victimized by sexual assault, more than half of their victimizers are those in the health care system. He cites a 1990 study of women in psychiatric institutions, which revealed that:

… 37% of those interviewed had been sexually assaulted in adulthood;[93] in another 1986 study on women with disabilities, 63% indicated that while they were in an institution, they had been assaulted by someone in the health care system. According to the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women, the 'complete powerlessness in institutional settings [also] leaves [elderly women] highly vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse'.[94]

Age also affects vulnerability to sexual offences. Young females and children are at the highest risk of becoming victims of sexual assault. These are also the groups which make up the largest proportion of residents of shelters in Canada. Although children and youth under the age of 18 made up only one-fifth of the population (21%) in 2002, for example, they were the victims of 61% of sexual offences reported to the police.[95] The highest number of police-reported sexual offences were against girls between the ages of 11 to 19, peaking at age 13 (781 per 100,000 population). Similarly, the 1999 GSS interviewed adults (15 years and older) and found that the highest rates of sexual assault were among specific categories of young women:

"15 to 24 years of age, those who were single, separated or divorced,[96] as well as students, those who participated in at least 30 evening activities outside the home per month and those who had a household income of less than $15,000 or who lived in urban areas."[97]

3.4.4 The accused is generally known to the victim

In the vast majority of crimes of sexual assault, the accused is known to the victim (in 80% of sexual offences in 2002). Two fifths of all victims (41%) were assaulted by an acquaintance, 10% by a friend, 28% by a family member, and the remaining 20% were victimized by a stranger. More than half of the sexual assaults against adults (52%) and youth between 12 and 17 years of age (58%) were committed by friends and acquaintances.[98] Victims' reticence to report incidents to police or to seek assistance may be caused by their relationship with the accused.

Victim surveys also show that young teenage girls had the highest rates of victimization in cases of family-related and dating-related sexual assaults. Rates of sexual assault for male victims were highest for boys between 3 to 14 years of age and usually committed against females of their own age group.[99] The vast majority of children residing in shelters are within these ages of highest risk of victimization by sexual assault, particularly by perpetrators who are a relative, family member, or someone known to the victim.

3.4.5 Gender differentials in spousal and ex-spousal violence and in their physical and emotional consequences

Spousal violence is a critical and increasingly recognized problem in Canadian society. According to the Family Violence in Canada report, "One-quarter of all violent crimes reported to a sample of police services in 2001 involved cases of family violence… two-thirds of these cases of violence were committed by a spouse or an ex-spouse, and 85% of the victims were female."[100] There have been increases in the number of both female and male victims of spousal violence between 1995 and 2001. However, the rates of spousal violence against females have been consistently higher (344 incidents for every 100,000 women aged 15 and older in the population in 2001, up from 302 in 1995) than those against males (62 incidents for every 100,000 men in the population in 2001, up from only 37 six years earlier).[101]

Similar rates of spousal violence are reported by both sexes.[102] However, much higher rates of women were sexually assaulted by their spouses (20%), as compared to men (3%).

Spousal violence often includes multiple types of offences committed by a perpetrator against a victim. Spousal violence includes sexual and physical assault, threats, criminal harassment, murder, attempted murder, and other violent offences. Police statistics under-record sexual assaults, as in cases of multiple offences only the most serious offence is recorded by police.[103]

3.5 Multiple factors cause women to be more likely to have therapeutic records

Roberts' research reveals high rates of sexual assault against women, with psychological and physical consequences of these crimes, which cause women to seek therapeutic treatment and thus generate therapeutic records. The author explains that,

Research has clearly demonstrated the adverse health effects resulting from criminal victimization, particularly sexual assault. In a representative sample of 2,004 adult women who were interviewed about their experience with victimisation and mental health problems, Kilpatrick et al (1985: 866) found that the rates for 'nervous breakdown', suicide ideation and attempts, were significantly higher for crime victims than for non-victims with the highest incidences for women who had experienced rape, attempted rape, sexual molestation. Nearly one-fifth of rape victims had attempted suicide – 8.7 times higher than non-victims (2.2%) (p. 873). It is also critical to understand that the sequelae of sexual assaults last longer than for other crimes. The longer the post-victimization trauma exits, the more likely an individual is to turn to professional medical or psychiatric help, and thereby generate a therapeutic record.[104]

Roberts further found that therapeutic records are more common among women than men, and that there are multiple, co-occurring risk factors which cause specific groups of women to be at greater risk of having therapeutic records.

The author explains:

Gender differences emerge with respect to criminal victimization, self-reported medical and psychiatric symptoms and the acquisition of a therapeutic record. The gender difference is stronger with respect to the first issue. Nevertheless, a higher percentage of women [as compared to men] report medical and psychological symptoms, and women are disproportionately likely to be clients of medical, therapeutic and counselling services. These populations included: women with disabilities, women in lower-income groups, younger women and aboriginal women. Finally, it is important to point out that many of these risk factors co-occur. This means that some women are multiply disadvantaged, being disabled and poor, for example.[105]

Roberts points out that by the time women

"reach middle age, significant proportions of the female population have …acquired a therapeutic record of some kind. Since most of these records involve personal information, it is reasonable to assume that there will be a privacy interest for the subject of the record."[106]

In summary, violence against women including sexual assault crimes are most often perpetrated by someone who is known to the victim. Women are subjected more often to spousal and ex-spousal violence, to a multiplicity of more severe, more frequent and more long-term forms of both physical and psychological spousal violence than men. As a result women generally suffer more severe medical and psychological effects. Women are more likely to seek medical, psychological services and to take refuge from their ex-spouses in shelters, and thus women are more vulnerable to having therapeutic records than men.