The Nature and Extent of Sexual Violence Against Women in Canada

This fact sheet provides an overview of key statistics included in the Sexual Violence Against Women in Canada issue brief produced for the Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Forum for the Status of Women.Footnote 1 The issue brief highlights that women represent the vast majority of those who are sexually assaulted and that gender is a fundamental determinant of sexual violence. It also provides information on national and provincial data that is available on sexual violence as well as data on particular subpopulations of women who are at increased risk. Information on relevant programs, policy changes, and effective interventions are discussed. This information is intended to support policy, program development and decision making for government, non-government organizations, service providers, academics and others working to address sexual violence.

Key Findings:

  • One in three women in Canada will experience sexual assault at some point over the course of their lives. Sexual assault is one of the top five most common violent offences committed against women in Canada.
  • Sexual violence remains one of the most underreported and non-reported forms of violence committed against women. Some of the reasons for this stem from the lack of a consistent definition of what constitutes sexual violence, the perception that the incident was not serious enough to report, and women’s fear of being shamed, blamed and not believed.
  • Inherent biases exist within the justice system where discriminatory practices continue to act as deterrents to reporting. The implication for women is that criminal justice processing of sexual assault continues to minimize women's experiences, exonerate violent men, and distort public understanding of this crime. These beliefs can reinforce "victim blaming," "rape myths," and "slut shaming."

Sexual Violence and Vulnerable Populations of Women:

Interactions between different aspects of a person's identity and social location (age, race, ethnicity, ability, income, employment status, etc.) can leave some people more vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence than others. Sexual violence against women takes place across a range of income and education levels, suggesting that socio-economic factors alone have a limited role in explaining vulnerability. Some sub-populations of women experience more sexual violence than others, including:

Aboriginal Women:

  • Sexual assaults account for one-third of the violent crimes committed against Aboriginal women.
  • The pattern of sexual violence seen among Aboriginal women is rooted in a history of colonization, racism and sexism, including the legacy of abuse in the residential school system.
  • Aboriginal women are more likely to experience multiple forms of violence, including sexual violence over time, as well as the most severe forms of violence that result in physical injury and homicide.

Women with Disabilities:

  • Women with disabilities are at a higher risk for violence in both spousal and non-spousal contexts. Some estimates suggest that women with disabilities experience physical and sexual violence at 3 to 4 times the rate of women who do not report disabilities.

Young Women and Adolescents:

  • Girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 are the most likely victims of sexual violence.
  • Approximately one-quarter of female students have experienced sexual assault or had someone attempt to sexually assault them, and 90% of these instances involved an offender known to the woman.

Consequences and Impacts:

  • Sexual violence results in a range of physical and mental health consequences for women with long term effects on health. Physical health concerns may include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unwanted pregnancy, gynecological problems, a range of chronic pain disorders, and sexual health problems. For Aboriginal women in particular, sexual violence has been linked with rising rates of HIV/AIDS among this population. Women who experience sexual violence are also more likely to experience disruption in their daily lives and productivity, and are more likely to fear for their lives.
  • The direct costs of sexual assault are estimated to be more than $546 million a year.Footnote 2


Footnote 1

Benoit, Cecilia, et al. 2014. Sexual Violence Against Women in Canada. Federal-Provincial-Territorial (FPT) Forum for the Status of Women.

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Footnote 2

McInturff, Kate, July 2013. The Gap in the Gender Gap, Violence Against Women in Canada, p. 7, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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