Statistics: Sexual Violence in Canada

Sexual violence happens in Canada. Learn more about sexual violence prevalence and who sexual violence affects.

About Sexual Violence in Canada

Sexual violence happens in Canada. Statistics Canada releases its findings of Incident-based crime statistics in Canada every year.

Some recent findings about police-reported sexual violence in Canada:

Sexual assault in Canada rose from 27,909 police-reported incidences in 2018 and 30,335 in 2019 to 33,521 in 2021

Overall, there were 34,242 police-reported sexual assaults (level 1, 2 and 3) in 2021

This rate was 18% higher than it was in 2020—and the highest rate since 1996 (Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2022)

It is important to know that the Incident-based crime statistics draws on data about police reported crimes.

Because so many sexual violence survivors choose not to report what happened (or have limited success with the criminal justice system), this means that the prevalence of sexual violence in Canada is in fact far higher.

Who experiences sexual violence in Canada?

Some people are more vulnerable to being targeted for acts of sexual violence.

Recent findings from self-reports on sexual violence in Canada:

In Canada, the rate of sexual assault victimization was more than five times higher among women (50 per 1,000) than men (9 per 1,000) (Statistics Canada, 2021).

Rates of sexual assault were higher among 15 to 24 year olds (103 per 1,000) and 25 to 34 year olds (50 per 1,000) than any other age group

Bisexual people are sexually assaulted at a high rate. People who are bisexual experienced a rate of 541 sexual assault incidents per 1,000 population––nearly 29 times higher than the rate among heterosexual Canadians (19 per 1,000)

Women with a disability are sexually assaulted at a high rate. There were 94 incidents of sexual assault for every 1,000 women with a disability in 2019, a rate over four times higher than that among women without a disability (22), and well above the rates among men with (15) or without (7) a disability (Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021)

Other research tells us more about how sexual violence affects different people differently. For example:

Young people from marginalized sexual and racial groups are more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual harassment (Wolfe and Chiodo, CAMH, 2008)

In its Ontario-wide research, TransPulse found that trans people are the targets of specifically directed violence; 20% had been physically or sexually assaulted for being trans, and another 34% had been verbally threatened or harassed (TransPulse, 2015)

70% of trans youth in Canada have experienced sexual harassment. More than one-third of trans youth ages 14-18 share that they were physically threatened or injured in the past year

Black women face more systemic barriers when reporting sexual violence, and engaging with the criminal justice system as victims of crime (Cossins, 2003; Pietsch, N. 2015)

First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people in Canada are at increased risk of violence: for example, a Canadian national inquiry found that Indigenous women and girls are 16 times more likely to be slain or to disappear than white women (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019)

The Cedar Project in Canada identified a statistical connection between colonial violence, and sexual violence impacting Canadian Indigenous women today: of the 259 women participating in the study, 28 per cent reported that they were sexually assaulted during a seven-year period of the study. 41 per cent of that group were assaulted more than once.

There are other realities that affect sexual victimization in Canada too. For example:

Childhood abuse and neglect is a significant risk factor for future victimization, including experiencing sexual violence

Based on the GSS on Victimization, Indigenous people experienced higher rates of physical and sexual abuse during childhood. The physical and sexual abuse of Indigenous children is a well-documented aspect of the historical and ongoing trauma and violence brought on by colonization, residential schools and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the child welfare system (Statistics Canada, 2021)

Very few (14%) of those who were violently victimized in 2019 reached out to a service for victims of crime (Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics, 2021)

As we can see, while anyone can experience sexual violence, social and systemic issues have a role to play in explaining the prevalence of sexual violence affecting some populations.

Are most sexual assaults reported to the police?

While some people do report what happened to them, overall, sexual assault is underreported to police in Canada.

Sexual assault had the lowest rate of reporting to police amongst all violent crimes, with only 6% of incidents in 2019 having come to the attention of police. This is consistent with results from other self-reported surveys conducted both before and after the #MeToo movement.

Reasons people cite for not reporting sexual assault:

56% felt that the crime was too minor

53% They felt the incident was not important enough

49% did not want the hassle of dealing with police

48%  felt the incident was private or personal (Statistics Canada, 2021)

They fear not being taken seriously or believed: unfortunately, one in five victims of sexual assault experience victim-blaming, or being made to feel responsible for their own victimization (Statistics Canada, 2019)

They do not trust the police or the criminal justice system:
the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls notes that “families and survivors talked frankly about their reasons for not reporting violence to the police or not reaching out to the criminal justice system – even in cases where there had been severe acts of violence perpetrated against them” (National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019)

Some people who experience sexual assault are uncertain about if what happened to them was in fact sexual assault — especially if they know the person who harmed them.

For these reasons and others, many survivors of sexual violence wait a long time before they begin to talk about their experiences. Most people who contact a sexual assault centre are reaching out to talk about something that happened to them many days, months or years ago.