Public Perception of Crime and Justice in Canada: A Review of Opinion Polls

1. Canadians' Concerns in Relation to Crime (continued)

1. Canadians' Concerns in Relation to Crime (continued)

1.10 Sexual assaults

The rate of sexual assaults reported to police across Canada continues to decline, as it has for the past five years, since reaching its peak in 1993 (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999). Sexual assault is classified at one of three levels according to the seriousness of the assault. Level 1 sexual assault entails the least physical injury to the victim; level 2 involves sexual assault with a weapon, threats to use a weapon, or causing bodily harm; and level 3 (aggravated sexual assault) entails assault resulting in wounding, maiming, disfigurement or endangering the life of a victim.

The majority of 25,493 sexual assaults recorded by the police were classified as level one, and account for 97% of all incidents in 1998 (Table 5). All three levels of sexual assault are down in 1998: aggravated sexual assault declines 19%, sexual assault with a weapon declines 13%, and level 1 sexual assaults declines 6%.

Table 5: Sexual assaults in Canada
Sexual Assaults 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998
Level 1 30,572 27,278 26,076 26,142 24,745
Level 2-Weapon 769 659 653 602 529
Level 3-Aggravated 365 297 297 269 219
Other sexual offences 3,818 3,494 3,343 3,650 3,459
Total 35,524 31,728 30,369 30,663 28,952

Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999.

1.11 Assault

Assault is the most frequently reported sort of violent crime (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999). There are three levels of assault: level 1 or common assault; level 2 or assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm; level 3 or aggravated assault; and other assaults which include assaulting a police officer, unlawfully causing bodily harm, discharge of a firearm with intent and all other assaults.

The assault rate has remained relatively stable since 1995, and decreased by less than 1% in 1998. Assault of all levels accounted for 223,260 incidents recorded by police. A small change in common assault, which accounts for 80% of all assaults, and 60% of violent incidents, contributed to the slight decrease in overall assaults for 1998. The number of Level 2 assaults (with a weapon) remained stable while the number of level 3 (aggravated assaults) declined in 1998 for the seventh straight year.

1.12 Media influence?

The 1998 Environics survey asked Canadians about media influences on perceived crime rates: Some people say that crime rates are not really increasing and that it's mainly the dramatic crime stories in the media that are upsetting people. Other people say that crime is really getting worse than it was before. Which of these two points of view is closest to your own? Canadians overwhelmingly reject the notion that public concern over crime rate is the result of media publicity surrounding high profile cases. Seventy-five percent of Canadians perceive that crime really is worse now than it was in the past.

1.13 Section summary

Overall, the Canadian public does not consider crime to be an important "top-of-mind" concern. However, when pressed, certain forms of criminal activity appear to be of greater concern than others.

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