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

3. Crimes of Domestic Violence

3. Crimes of Domestic Violence

3.1 Child abuse

When asked what they think of when they hear the term "child abuse", 27% of respondents in a Gallup poll mention beating, 20% mention sexual abuse, 7% mention slapping or spanking and 6% mention verbal abuse or other acts of cruelty. Physical violence and violence account for only 2% of specific behaviour associated with the term child abuse.

While responding to crimes of violence against children is important to Canadians, the 1998 Gallup Poll indicates that a relatively small percentage of Canadians are personally aware of incidents of child abuse. Nineteen percent of respondents were personally aware of serious incident of abuse of children by their parents. This percentage is similar to the 1997 rate of 18%. Of the 19% of those individuals aware of incidences of child abuse, the majority of respondents (28%) reported "doing nothing" or "no action taken". This is a significant change from 1997 when 43% reported "doing nothing" or "no action taken". In 1998, 23% of those aware contacted children's aid or another similar group compared with 17% the previous year.

3.2 Facts about child abuse

According to the 1999 Statistical Profile of Family Violence in Canada, a substantial proportion of harms that children incur is the result of assaults by family members. Such assaults also account for a number of children's deaths. The exact incidence of assault against children and youth is very difficult to document, as there is no comprehensive source of data to provide information on the nature and extent of such assaults within Canada. Police reports provide a partial image of violence of this nature, as do hospital records of violence-related injury and child welfare data. Assaults of this nature are often underreported as they generally involve victims who are dependent on their abusers, and the assaults take place within the privacy of the home. Such violence can take the form of physical or sexual assaults.

According to police statistics from 1997, in one quarter of all reported assaults against children, family members were suspected as perpetrators (Figure 7). Parents are the primary perpetrators of physical assaults (65%) and sexual assaults (44%), followed by siblings, 19% and 30% respectively, and extended family members (related by blood, marriage, common-law and adoption) accounted for 9% of physical and 25% of sexual assaults.

Figure 7: Perpetrators of assaults against

Figure 7: Perpetrators of assaults against
[Description of Figure 7]

Source: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1999.

3.3 Section summary

When Canadians think of child abuse, they tend to think primarily of physical violence such as beating and sexual abuse. In reality, violence accounts for only 2% of specific behaviour associated with the term child abuse. However, assaults by family members on children accounts for a substantial amount of harm or death to children. At the same time, a relatively small percentage of Canadians report being personally aware of incidences of child abuse. Of those that are aware, the majority reports that they did not take any action. One possible explanation for this is that the perpetrators are most frequently parents and siblings, who would be unlikely to incriminate themselves.

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