Fact sheet: Intimate partner violence

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The issue

Intimate partner violence (IPV), also known as spousal or domestic violence,Footnote 1 is a prevalent form of gender-based violence (GBV). It refers to multiple forms of harm caused by a current or former intimate partner or spouse.

IPV can happen in many forms of relationships, including:

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies IPV as a major global public health concern, as it affects millions of people and can result in immediate and long-lasting health, social and economic consequences.Footnote 2 IPV impacts people of all genders, ages, socioeconomic, racial, educational, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. However, women account for the vast majority of people who experience this form of gender-based violence and it is most often perpetrated by men.Footnote 3 There are serious impacts on children who are exposed to IPV, and exposure to IPV is considered a form of child maltreatment.

IPV can occur in both public and private spaces, as well as online, and can include:

The law

General application offences contained in the Criminal Code of Canada prohibit many forms of IPV, including:

Six provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan) and three territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon) have enacted specific legislation on family violence. Footnote 7

In 1983, the Criminal Code was amended to replace outdated sexual offence laws with the current sexual assault offences. Among other things, these amendments ensured that a person could be charged with sexually assaulting their spouse. In 1993, the offence of criminal harassment (also referred to as stalking) was enacted. Most recently, in June 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to IPV, including by defining ‘intimate partner’ for all Criminal Code purposes and clarifying that the term includes a current or former spouse, common-law partner and dating partner. The changes also reversed the onus of proof for bail for an accused charged with a violent offence involving an intimate partner, in cases where the accused had a prior conviction for violence against an intimate partner. This means that instead of the Crown having to prove why the accused should be held in custody while awaiting trial, the accused now has to prove to the court why they should be released.

By 1986, every Canadian jurisdiction had implemented mandatory charging and prosecutorial policies with respect to IPV. The mandatory charging policies require that police apply the same charging policy in all types of criminal offending, namely that charges be laid in IPV cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed. Similarly, the mandatory prosecution policies generally direct that IPV cases should be prosecuted where there is a reasonable expectation or prospect of conviction (based on the evidence) and where it is in the public interest to prosecute. This approach ensures that the victim/survivor is not responsible for whether or not charges are laid or whether or not there will be a trial. Some jurisdictions have implemented specialized domestic violence courts.Footnote 8

Services that are available for victims/survivors of IPV include women’s shelters, transition houses, victim services, counselling programs and sexual assault centres.

The facts

The Government of Canada is working to increase its knowledge about this form of violence. Police-reported data show that women are overrepresented among those who experience IPV, including among victims of intimate partner homicides. As is the case with many forms of violence, those who experience IPV often do not to report it to the police for a variety of reasons, including: fear of stigma/shame,Footnote 9 the belief that abuse is a private matter,Footnote 10 fear of court system intervention, or lack of trust in the criminal justice system.Footnote 11

Here are some key facts:

Police-reported dataFootnote 12 (2019):

Self-reported dataFootnote 14 (2018):

Young women (aged 15 to 24 years)

Indigenous women

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and people of a sexual orientation that is not heterosexual (LGB+) women

Women living with disabilities

Visible minority women

Intimate partner homicide


You may access the following list of additional support services for people affected by GBV.

This fact sheet was developed in collaboration with other federal government departments.

Publication date: fall 2020. Updated statistics in fall 2021.

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