Canadian men report being victims of spousal violence with the same frequency as women, but women are far more likely to be subject to severe forms of family violence, a Statistics Canada study says.

These are among the key findings from a newly released Statistics Canada study using results from the 2014 General Social Survey, which asked respondents — among other questions — about their history of spousal violence.

In the study of Canadians who have a current or former spouse or common-law partner, approximately four per cent reported having been physically or sexually abused at the hands of their partners from 2009 to 2014. That's significantly lower than 10 years ago, when the rate was seven per cent, the report authors said.

chart spousal violence

Source: Statistics Canada

Women reported twice as often as men that they'd been subject to the most severe forms of violence, such as sexual assault, beating, choking, gun or knife-related threats. Men however, were more than three times more likely than women to have been kicked, bitten, struck or hit with an object.

But two Winnipeg organizations that offer help for victims of family violence say the study does not reflect what they are seeing. Lesley Lindberg is the executive director of Willow Place, a women and children's shelter. 

"We are not seeing men reporting they are victims of spousal violence with the same frequency as women. It is no where close to 50-50. Of the numbers calling the provincial crisis number, 6,000 calls, only 200 were forwarded to the men's resource centre," said Lindberg.

Mary-Jo Bolton is the clinical director at Klinic, a community health centre that runs a program for victims of domestic violence. 

Bolton agrees women are far more likely to experience more severe forms of violence, but "while men experience less severe forms of violence such as being bitten, spit at or pushed, they don't report with the same frequency. It is not 50-50."

Few incidents reported to police

Both Bolton and Lindberg agree there is a high number of victims who refuse to report spousal violence to police.  Lindberg says mothers may be afraid their children will be taken away. Or they may be afraid of repercussions from the abusing partner if police are contacted.

More than two-thirds (70 per cent) of respondents who were subject to spousal violence said they did not report the incident to police, the study says.

Statistics Canada's police-reported data show that 68 per cent of victims of family violence were women and girls, and in nearly half of those cases, the victimizer was a current or former spouse.

The most common form of family violence that led to a police report was physical assault (73 per cent), followed by sexual assault (eight per cent).

Significant decline in Manitoba?

The study says most provinces reported a significant 10-year decline in self-reported spousal abuse from 2004 to 2014. It goes on to say the largest declines were in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. More than a 40 percent drop in Manitoba. 

Lindberg and Bolton are surprised and are trying to make sense out of that number.

"That is simply not our experience,"says Lindberg. "We are not experiencing any kind of decline in terms of our services. We are actually seeing a slight increase in the need for our services. We provide almost 10,000 bed nights of service. A couple of years ago that was sitting around 8,000. So it has gone up and more women and children are accessing shelter services."

Over at Klinic the story is similar. 

"We work with men and women in a domestic violence program. We have a waiting list of women to get in to get therapy. We have fewer requests for service from men who behave abusively although our program for men is full all of the time. But we are not seeing a reduction in our demand for services at all," said Bolton. "Our demands are always increasing and we are finding that across all of our programs."

Highest in territories

The highest rates of police-reported family violence occurred in the territories, while Saskatchewan (486 per 100,000) and Manitoba (358 per 100,000) have the highest rates among provinces.

The lowest rates of police-reported violence were in Ontario (154 per 100,000) and Prince Edward Island (157 per 100,000).

Spousal violence is nearly twice as prevalent among aboriginal people, with nine per cent of indigenous Canadians reporting as victims, with aboriginal women more than three times more likely (10 per cent) to be abused by their partner than non-aboriginal women.

The study's author notes that 40 per cent of aboriginal people surveyed reported having experienced abuse as children.