By: Brandon Bailey on
Peter MacKay, former justice minister and Conservative MP for Central Nova, not running for reelection, in an interview on June 20, 2015
Incidence of reported sexual violence and exploitation of children is on the rise. Not all forms of this crime are rising – some are in fact falling – but on the whole, the trend line is up. Statistics Canada notes the number of police-reported sexual violations against children marked “one of the few categories of violent violations to increase from the previous year.” Police-reported is a key term here, since a spike in reporting doesn’t always mean a spike in actual crime.FactsCan Score: True
In an interview on the law and order record of his government, Peter MacKay, then-justice minister, took a question on whether his policies responded to real problems. Reporter Chris Hall challenged, “there is a question of whether some of these things were needed” given that “not only is crime going down, but violent crime is going down.”
MacKay answered, “sexual violence and exploitation of children unfortunately is on the rise.”
It is not clear if MacKay meant to speak to rising crime rates in two separate spheres (sexual violence on the one hand, and exploitation of children on the other) or in one sphere (sexual violence and exploitation of children together). We’ll look at both possibilities.
First, a caveat: Sexual violence is considered highly underreported. According to Statistics Canada data from 2009, 90 per cent of sexual assaults committed by someone other than a spouse go unreported. Just over half of those who are sexually assaulted by a spouse contact police. Another Statistics Canada report notes that sexual crimes against children are further underreported due to compounding factors like reliance on an adult to bring the incident to the attention of police.
In addition to the problem of unreported crime, there’s another caveat that a boost in factors like visibility or policing resources can impact what gets reported without reflecting a rise in crime. In 2009, the Conservative government renewed an earlier national strategy to counter online exploitation of children, committing money and prompting reports, new laws, and new policing tools like the tipline cybertip.ca. All this attention and action is likely to have some impact.
Holly Johnson, a criminologist at the University of Ottawa, said police statistics should not be used as an indicator of the prevalence of crime because of the factors that influence reporting. “This is especially true for sexual violence and other offences involving children, which are deeply hidden and usually rely on others reporting on the child’s behalf,” said Johnson. “It is difficult, in the absence of other data, to determine whether the prevalence of these crimes have actually changed over time.”
Given these issues, crime rates related to sexual crimes are imperfect. We will be discussing only reported rates. It is possible that actual rates of these crimes may be on the rise while reported rates are declining, and vice-versa.
According to Statistics Canada, reported sexual violence in general is declining. In 2014, the most recent data year, there were about 20,700 police-reported sexual assaults, the majority (98 per cent) were classified as level one, the least serious level of a three-level spectrum. As has been the case over the past decade, the rate of police-reported sexual assaults continued to decrease in 2014, down three per cent from the previous year. While the rate of sexual assault decreased for all three categories between 2013 and 2014, the greatest decline (22 per cent) was in the most serious instances. The decline occurred in almost every province and territory between 2013 and 2014. Only Yukon and Saskatchewan saw a single-digit rise.
Meanwhile, sexual violence and exploitation of children, including luring, touching, and making sexually explicit material available to children, is on the rise. According to Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported sexual violations against children marked “one of the few categories of violent violations to increase from the previous year.” There were 4,500 police-reported sexual violations against children in 2014, about 300 more than in 2013 for a rate increase of six per cent.
The rise of these reported crimes is largely attributed to an increasing number of incidents of luring a child via the internet, which increased from 85 incidents in 2013 to 1,190 in 2014. Not all rates of sex-related crimes against children are moving in the same direction. While the violations of making sexually explicit material available to a child and sexual exploitation recorded slight increases in the number of incidents between 2013 and 2014, the number of incidents related to sexual interference or invitation to sexual touching declined over the same period.
The increase in sexual violence and exploitation of children between 2013 and 2014 is consistent with a multi-year trend. Statistics Canada reported a six per cent increase from 2012 to 2013, a three per cent increase from 2011 to 2012, and a three per cent increase from 2010 to 2011. While violent crime in general declined, reported sexual violence and exploitation of children has steadily risen in the last five years.
If the Minister intended to speak to two separate spheres, his statement with respect to reported sexual violence in general would be incorrect. But it’s likely he meant sexual violence and exploitation exclusively against children. His statement is therefore correct. This type of reported crime on the whole has risen.