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Study finds immigrant youth and young adults living in Ontario at lower risk of being victims of serious assault than Canadian-born counterparts


The risk of experiencing serious assault among immigrants and refugee youth and young adults was 59 per cent and 18 per cent lower, respectively, compared to Canadian-born youth and young adults, according to new research from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and ICES, a non-profit research institute that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues.

Violence against youth is a leading cause of death in high income countries. Youth disproportionately experience violence compared with other age groups. Identifying the sociodemographic characteristics of young people who may be at greatest risk of assault can help to target and implement injury prevention strategies.

The study published today in JAMA Network Open examined data on 10 to 24-year-olds who lived in Ontario from 2008 to 2016, and determined that 120,590 of them visited an emergency department, were hospitalized or died as a result of violent injuries.  A serious assault was defined as any type of injury as a result of intentional harm from another person(s) that required urgent medical assessment at a hospital. Most of the injuries included in the study were from bodily force, stabbing, or firearms. The researchers wanted to examine the distribution of young victims of violence by socio-demographic factors, including immigration status, to determine if it was a potential risk factor.

“Understanding how immigration factors affect the risk of experiencing violent injury is critical for the development and implementation of targeted injury prevention and settlement strategies,” says Dr. Natasha Saunders, lead author of the study, staff physician in the Division of Paediatric Medicine and associate scientist in the Child Health Evaluative Services program at SickKids, and adjunct scientist at ICES.

The study found that among all immigrants, rates of being a victim of serious assault were lowest for non-refugee immigrants, South Asian and East Asian immigrants and highest for Central American and African immigrants. The rates of serious assault were particularly low in youth and young adults from Canada’s largest intake countries including: Pakistan, India, China, Philippines, USA, and Sri Lanka.

“The low relative rates of serious assault among immigrants suggest Canadian immigrant settlement supports and cultural factors may be protective for the risk of being a victim of assault,” adds Saunders.

However, the researchers stress that Somali youth and young adults were the only country-specific immigrant group with higher rates of being victims of serious assault or dying from assault than Canadian-born youth and young adults. There were 712 serious assaults against Somali youth and young adults per 100,000 person-years (person-years refers to the number of people in the study multiplied by the number of study years). In contrast, there were 554 serious assaults against Canadian-born youth and young people per 100,000 person-years.

“This study highlights the stark reality facing Somali youth as victims of violence while sounding the alarm on the need for immediate and comprehensive supports to address this troubling trend,” says Liban Abokor, executive director, Youth LEAPS, a non-profit organization focused on addressing youth violence. 

The study “Association of immigrant and refugee status with risk factors for exposure to violent assault among youths and young adults in Canada,” was published in JAMA Network Open.

Author block: Natasha Ruth Saunders, Jun Guan, Alison Macpherson, Hong Lu and Astrid Guttmann.

ICES is an independent, non-profit research institute that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy. In October 2018, the institute formerly known as the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences formally adopted the initialism ICES as its official name. For the latest ICES news, follow us on Twitter: @ICESOntario


Deborah Creatura
Media Advisor, ICES
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Jessamine Luck
Senior Communications Advisor, SickKids
[email protected]
416-813-7654 ext. 201436


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