Canadian National Survey Essay

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Health and Welfare Canada sponsors the Canadian National Survey (CNS). This survey was the first nationally representative survey of Canadian university and college undergraduates about male-to-female abuse in heterosexual dating relationships. Using a broad definition and a variety of measures, principal investigators Walter DeKeseredy and Katharine Kelly designed the CNS to estimate the incidence, prevalence, sources, and consequences of intentional psychological, physical, and sexual abuse against college and university women.


The CNS, fielded in the fall of 1992, was designed to measure the nature and extent of dating abuse among college or university heterosexual dating couples in Canada. The CNS measured physical and psychological abuse based on modified questions from the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS). Further, it collected data on sexual assault using measures from a modified Sexual Experiences Survey (SES). Demographic information from respondents was also obtained.

Undergraduates were selected using a stratified, multistage sample design. The sampling frame included colleges enrolling more than 100 students, and universities enrolling 500 or more students. Of the 48 original institutions selected, 2 chose not to participate, and 17 professors also refused to participate. Once replacements for these refusals were included, individual student participation was high—99% of individuals in the 95 undergraduate classrooms participated in this voluntary, anonymous survey. The final sample consisted of 1,835 females and 1,307 males.


CNS data collected over time reveal that, in general, males report committing less abuse than females report experiencing. The data show that while in high school, 50% of females surveyed were emotionally hurt by their partners, 9% were physically hurt, 8% were threatened with physical force to engage in sexual activity, and 15% were physically forced to engage in sexual acts. While at a college or university, 28% of females were physically abused, and 79% were psychologically abused in the preceding year. DeKeseredy and Martin Schwartz concluded that a significant number of Canadian females are victims of sexual abuse by their dating partners while at a college or university.

CNS findings also suggest that a considerable amount of female-to-male violence is motivated by self-defense. CNS data analysis identifies individuals at risk for dating abuse, including males who adhere to familial patriarchy, males who associate with friends who legitimate violence against women, males who are exposed to pornography, and those involved in a greater number of serious relationships. Other at-risk individuals include men and women who drink or use drugs frequently with their dating partners.

Advantages And Disadvantages

The CNS offers advantages to previous woman abuse surveys in Canada. It was the first nationally representative sample of college and university students in Canada. Further, it utilizes multiple measures to quantify intentional physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. And the CNS enables both prevalence and incidence estimates of dating abuse.

Obtaining a large enough sample of victims to perform reliable subgroup comparisons is a problem with CNS data, as it is with the data from many victim surveys. For example, reliable comparisons among racial/ethnic groups are not possible. A second limitation of the survey data is that the CNS uses the modified versions of the CTS and the SES, so many limitations attributed to these measures also apply to the CNS. In addition, CNS findings are not generalizable to the general population of dating females, as college and university students differ from the general population in several ways (e.g., income, race/ethnicity).


  1. DeKeseredy, W. S., & Schwartz, M. D. (1998). Woman abuse on campus: Results from the Canadian National Survey. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  2. Koss, M. P., Gidycz, C. A., & Wisniewski, N. (1987). The scope of rape: Incidence and prevalence of sexual aggression and victimization in a national sample of higher education students. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 162–170.
  3. Straus, M., & Gelles, R. (1986). Societal change and change in family violence from 1975 to 1985 as revealed by two national surveys. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48, 465–479.

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