Women facing a spike in domestic violence in Canada amid the coronavirus pandemic need more support from the government and provincial authorities, shelter homes and experts say.
A new national report published by Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) on Wednesday to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, found an increase in the frequency and severity of violence against women since March, when public health lockdown measures were imposed in different provinces.
“COVID and the associated social isolation is kind of a perfect storm for domestic violence,” Katreena Scott, incoming director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, told Global News.
The higher burden of responsibilities at home, stress of the pandemic, a breakdown of the response systems in terms of courts and the police, as well as reduced informal support has exacerbated the problem for many women, she added.
Danya O’Malley, the executive director of Prince Edward Island Family Violence Prevention Services — one of the 266 shelter homes that took part in the national survey — said they noticed a decrease in the demand for support calls to their crisis line.
“I believe the big reason for that was that people just weren’t at liberty to call,” she told Global News.
Provincial stay-at-home measures, school closures and restriction-related job losses meant women were often in close proximity to their abusers all hours of the day, leaving them little chance to reach out for help.
“Either they’re living with their abusive partner or they’re now home with their children all the time, and so there were there were fewer people reaching out for support.”
Globally, there has been an uptick in domestic violence during the pandemic. And women have been disproportionately hit – both socially and economically.
“There are women who are continuing to lose jobs or who are deciding to leave the workforce because it’s just not possible for them to do everything,” Scott said.
According to the United Nations, projections show that for every three months a lockdown continues, an additional 15 million women are expected to be affected by violence.
In Canada, the government has provided $1 billion in additional funding for shelters and organizations helping victims of domestic abuse.
But with donations and charitable events curtailed, more needs to be done, experts say.
“Canada has not prioritized the impact on women as part of the COVID-19 strategy,” said Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS) in Vancouver, adding that the funding has not been sufficient to recognize the need.
According to a government survey in July, most victim services that responded said they were impacted by their ability to access resources for clients and their shift to working remotely.
Even so, women’s support groups and shelter homes across the country have stressed the need to seek help during this difficult time, reassuring victims that their crisis lines were open.
“A lot of places have moved to having more options available for people to be able to contact them,” O’Malley said.
“More crisis lines are included and now available by text or chat on their website, and that’s a way for people to be able to reach out in a quiet and private sort of way if they’re at home.”
Meanwhile, Scott said bringing men into the conversation was also important.
She added that federal and provincial governments should invest in opportunities and an initiative that would work with men who cause harm, to try to intervene early and reduce their use of violence.
“I would love to see more investment in the work with those who are causing harm so that we could actually take this from both ends,” O’Malley said.
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