DARE I STAY OR DARE I GO? It’s a question that COVID-19 makes even harder to answer for women locked at home with men who abuse them.
To stay at home is to risk more abuse and even death. A woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner every six days, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
To leave home is to risk exposure to the coronavirus, that may even increase by taking refuge in a crowded women’s shelter.
The Canadian government has pledged $30 million to address the immediate needs of 575 shelters and sexual assault centres offering support to women fleeing domestic violence during the pandemic.
Two troubling trends
There are two troubling trends in calls to shelters says Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, communications and development manager at Women’s Shelters Canada
“We’ve seen indications across the country that calls to domestic violence, generally, are up. But there are pockets in Canada where there has been no difference or a decrease in calls.
“Shelters are very concerned about that, as complications arise due to isolating or quarantining with [an] abusive partner, and victims are not able to privately access a phone or computer to contact a crisis centre.”
As social distancing measures persist, Geiger-Bardswich says triggers for violence against women and children will only get worse.
“What the abuser seeks is control. Now that they have to stay inside, he can limit their contact to family and friends,” she said.
Geiger-Bardswich fears that their vulnerabilities will mount as the stressors of unemployment rise in Canada and place further strain on homes.
António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, urged governments to put women’s safety at the forefront of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many women under lockdown for COVID-19 face violence where they should be safest: in their own homes,” he said.
Community organizations lead the way
Governments need to do much more to help bridge the gap in services that will leave too many women and children trapped at home with their abusers.
This should include funding to ensure that shelters, transition houses, mental health and counseling supports, and other community services are sufficiently resourced to support their communities. In particular those serving low-income women, racialized women and services provided for and by Indigenous organizations.
Community organizations have a vital role to play as well. In Ottawa the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women have joined with Crime Prevention Ottawa, Interval House of Ottawa and the Eastern Ottawa Resource Centre, to launch a new text and chat service for women at risk. “Unsafe at Home” is available seven days a week from 8:30 am to midnight.
It features an encrypted technology to keep conversations private and safe. Trained counsellors or support workers will be at the other end of the chat, helping callers create safety plans to reduce their risks, figure out coping mechanisms, find services or just talk about how they’re feeling.
The community groups are being supported in their work by the Ottawa Police who have launched a number of public safety awareness campaigns targeted particularly at women, at young people and those who are most vulnerable to domestic abuse child abuse human trafficking.
People in the Ottawa area can text (613) 704-5535 or safely connect with help online at unsafeathomeottawa.ca. Let’s hope other communities step up to protect women.
If you’re in immediate danger or you fear for your safety, call 911.
For more information and support resources courtesy of the National Union of Public and General Employees
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