While we all grapple with the feelings of frustration and despair about this present global health crisis, the necessary public measures, such as quarantines and the closing of daycares, schools and workplaces are increasing the risk of violence for many victims who remain isolated at home with their abuser (Ending Violence Canada, 2020). The most recent 2018 statistics from police-reported violence in Canada give us chilling insight into the rates of intimate partner and family violence that already occurred in homes prior to any lockdown measures. For incidents of family violence where the victims are children, intimate partners, and older adults, the majorities of cases occur in the victim’s home, and half or more of cases are committed by someone the victims lives with. Also, between 2008-2018 in cases of family-related homicide, frustration, anger, or despair are cited as common motives: in 61% of cases where victims are children and youth, 26% of cases where victims are intimate partners, and 37% of cases where victims are older adults (Statistics Canada. 2019). Clearly, the social, emotional and financial stressors that come with ongoing quarantine and social isolation measures will increase the risk for intimate partner violence (van Gelder et al., 2020). If an abuser’s income or employment is impacted, as has been the case for many as some workplaces are forced to shut down and lay off workers, the perceived loss of power and status may exacerbate their abusive behaviours (Renzetti & Larkin, 2009). The possible use of negative coping mechanisms to manage stress, such as substance abuse, may lead to an unprecedented increase in the rates of intimate partner violence (van Gelder et al., 2020). To regain a sense of control, abusers may escalate the severity of violence they inflict and increase controlling behaviors, potentially even withholding necessary sanitation supplies like soap and cleaning products (Peterman et al., 2020).
The supportive social connections that some victims may have had access to in their workplace or at school may no longer be available if these spaces are shut down (Renzetti & Larkin, 2009). For children, the closure of schools and daycares will likely increase the overall risk that they are exposed to violence at home at a time when they may already be fearful of what is happening in the world (van Gelder et al., 2020). Any attempts at communication with others conducted inside the home may be subject to intense surveillance and control at this time, making it dangerous to try and access help (Ending Violence Association of Canada, 2020). This could lead to further feelings of isolation and hopelessness as the ending to this public health crisis remains uncertain. As in any kind of public health emergency, there is going to be an exceptional strain on available health services and emergency first responders, services that are frequently a first point of contact for victims of violence (Peterman et al., 2020). These overworked individuals may not have the time or resources to detect the occurrence of violence, and so victims will be more likely to miss a vital chance for intervention. However, there may not even be this point of contact as “anecdotal evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic suggests that women may be less willing to seek help, particularly for health care, because of perceived risks of contracting viruses” (Peterman et al., 2020, pp. 14).
Ending Violence Association of Canada. (2020). Why we can’t ignore sexual and domestic violence during the COVID-19 outbreak. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from https://endingviolencecanada.org/why-we-cant-ignore-sexual-and-domestic-violence-during-the-covid-19-outbreak/
Peterman, A., Potts, A., O’Donnell, M., Thompson, K., Shah, N., Oertelt-Prigione, S. et al. (April 2020). Pandemics and violence against women and children. (Center Global Development Working Paper No. 528). Retrieved from https://www.cgdev.org/publication/pandemics-and-violence-against-women-and-children
Renzetti, C. & Larkin, V. (2009) Economic stress and domestic violence. Retrieved May 5, 2020, from VAWnet website: https://vawnet.org/material/economic-stress-and-domestic-violence
Statistics Canada. (2019). Family Violence in Canada: A statistical profile, 2018 (no. 85-002-X). Ottawa, Ontario: Shana Conroy, Marta Burczycka and Laura Savage. Retrieved May 6, 2020, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00018-eng.pdf?st=Md23VkS9
Van Gelder, N., Peterman, A., Potts, A., O'Donnell, M., Thompson, K., Shah, N., & Oertelt-Prigione, S. (2020). COVID-19: Reducing the risk of infection might increase the risk of intimate partner violence. EClinicalMedicine, 21, 100348. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100348
During these unprecedented times, women and children already experiencing violence in the home have been further impacted as a result of the lockdown measures established in response to COVID-19. Women and their children who are victimized by their intimate remain isolated at home with fewer options of support and safety. This is alarming given that prior to COVID-19 the domestic violence and child abuse rates were historically high.
Unfortunately, there is no longer a temporarily relief as their abusers are home 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The mitigating efforts such as the public-school system where children could go to temporarily escape their abusers for a mere few hours are no longer available. Instead, they are unable to leave and to experience any relief. Thereby causing damage through physical, emotional, and mental pain. Coupled with public school closures the detection of domestic violence and child abuse becomes exceedingly difficult.
While all hope may appear lost, shelters, and community resource centres throughout Canada have found ways to adapt and to continue to offer services to vulnerable women and children who need them the most. Shelters across the Prairies have quickly responded by restructuring their operations to meet health restrictions as evidenced by reducing capacity, extra sanitation measures, and limiting use of communal areas. They have also worked tirelessly to make their services available remotely, including offering counselling services or crisis support through video calls, phone and online chatrooms. Most recently, these services have expanded to include texting support options as a significant number of women have been unable to communicate directly over video or phone conferences. These new and innovative channels of support demonstrate the critical need for such resources as physical and social distancing measures continue throughout the Prairie provinces.
Learn more about the COVID-19 plans that Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have developed and implemented to protect and support those experiencing violence. Also, to learn more about the remote services offered in each Prairie province, click on the community resource listed below.