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When home isn't safe: Domestic violence spikes during COVID-19 pandemic
VANCOUVER -- As the world stays home to stop the spread of COVID-19, inside there are concerns of another pandemic, dubbed "the Shadow Pandemic of violence against women and children," by UN Women.
This week is Prevention of Violence Against Women Week, but new figures show the physical-distancing measures put in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus also lead to situations in which abusers are more likely to exert power and control.
“In these times of great stress in society, violence will go up, especially behind closed doors where there just aren’t as many eyes as there used to be,” said B.C. Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender in an interview with CTV News Vancouver.
“In B.C., we see that evidenced through the increased demand for services, for anti-violence services. One service provider reported a 300 per cent increase in calls over this time,” she added.
That service provider is Vancouver’s Battered Women’s Services. Executive director Angela Marie MacDougall says the calls were coming from victims, but also “from neighbours, from friends and family, from coworkers who were concerned about someone they knew that was living in an abusive relationship.”
When the pandemic started, the organization launched an online awareness campaign with the simple message, “Are you co-quarantined with your abusive partner?”
The message and accompanying video was shared widely. At the time of publication, it has notched almost half a million views. MacDougall says the message had international reach and women from other countries have reached out for help.
“(Women) are leaving their abusive relationships to find ways to get back to Canada,” she said, adding that they have been able to provide more resources to women because staff members were working remotely.
Last week, the provincial government issued a statement promising support and a safe space to go for those experiencing violence during the pandemic.
The province said it is working with BC Housing and other organizations to find support for women and children fleeing violence, adding that support may include hotels.
It appears to have come to fruition. Sophia Hladik with Vancouver Rape Relief Shelter says they have been placing women in motels, because physical distancing requirements mean shelters and transition houses are filling up faster.
“They’re having to not room women together in the same room so that they can have more distance between each other,” Hladik said. “BC Housing is taking the step to encourage transition houses to be able to do that so that every woman has somewhere to go.”
But, she says, that also comes with challenges when providing support.
“Part of what transitioning is about is being in a community of women and not further isolated in a room by yourself,” she said. “We’re spending a lot of time on the phone with them, checking in with them frequently, trying to provide them with the same amount of emotional support.”
All advocates are encouraging victims and anyone concerned about someone to contact service providers.
VictimLinkBC is available 24-7 in multiple languages. It can be reached toll-free by calling 800-563-0808 or emailing VictimLinkBC@bc211.ca. The service is confidential and available across B.C. and Yukon. Children experiencing violence can also call the Helpline for Children at 310-1234. No area code is required. That line is also available 24-7, and children are not required to give their names.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Ian Holliday