As the economic fallout from COVID-19 is laid bare, a light shines on the inequities that make women vulnerable to domestic violence, says a prominent Vancouver Island advocate.
“Violence against women was huge before COVID,” Victoria’s Cridge Transition House and Outreach Services manager Marlene Goley said. “COVID has added more layers of complexity but my fear is … when [COVID] is out of the news because we’ve got a vaccine, there’s going to be the impression that violence against women isn’t that bad now.”
The Cridge Centre for the Family offers various services, including shelter and resources for adult women. While the volume of women seeking services hasn’t necessarily spiked, Goley says the severity of violence was worse in 2020, particularly over the summer months.
“The cases where women were reaching out to us, they were experiencing a lot of serious types of violence, and there was more police involvement than we have typically seen,” she says. “COVID has added complications to a serious issue that was already there.”
Those complications include a five per cent rise in call volumes to the Vancouver Island Crisis Society, with many callers reporting anxiety and depression. The Vancouver-based Battered Women’s Support Services reports its crisis line – available 24/7 during the pandemic – saw a 300 per cent increase in calls.
Campbell River RCMP saw an increase in domestic violence files in November over the same time last year.
This year, 38 files were called in to the RCMP. Thirty of those were disputes or threats, and eight were defined as assaults. In 2019 there were 34 cases overall, including 16 assaults and 18 disputes or threats.
The RCMP have been working with the Campbell River Violence in Relationships Committee (VIR) to help contextualize the data that comes from the community. That collaboration also includes Community-Based Victim Services, who, along with the RCMP, have seen a trend of increasing severity of abuse being reported.
“I know one of the things that has come up recently is the numbers may not be growing with COVID, but the actual level of violence at time seems more severe,” said Const. Maury Tyre. “COVID may have created a situation where minor altercations or emotional abuse has morphed into physical or severe physical violence because there is an inability for couples to gain space from each other during the lockdown.”
Community-Based Victim Services has seen 17 new referrals in November in addition to 38 general inquiries. In November 2019, they had 16 referrals and 23 inquiries.
Violence against women will continue unless women’s access to housing, childcare, higher incomes and stable employment is improved, Goley says.
In B.C., young women under 25 experienced the worst job losses in the province, with a 41 per cent drop in employment, compared to 27 per cent for their male peers. That data, collected from a Statistics Canada labour force survey, found that women were more likely to lose their jobs than men, who were more likely to experience cuts in hours, but keep their jobs. Job losses were worse across the board for recent immigrants.
That can exacerbate an existing dependency, Goley says. And a lack of childcare – already an issue – was made even less accessible by the virus.
“The fundamental, systemic issues are things that keep women vulnerable and feeling the need to stay or try to make it work,” Goley says. “They feel trapped, understandably, when they don’t see that they have any options.”
In April, B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner said family violence was on the rise, listing economic pressure and uncertainty as factors.
“Social distancing means fewer ‘eyes on families’; fewer community members who can witness and report family violence; fewer places where people can go to safely reach out for help or escape violence; and increased pressures on shelters,” says Jennifer Charlesworth, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth.
“The Violence in Relationships Committee wants the community of Campbell River to know that supports are still available and that it is important to reach out and ask for help if you need it,” read an RCMP release on the subject. “If you are in immediate danger, always call 911.”
These numbers, listed below, are crisis lines that are available 24-hours a day:
• VictimLinkBC is a toll-free, confidential, and multilingual telephone service which provides information and referral assistance to all victims of crime, in addition to immediate crisis support to victims of family and sexual violence: 1-800-563-0808;
• If you think a child or youth (under 19 years of age) is being abused or neglected, call 1-800-663-9122
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