As we remain in isolation within the walls of our homes, taking for granted the comfort and safety our homes offer, we are reminded that not everyone enjoys such safety. Many people, men and women, are negatively impacted by the lockdown, but here I would like to focus on women suffering from violence at home.
Many women are now confined in the most dangerous of places for them: their own homes. They are struggling to manage their work, childcare, home schooling, house chores, and on top of that, an abusive partner. As Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver, says:
“This is the worst-case scenario for women living with violence. The lockdown adds a whole layer of isolation on top of isolation”.
It is a terrible situation to face.
“The day he lost his job was the worst day of my life and my children’s life. After he beat me, he turned to the children, and it was then that I sought help. It was a woman’s shelter that saved me and my kids, and gave me the opportunity to stand back on my feet and begin a new life.”
These are the words of a domestic violence survivor, but that was before the lockdown. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like for women and children trapped with abusive partners with no means of escape and nowhere to go.
Every day, shelters turn away 379 women and 215 children because of space constraints, according to a 2019 report from Women’s Shelters Canada. Every six days in Canada a woman is killed by her partner, according to The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. Statistics Canada adds that in 2018, the number of attempted murders of women by intimate partners was the equivalent of one every five days, and more than 155,000 cases of violence against women in households were reported to police. But these are numbers before the lockdown.
Studies say that in times of crisis, job insecurity or economic vulnerability, violence against women rises. As we face COVID 19, stress of the quarantine and fear for one’s life and health are added, and many more are vulnerable.
“Since the repeated requests for people to isolate were made, we have already seen intake requests at shelters rise,”
says Marlene Ham, executive director of The Ontario Association of Interval and Transitional Houses.
The federal government has earmarked $50 million for women’s shelters and sexual assault centres struggling with the spread of COVID-19 and their support work. I believe this is a great move for women seeking help and fleeing domestic violence in these tough times.
Measures by the government are not enough, though. There is a huge responsibility on the community as well. With the quarantine, many women are trapped with no free access to communication or escape. Many are unable to use the phone without their abusive partner present, and many are kept indoors unable to step outside of their homes. Their community is their only hope.
I ask all of you to check on your friends, your family members, and your neighbours by phone or email. Ask those you know are vulnerable or having troubles at home, or even those neighbours who may be experiencing issues, whether they are well and safe, and whether they need help. This little act can save lives.