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To any woman in Newfoundland and Labrador living through the COVID-19 pandemic in a violent home situation: there are resources available to you, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, free.
That was the message Lisa Dempster, minister responsible for the status of women, stressed Thursday afternoon and it’s the message a number of community groups have been working to spread.
Dempster, who is acting in a caretaker role until a new provincial government is sworn in after the election, spoke to reporters during a virtual media conference, acknowledging the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected everyone equally: women have carried the largest brunt, given the social and economic pressures they face, she said. Add in the strain of a lockdown and the risk of violence to women increases.
“Domestic violence, intimate-partner violence, violence of any kind has no place in society and we cannot tolerate it,” Dempster said. “To women who are struggling with violence in their lives today, I want you to know that help is available.”
Domestic violence isn’t limited to physical assaults; it includes sexual, emotional and financial abuse as well. In Newfoundland and Labrador, close to 80 per cent of domestic violence victims are women.
“I know we continue be at Alert Level 5 for the greater metro region and we are in Alert Level 4 for outside the region. I also know the chief medical officer of health has imposed regulations about limiting our household bubble and staying home whenever possible in order to protect us all from COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean that you are forced to stay in a situation that isn’t safe,” Dempster said.
She pointed to the provincial domestic violence helpline — 1-888-709-7090 — as a source for women, encouraging them to call or text the line to be connected to local resources.
Looking for help?
Domestic Violence Help Line: 1-888-709-7090
The helpline was established last June, prompted by a letter to government representatives from the St. John’s Status of Women Council, the Provincial Action Network on the Status of Women and Memorial University’s Gender and Politics Lab. It’s a central number that sees calls automatically directed to the caller’s nearest provincially funded shelter.
The helpline isn’t limited to those looking to leave their current situation, something community groups have been quick to point out. There are many reasons why a woman might not be ready to leave an abusive situation, and those working directly with survivors of violence say they understand that and recognize the strength involved.
“The research shows that the most dangerous time for a woman is when she has just left an abusive circumstance,” said Laura Winters, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council. “Our organization works from the perspective that women are the experts on their experiences and they have been doing their best keeping themselves, and oftentimes their kids, safe in really unsafe circumstances.”
Women’s centres around the province, like transition houses, are equipped to offer support, Winters said. That includes free, anonymous phone counselling, whether the issues are related to violence or COVID-19 stress or something else.
Legal advice and help connecting with resources for food are other examples of the help available, said Michelle Greene, executive director of Iris Kirby House in St. John’s.
“We offer support, whatever support means to you,” she said.
When asked why she was highlighting the helpline now instead of at the start of the lockdown three weeks ago, Dempster said she had been advised that calls to the line increased last week.
At Iris Kirby House specifically, the number of calls has seemed stable, though they have no way of tracking which ones are coming in through the hotline. This wave of the pandemic seems to be more emotionally disruptive to women than the last one, Greene said.
“This time around it’s certainly having a much more negative impact,” she said, explaining women have reported feeling even more isolated. Women and children admitted to the shelter must go through a two-week self-isolation period in one of three apartments set up specifically for that purpose, and Iris Kirby staff are doing their best to make the time more comfortable, equipping them with cellphones and TVs and delivering their meals or providing groceries if the women prefer to cook for themselves.
The disproportionate effect of the pandemic on women is showing up now more than ever, Winters said.
“I think there’s just a different level of stress in this lockdown with the uncertainty and we just want women to know that we're here for them."
Isolation and stress brought on by the pandemic can be especially dangerous for victims of intimate partner violence. ...Posted by Iris Kirby House on Friday, December 4, 2020