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Advocates says women can be cut off from supports
Michelle Greene, executive director of the Iris Kirby House, says research shows an increase in domestic violence under economic stress, so she’s bracing for an increased need for shelter.
Between being stuck in homes with their partners and the economic stress that comes with layoffs and the general downturn of the economy, the circumstances are in place for an increase in domestic violence in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Police in Britain recently issued a warning about an increased number of domestic violence calls seen since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped that country.
Greene says her concern is being able to house women fleeing violence who may have contracted COVID-19.
The Body Shop donated much-needed hygiene products to Iris Kirby House during this challenging time. Thanks so much for thinking of us!Posted by Iris Kirby House on Saturday, March 21, 2020
“My concern is if-and-when we see a surge, our staffing compliment, there’s not a whole lot of buffer in it. If we see people who are infected and we’re not able to staff accordingly, my concern is, I think we’ll always be able to do the phone line, but my concern comes from a capacity to isolate the women and children who may be COVID-19 positive,” she said.
Greene says the shelter has partnerships in place with hotels in the city who could house women in need, when the need arises.
For women who go to the shelter for protection, Greene says there are three units available currently for a woman and a child. Upon entering, all women would have to undergo a 14-day isolation, but Greene says with a kitchen and bathroom, the units are more than able to safely house women during the isolation period.
Laura Winters, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, says the council is seeing an increase in calls from women in abusive situations already, with the potential for months of pandemic isolation left to come.
“What we’re concerned about is that the circumstances of isolation are kind of cutting women’s supports off, creating circumstances where the built-in skills they already have are harder to use. Women have called us feeling they’re under their abuser's thumb 24/7 where they’re both working from home,” said Winters.
“For many women in abusive circumstances, work might be a bit of a reprieve. They’re not able to access that. Really, the opportunity for surveillance and other forms of power and control that we know abusers use as tactics of abuse, their ability to do those things is increased in these circumstances.”
RNC Const. James Cadigan says so far there has not been an increase in calls for the RNC’s intimate partner violence unit.
“We haven’t seen any change in calls for service, or increase, at this time. However, we are keeping in mind that there are certain stresses placed on households at this time,” said Cadigan.
“Our messaging since last week has been we may be closed for non-emergencies, but if in fact a non-emergency event may be linked to intimate-partner violence, we want to be informed of that.”
Winters says a lack of calls to police doesn’t mean women aren’t suffering in their own homes.
“We know only a very, very small portion of domestic violence gets reported to the police to begin with. Some of the circumstances where those things get reported, for instance, from coworkers in the workplace or from friends who are seeing what’s going on, in this situation you would expect the only kind of reporting is women self-reporting,” she said.
“With abusers being physically present in the home much more, women’s capacity to do that may be decreased. There can be factors that impact these numbers, other than just the general cases.”
Winters says anyone experiencing domestic abuse should do their best, when it is safe, to contact status of women councils across the province for support.
“Abusers use social isolation as a form of control, separating women from contacts and people that could help her,” said Winters.
“The physical distancing that’s happening means a lot of women are cut off from what supports they would have available normally. We want women to know we’re here.”
The St. John’s Status of Women Council and Women’s Centre
Tel: (709) 753-0220
Bay St. George Status of Women Council
Tel: (709) 643-4444
Corner Brook Status of Women Council
Tel: (709) 639-8522
Gander Status of Women Council
Tel: (709) 256-4395
Gateway Status of Women Council
Status of Women Central
Tel: (709) 489-8919
NorPen Status of Women Council
Direct email to RNC's Intimate Partner Violence Unit: IPV@rnc.gov.nl.ca