Women's advocate Jenny Wright says more supports are needed to combat the increased risk of domestic violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wright, a member of the expert advisory panel with the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, says there have already been four reported femicide cases across Canada since the pandemic gripped the nation. She says there’s a “’perfect storm” in place for an increase in domestic violence in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“Women and her children are literally trapped with their abuser. That presents a couple of really dangerous situations. One is that she cannot use some of the mechanisms that she would normally use to keep herself safe: going to the park with the kids, going to a movie, the ability to leave the house and be mobile when you become acutely aware that abuse might be on the rise,” she said.
“If you add something as extraordinary as a global pandemic and then have the kind of economic insecurities that happen — another huge factor around amplifying domestic violence — it’s a perfect storm of being trapped with the abuser, not being able to use the normal mechanisms that women do to keep themselves and their children safe, economic insecurity and certainly the fact that the abuser is there 24/7.”
The United Nations issued a statement last week regarding rising concern over an increase in domestic violence as a result of COVID-19 lockdown measures.
“It is very likely that rates of widespread domestic violence will increase, as already suggested by initial police and hotline reports. For too many women and children, home can be a place of fear and abuse,” wrote Dubravka Simonovic, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women.
“That situation worsens considerably in cases of isolation such as the lockdowns imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. All states should make significant efforts to address the COVID-19 threat, but they should not leave behind women and children victims of domestic violence.”
Premier Dwight Ball says funding for community organizations, including status of women councils across the province, is ensured and further federal money to support women organizations is expected soon.
“We do not tolerate violence in any form at any particular point in time. As people are isolating more, families are staying inside more, as you get pressures on family life, reduced incomes and so on, any time you add stress to a family, it means that unfortunately in many cases women are finding themselves the subject of violence,” said Ball.
“We’re aware of the higher incidents potentially at this point related to the crisis. We want to support those groups as best we can.”
Wright says other jurisdictions are already stepping up to offer more support for those living with violence.
Earlier this week, a number of organizations, including the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, launched Unsafe at Home Ottawa, a 24-hour service line for people to text or call for support.
Wright says such a line — particularly with texting capacity — would be invaluable to women living with violence.
“You can text quietly and have that not be something that the abuser would overhear,” she said.
“We are well over a month into this pandemic and there has been zero messaging out to women and children living in domestic violence through our officials. That is unacceptable considering the risk to women and what they’re dealing with right now.”