November is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and victims of domestic violence are facing an unprecedented situation with COVID-19 lockdowns.
According to a national survey done by Ending Violence Association of Canada and Ontario-based Anova, abusers have changed tactics and increased their control over their victims during COVID-19. There has been an increase in domestic violence under quarantine, a fact proven by a jarring 82 per cent of the domestic violence survivors surveyed saying that violence has increased and occurred more frequently.
Isolation during the pandemic has reportedly prompted many victims to seek immediate shelter from their abusers. However, there is a concern whether these survivors have access to help. In Saskatchewan, even before the pandemic individuals fleeing domestic violence were turned away around 600 times in one month, and many shelters do not include children in this count.
In Saskatchewan, people fleeing domestic violence need urgent accommodations but when shelters and agencies are at capacity, they often cannot guarantee immediate help beyond a place in the waitlist. Another problem are “shelter deserts,” communities that are more than 100 km. away from the nearest short-stay domestic violence shelter. These communities not only have to face a long distance to shelters, but the cold of Canadian winters also imposes travel challenges.
Although they cannot address every issue, shelters are trying to mitigate the impacts of being at full capacity by referring individuals to other shelters or helping them create safety plans.
Saskatchewan currently funds 16 family violence outreach programs costing $1.8 million in total. However, according to the Provincial Association of Transition Houses Saskatchewan, women’s shelters have not received more than a 1.5 per cent increase in funding over the last decade.
Although many shelters are concerned that a return to normal will not be possible given the increased services victims will require due to COVID-19, there are services available to those who need it, and changes are being made to increase support.
In March, Tina Beaudry-Mellor, the minister responsible for the status of women office, said that Saskatchewan is looking into increasing resources in and around Estevan. The Estevan police chief Paul Ladouceur also described looking into a Police and Crisis Team initiative to partner mental health professionals with police officers in some situations.
For those looking to connect to support and resources for domestic violence protection, there are many options available.
Envision Counselling and Support Centre Inc. offers programs, resources and outreach services in a wide range of areas. They have offices in Estevan, Weyburn, Carlyle and Oxbow.
The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute provides valuable resources in many areas relating to domestic violence. It also offers services in other areas such as child abuse, community violence, intimate partner violence, and more.
The Government of Saskatchewan has a page with information on victims services programs to address crisis intervention, information, support and other specialized services. In addition to police-based, community-based and domestic violence victims services programs, there are volunteer opportunities to receive training to provide most direct services to victims.
On a national level, the Canadian Association of Social Workers web page offers free training courses. The Government of Canada’s website also contains comprehensive resources for family violence, domestic violence in the workplace, support for women and children fleeing violence during COVID-19 and many more.
Although the pandemic is posing a number of unprecedented challenges for those fleeing domestic violence, shelters are determined to help.