During the COVID-19 pandemic , people are learning how to practice social distancing, self-isolation, and in some cases total quarantine in order to flatten the curve and protect more people from getting sick, dying, and ultimately overcrowding health care facilities. However, social distancing and staying at home can present serious challenge for people living with abusive partners, family members, or others. For many, this pandemic could means a rise in intimate partner violence or domestic abuse — whether it means verbal, emotional abuse, or physical violence.
Statistics surrounding intimate partner violence from the Canadian Women's Foundation say that approximately every six days, a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. Furthermore, 67% of Canadians know a woman who has experienced physical or sexual abuse while Indigenous women are killed six times the rate of non-Indigenous women.
Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, tells Refinery29 that the impact of in-home violence may not be immediately obvious, though calls are expected to trickle in as stay-at-home ordinances increase. Generally, according to Ray-Jones, those confined with an abuser in close quarters for long periods of time, such as the holidays, actually call into hotlines less, because they aren't able to find a safe space to reach out from. Ray-Jones explained that in these situations, survivors often have no “out” when things are bad. “This limits the victim’s ability to seek help and resources safely."
“Abuse is about power and control, and an abuser can use any tool to exert just that, including a national health concern such as COVID-19,” Ray-Jones continued. “We don't necessarily expect to see new cases of domestic violence, however, our experience informs us that in homes where domestic violence is occurring and there is a negative financial impact or added stress in the home, we typically see a higher frequency of incidents of abuse and severity of abuse.”
Knowing that these risks exist and that people experiencing abuse might be dealing with much worse circumstances given the need to self-isolate at home, organizations like the Hotline are providing as many resources as they can to those in need, as always. According to Ray-Jones, the Hotline advocates are working with survivors individually to provide additional safety planning and resources for the unprecedented circumstances right now. Ultimately, the hotline’s primary goal is to continue to support survivors as best they can.
"For some survivors, having an abuser go to work, or being able to go to work themselves, was such a crucial moment of harm reduction, a bit of reprieve from violence," explained Alicia Sanchez Gill, an Afrolatinx survivor. "For survivors who are experiencing multiple forms of oppression, including folks already living with disabilities, abusers may use tactics like withholding medication as a tool of control,"
So what can survivors experiencing abuse at home do right now? There are a number of organizations making themselves available in different ways at this time, including the Department of Justice Canada's Victim Services Directory (VSD) where you can find services from coast to coast if you're experiencing domestic violence.
Andrea Glik, LMSW, a Somatic Trauma Therapist, tells Refinery29 that many people might be experiencing abuse from a partner who makes them feel trapped and manipulated, and are unaware that this type of behaviour even constitutes abuse. She stressed the importance of knowing what patterns of abuse look like.
Glik said that many people living with abusive partners or people might not have the language to understand that they’re being abused. "Many folks are living with abusive partners and don't have that language because we have only conceptualized of DV being in 1. straight relationships 2. physical abuse (when abuse can be emotional or financial or sexual as well) and 3. because even if they are in a straight relationship that is physically abusive, they may be gaslit by their partner to believe that they deserve the treatment they are receiving, or it is their fault."
According to Glik, those feeling trapped with someone exerting power or control over them will have access to resources and messaging to reach out for help in the coming weeks. Organizations like Shelter Safe point survivors of intimate violence to databases where they can find financial resources, shelters to go to, legal protections, domestic violence and child custody resources, transitional housing resources, legal expertise, and emotional tools.
“If your partner intimidates you, isolates you, or manipulates you, know that it is never okay to be treated in these ways,” said Gilk. She also notes that patterns of abuse in straight relationships might be different from what abuse looks like in LGBTQ+ relationships, or domestic violence situations that involve family.
“You can always leave. You are never as trapped as they [an abuser] say you are. Someone will open their home to you. And DV shelters are still open and operating.” Glik explained
Sanchez Gill also reminds us that the best thing we can do right now is be kind and vigilant for each other. "We really have to implement community care--taking care of and checking on our neighbors, keeping a list of resources handy like local and national rape crisis and DV hotlines, and our safety planning is going to look really different right now."
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please visit the Ending Violence Association of Canada to find a local hotline. In the event of an emergency, call 911.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please visit Shelter Space.
If you are an LGBTQ+ person in need of crisis support, call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 at any time or text 45645 between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. ET. Residents of Quebec, please call 1-866-277-3553.