Domestic violence is up during the pandemic. Here’s how to get help or support those who need it

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Violence against women and girls has been called the “shadow pandemic” by the United Nations. Emerging data shows that incidence of domestic violence during this period has increased significantly. The UN lists the following factors as causes of the rise in cases:

  • Security, health and money worries
  • Cramped living conditions
  • Isolation with abusers
  • Movement restrictions
  • Deserted public spaces

Experts tell us that abuse is all about control. With stress and uncertainty high during the pandemic, abusers are likely to vent their frustrations on their partners (or other members of the family) especially when they are cooped up at home.

Are you or anyone you know experiencing it?

Domestic or partner violence includes physical, emotional or psychological, sexual, or financial abuse. This includes any words or actions that frighten a family member or intimate partner, or destroys their self-respect. It could be committed against a person by their spouse, common-law spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or intimate partner, past or present (Winnipeg Police).

It is important to remember that in Canada, domestic or partner violence is not a private matter. Any form of abuse or violence is wrong, some if it against the law. Newcomers should know that there is immediate help for them if they experience any kind of abuse.

Safety tips for those in a potentially abusive relationship or are experiencing abuse:

  1. Know the common signs of abuse. Your partner is abusive when:
    • They keep track of everything you do. They monitor where you are and who you’re with at all times. They constantly act jealous and accuse you of cheating.
    • They like controlling your everyday decisions like what to wear, what to eat and how you use your money.
    • They can demean you and put you down for your appearance, intelligence and interests even in public.
    • They can have a quick temper. They can threaten to harm you, themselves, or other members of the household, including children and pets.
    • They can hurt you physically (hitting, pushing, slapping, shoving, etc.) or force sexual activity without your consent.
    • They can manipulate you into keeping quiet or submissive. They can threaten to report you to immigration or the police if you resist or ask for help. (Please note that Conditional Permanent Residence was removed by the Government of Canada in 2017. It required sponsored partners of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to live with their partners to keep their PR status. This is not required anymore in case this situation applies to you).
  2. Identify patterns in your partner’s use and level of violence. Know their pattern of behavior to predict potential escalation to violence and avoid it.
  3. Talk to a trusted friend, family member or neighbour. Confide in someone and ask for support. This person should be able to keep your information confidential and help you plan for safety. If you do not have someone you can confide in, consider calling the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelter’s confidential provincial toll-free crisis line at 1-877-977-0007.
  4. Have a plan. If you notice that your partner’s abusive tendencies are getting worse, make an escape strategy. Think of plausible reasons for leaving home, like going to a pharmacy or a grocery store. Ask for help once you’re outside of the house.
  5. Call for help. Always keep your mobile phone charged and store numbers on speed dial (for example your friend, family member or police) so that you can immediately call for help.

What can you do to support someone who is experiencing abuse?

  1. Constantly check on them. Always keep your communication lines open and think of creative ways to avoid the abuser’s suspicion. For example, establish code words or phrases that your friend can use if they need immediate help. If you both have kids, you can suggest regular joint calls with yourself and the kids.
  2. Be supportive. Reassure them that they are not alone. Listen to them and avoid judgement. Let them know that there are services that will support them and professionals who are trained to help people in their situation.
  3. Help them plan. They may need to make plans if there is another extended lockdown or if their situation becomes truly dire. Suggest strategies they can do to keep themselves safe and places they can go to for shelter. Offer practical help and resources.
  4. Respect their privacy and right to consent. Keep their information confidential unless they provide consent for you to speak or ask help on their behalf. Remember that their lives are on the line and you may not know the full picture. It’s not for you to decide what is best for them.

Important numbers and resources:

  • Domestic Abuse Crisis Line: 1-877-977-0007 (toll-free, 24/7)
  • A & O: Support Services for Older Adults Intake: 1-888-333-3121
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
  • Klinic Crisis Line: 1-888-322-3019
  • Klinic Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1-888-292-7565
  • Reporting child abuse: 1-866-345-9241
  • Seniors Abuse Support Line: 1-888-896-7183
  • Support for Crime Victims and Witnesses: 1-866-484-2846
  • North End Women’s Centre: Available by phone, online, groups of three or less inside.
  • West Central Women’s Resource Centre: Appointment only for laundry, showers, crisis support. Urgent visits only. Bag lunches and dinners at door.
  • North Point Douglas Women’s Centre: Food/coffee/hygiene pickup, visits of 10 minutes or less, five people inside at a time.
  • Sage House (Mount Carmel Clinic): Drop-in counselling cancelled. Snacks and hygiene available for pickup at door.
  • Men’s Resource Centre

Sources: Manitoba boosts supports for domestic violence victims, CBC News; Take action: 10 ways you can help end violence against women, even during a pandemic, UN Women; The shadow pandemic: Violence against women during COVID-19, UN Women; The signs of relationship abuse and how to help, Un Women; and Domestic violence research to shed light on heightened risks facing survivors amid pandemic, Bryce Hoye, CBC Manitoba.

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Community Resources

Here is Manitoba Family Services’ directory of resources and supports for victims of domestic violence.

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