Isolation an unsafe option for women facing domestic abuse

As more and more Canadians heed the warnings of health officials to hunker down at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s growing concern for women trapped in abusive relationships.

Women experiencing domestic abuse are at even greater risk when they’re isolated from the community, including counselling services, according to Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada.

“If the abusive partner is also now at home 24/7, it really limits her possibilities of reaching out,” Martin said.

To help those women during the pandemic, Martin said women’s shelters across the country need food, cleaning supplies and protective gloves and masks.

Feds pledge cash

The federal government is pledging up to $50-million to help agencies that help women fleeing abuse cope during the pandemic.

“We are waiting to hear when and [exactly] how much will flow,” Keri Lewis, executive director of Interval House in Ottawa, wrote in an email to CBC. “I am relieved to know that there is some help on the way. Our costs are mounting and I suspect that social distancing measures will be in place beyond the end of March.”

Like many women’s shelters, Interval House has been over-extended for years, and the recent COVID-19 outbreak is adding further stress.

A recent CBC investigation found an ongoing shortage of available shelter beds is leading to thousands of women and children being turned away every month.

Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef said her team spent two days reaching out to centres across the country to find out what they need.

“It makes sense to ask Canadians to self-isolate to stay home in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but not every home is safe,” Monsef said in a phone interview with CBC.

“At this point we are working with partners across the country to figure out what the best and most efficient way to flow the funds to the front line organizations is, and additional details on that are coming in the days ahead.”

While $50 million seems like a lot of money, it will be spread out among hundreds of centres across the country, and will likely only be temporary, said Ally Crockford, executive director of Ottawa’s Rape Crisis Centre.

“We’ve been saying for three years now that our new normal is crisis mode,” Crockford said.

“That’s a heartbreaking feeling to realize that it takes an emergency to get these kind of resources, and that they’re probably going to be only temporary.”


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