Victims of Family Violence
By Cindy Chen
The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 has upended everything we know about daily life. Schools and daycare centres have shuttered; restaurants, and nightclubs have been forced to close their doors; people are forced to work from home, while others unfortunately are laid off indefinitely. Even going to places like the Bluffs, which have long been an inconsequential venue for an afternoon walk, are now highly discouraged. These closures are certainly necessary to stop a devastating spread of this virus, but there is a stark and devastating outcome of stay-at-home orders that many people are fortunate enough to not think about: a rise in family violence or domestic violence.
Social Distancing Increases Isolation
For many victims of domestic violence, work and school are essential refuges. Work can be one place where many survivors feel a sense of safety away from their abusive partners, able to call shelters, the police, or lawyers. Schools can also be havens for children and youth who are experiencing or witnessing violence in their own home. Consequently, staying home from work or school strips survivors of this social connection and physical safety as they’re left behind closed doors with an abusive partner.
Isolation is a fundamental dynamic of abuse, made only more acute by restrictions on interacting with extended family or friends. Perpetrators of domestic violence consistently attempt to isolate victims, cutting off their support systems and relationships with coworkers, friends or family; social distancing has only strengthened and eased their ability to control their victims.
In light of mass layoffs, it might be even less likely for victims to escape their abusive relationship or home, as they don’t have the financial means to leave. Leaving requires finding both temporary and permanent accommodations, and affording transportation from this new location to the workplace or school. If children are involved, it also means supporting a household on a single income instead of a dual income, and being able to afford childcare. In this age of unprecedented numbers of layoffs, victims may have lost their job, making it even less feasible to leave the abuser. Alternatively, if the abuser has lost their job due to COVID-19, their frustration over their situation and their loss of power may spur them to act violently. The bleakness of the situation can make them feel despondent and further isolated, as there is no safe place within the confines of the home to express this frustration.
How can we as neighbours help?
There are three easy things you can do as a member of the community to help:
1. Donate essential items to a women’s shelter.
Although the federal government’s recently committed $50 million for women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help manage or prevent an outbreak in their facilities is a good step forward, shelters may require community support over the coming weeks through donations of essential items to assist in their operations.
Check out sheltersafe.ca to find the shelter nearest you and how you can support them. For us in the Bluffs, the closest shelter is Interval House.
2. Reach out to loved ones and agree on safety code words.
Check up on your friends, relatives, neighbours, and co-workers to see how they’re doing, and look out for warning signs that they may be quietly suffering from abuse. If you suspect something, agree on safety code words with this individual. For instance, both of you could ask each other “what type of flowers will you grow in your front yard when this is over?” and if someone ever answers “maybe blue tulips”, it signals they are in danger.
3. Know your resources
We as neighbours, friends, or family members, can only help so much before we need to refer someone to professional help. If someone has disclosed abuse or if you feel compelled to share support resources with them, these are three Ontario hotlines they can call. They will help with planning a safe escape from an abusive home, and are 100% confidential and anonymous.
1. Assaulted Women’s Helpline