It is never the victim’s fault
There are many devastating facts and effects that we are being slammed with around the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics, images and heartbreaking stories abound of parents and grandparents in homes and institutions whom none of us are able to visit.
There is, however, another silent and stealthy situation happening: the alarming and sometimes violent outcomes that are a result of domestic abuse. “Since the COVID-19 lockdown, with the incurring loss of jobs and the resultant economic downturn and upheaval, we have seen an approximate 30 per cent increase in calls to our crisis lines relative to domestic violence,” says Lorris Herenda of Yellow Brick House. “I think that the 30 per cent number is below what the actual occurrence number is, because some women do not have access to their cellphones or cannot send a text message, because of the perpetrator’s presence in the home. Last year, Yellow Brick House saw 5,300 women and children access our services, and we are seeing a steady growth in that number.”
Constable Laura Nicolle, media relations, York Regional Police, concurs that the incidents of domestic-related calls during these self-isolating times of COVID-19 are on the rise.
“Throughout Ontario’s York Region, we have seen a very significant increase in domestic-related calls, up approximately 23 per cent from March 1 to April 6. There were 987 domestic-related calls, to be exact,” says Nicolle. “This number includes everything from violence to family-related arguments to intimate partner abuse. This reflects the significant ways in how we are living our changed lives. Incidents of violence do not look like they have increased; rather, it is more verbal abuse,” she says. “It is definitely something that we are keeping our eye on, and we are committed to responding to these calls very quickly in order to maintain the safety of everyone. If you are involved in an incident that is in progress, call 911,” says Nicolle. “If you are involved in an ongoing domestic violence situation and want to access resources and start the process, call our non-emergency number at 1-866-876-5423. Either way, call us.”
With the current economic downturn, as well as the mandated self-isolation measures, families are spending significantly more time together. In fact, it’s now 24-7. Hardly anyone is going out to work, and no one is going to school or engaging in any of their normal routines. And financial worries, or even substance abuse, are only a small part of what triggers domestic abuse. “It is all about a power and control issue — one human being over another,” Herenda says.
The behaviours common to domestic violence, whether physical, psychological or both, include such targeted actions as arousing fear, forcing a partner to behave in a manner that they are not comfortable with, physical and sexual violence, intimidation, emotional abuse and depravation of the common and accepted norms of daily life.
“I think with this COVID-19 situation, women (and men) have nowhere else to turn to, so they are finally picking up the phone and calling the police,” says Rachel Radley of Radley Family Law, in Vaughan, Ont. “It is important for victims to know that there is an outlet for them in Family Court, even in these current circumstances. We do have the ability to bring an emergency motion,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone, if they find themselves in a situation of domestic abuse, to not reach out to a family law lawyer to bring that motion forward. The court is there to protect the best interests of the family and the children.”
With a reported one in four Canadian women living in an abusive home with their children, and with one woman murdered every six days in Canada by their partner, the situation is alarming, both on a personal level and a community level.
“There are also lots of situations where the abuser never touches the children, but the emotional abuse to them is almost worse than the physical abuse,” says Radley.
As a child, Lynne M. lived in a home that was mired in an endless series of fights. Her memories of her father’s abuse toward her mother resonate from the time Lynne was five years old (she is now in her 60s).
“I cannot remember any happy times when my dad was at home. I hated when he was on shift work. I hated the weekends when I saw him with a rum bottle. I hated all the normal what-should-have-been happy family celebrations. I actually do not remember any peace in our home at all while growing up,” Lynne says.
But it was a “don’t-tell-the-neighbours” dictum, so no one ever knew what was going on. The tipping point came one night when Lynne’s dad, in a fit of anger, pushed Lynne’s sister, who was in a wheelchair, in order to get to Lynne’s mom. “If I hadn’t grabbed my sister’s wheelchair, she would have tumbled down the stairs. I was 17 years old at the time. I left that house and I never went back,” Lynne says. “It took a lot of years and hard work to get to a point where I had any type of self-esteem or confidence. I always felt that I couldn’t do anything right. And while it is painful to dredge up these memories, I am sharing my experiences in the hope that it will help other women.”
Need help? Contact one of these resources:
Yellow Brick House’s 24-hour Crisis Line:
Want to help? Yellow Brick House is always in need of financial donations. Also, a “wish list” of essentials that the shelter needs on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of its residents is posted on its website.