The COVID-19 pandemic and its focus on staying home has created the conditions for a spike in domestic abuse locally, says the executive director of the Women’s Interval Home of Sarnia-Lambton.
Angie Marks is urging local residents to watch for red flags and victims who may need help.
If you suspect a neighbour, friend or family member was experiencing abuse before the pandemic, don’t forget about them now, she said.
“It is so much easier for an abuser to isolate a victim now,” she said.
Job losses, financial stress and isolation have contributed to an increase in domestic violence in Ontario, Attorney General Doug Downey confirmed last week.
The pandemic has closed places victims would normally access like churches and Ontario Works, and they can no longer take refuge with self-isolating friends or family.
What’s more, the daily safety zone of school is closed to children from unhappy or dangerous homes.
“We know the severity of abuse is going to increase. We are concerned that women, children —men too — are at grave risk because their safety net is gone,” Marks said.
Until mid-March, the 24-bed Women’s Interval Home in Sarnia had been operating at capacity for two years. That all changed on March 13.
“That’s when things got real,” said Marks.
Women at Home suddenly became concerned about communal living and many moved out.
Two found apartments, two went to live with friends. “Sadly, one reconciled with her partner,” said Marks.
Then the exodus reversed. Five women sought shelter in one weekend, more than usual.
Marks and her staff are prepared for a surge in coming weeks.
To facilitate physical distancing, residents no longer use common space or share bathrooms at the interval home. Meals are delivered to each bedroom.
“We are making it safer for both our residents and staff,” said Marks. “New screening processes take place at the Interval Homes’ door and we maintain a safe distance between staff and clients.”
An undisclosed community partner has provided space offsite so the Home can space out clients while operating the same number of beds.
Marks said the Interval Home and the local Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre are remaining open during the pandemic, though staff hours will be reduced.
That’s because group counselling is suspended and other staff-driven group activities can’t take place.
Phone and online counselling is available but face-to-face services are suspended. The Women’s Interval Home has a 24-hour crisis line at 519-336-5200, ext. 0.
Meanwhile, Ontario has announced an emergency payment of $2.7 million to support services for domestic violence victims, and Ottawa has indicated additional support is coming.