By Lethbridge Herald on April 14, 2020.
Harbour House Women’s Emergency Shelter is in the lull before the storm when it comes to instances of domestic violence during the current COVID-19 crisis, says Lethbridge YWCA CEO Shannon Hansen, and she and her staff are incredibly fearful for the safety of women in the community who are in abusive relationships.
“Typically what historically is true in similar crisis situations is domestic violence reports go down even though actual occurrences are later found to be higher,” she says. “Right now, we are under the number of people we usually are in terms of those we are supporting; however, we are seeing a significant increase in the severity of domestic violence with the last few people we have taken in.”
Hansen says the severity of abuse goes up when society experiences a traumatic upheaval of any nature, as does the death rate of women in abusive relationships. What makes the COVID-19 crisis arguably worse than other crisis situations Hansen has data on is the secondary social isolation people are experiencing.
“In a crisis situation people’s fears and anxieties are increased, and to top that off during this current crisis we have people losing their jobs; so their income is questionable,” she explains. “There is fear about the safety of family. People are isolated from community and normal social interactions. All this leads to anxiety and all these feelings people aren’t familiar with. In addition, with the self-isolation we have got going on, we have people who may have been in a violent relationship where it may be escalating further than it had in the past. That is what we are seeing with our recent intakes.
“Also, typically, from what we know about past crises, we are also seeing people who have never experienced domestic violence before experiencing it now due to the nature of the environment we are all in.”
Hansen urges anyone who needs support because they are experiencing abuse to call in.
“If people haven’t experienced domestic violence before, history and data from past crisis situations shows it is going to get worse,” she stresses. “They need to call for support. If people have experienced domestic violence before, it’s likely going to be more severe, and we’re here to support. Coming to us at Harbour House does not mean there is police involved or anything else, we support individuals coming to us for relief from domestic violence in many ways.”
Hansen says it is too dangerous to wait right now if you are experiencing domestic violence.
“If you are thinking about calling for support, call,” she says. “Don’t wait. Just because we are going through a crisis doesn’t mean what is happening to victims doesn’t matter.”
The Harbour House 24-hour crisis line is 403-320-1881 or toll free at 1-866-296-0447. For those in immediate danger call 911.
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