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Coronavirus: Alberta domestic and sexual violence centres see spike in calls

Alberta domestic and sexual violence centres see spike in calls
WATCH ABOVE: There has been a huge increase in calls for help to several domestic and sexual violence organizations in Alberta. Breanna Karstens-Smith explains.

There has been a huge increase in calls for help to several domestic and sexual violence organizations in Alberta.

Organizations believe isolation orders encouraging people to stay home could be contributing.

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The Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services compared the number of calls and messages for help on Feb. 15 to the month following. It found there was a 57 per cent increase in people reaching out.

CEO Deb Tomlinson said that doesn’t necessarily mean there has been a spike in incidents but rather that the COVID-19 pandemic could be bringing up anxiety.

“This is a traumatic experience for all of us and for those of us who have experienced sexual assault trauma, the trauma from the pandemic is going to exacerbate the trauma from sexual assault.”

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READ MORE: 1/4 of Albertans affected by domestic violence in the workplace: survey

Sagesse, a domestic violence prevention society in Calgary, has seen an increase too.

“We know that domestic violence rates are going to go up during times like this,” said Carrie McManus, Sagesse director of Innovation and Programs.

“They go up when we experience any sort of natural disasters and they go up when we experience economic downturns. We’re experiencing both right now.”

McManus said there has been a large increase in the number of men reaching out for counselling.

Alberta announces $53M of new mental health funding
Alberta announces $53M of new mental health funding

Shelter space for those looking to leave those situations is now limited. Pubic health measures are putting restrictions on capacity.

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“Shelters can’t take in as many women and children as they have,” said Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters Executive Director Jan Reimer.

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“That’s why we’re so grateful to provincial and federal funding that’s enabled shelters to also put women up in hotels if need be.”

Reimer said it appears areas where there are more COVID-19 cases are seeing more calls for assistance. That includes Calgary, which has seen the bulk of confirmed cases in Alberta.

READ MORE: Calls to Vancouver domestic-violence crisis line spike 300% amid COVID-19 pandemic

While people continue to contact social services, it does not appear they are reaching out to police.

In an email to Global News, an Edmonton Police Service spokesperson wrote: “It appears as though reports to EPS of incidents involving domestic violence have been up and down with no consistent trends either way during the pandemic.”

Calgary Police Service Supt. Steve Barlow said on Wednesday that the general tone is calls have gone up in the city, but it’s only a slight increase.

“We have seen an upswing on calls for domestic violence but generally what we’re seeing is those are not violent calls but more about verbal disputes and concerns and conflict between individuals,” he said.

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Barlow said because it’s been such a short window of time since the pandemic has been keeping people inside more, there are no specific numbers to report.

He said there’s also been an uptick in mental health calls in recent weeks, adding there’s more anxiety and concern with many families being cooped up inside, and all together, during the pandemic.

Mark Neufeld discusses how policing has changed due to COVID-19
Mark Neufeld discusses how policing has changed due to COVID-19

Social services staff believe the number of calls to police could change.

“People are not necessarily sure if reaching out for help and support is something they feel comfortable and safe doing and they don’t necessarily want to leave their house,” said McManus.

READ MORE: When home isn’t safe: How coronavirus puts neighbours on front lines of abuse

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Tomlinson agreed, saying there are likely people suffering in silence right now who will not feel comfortable coming forward until isolation restrictions are lifted.

“We have a period of denial, of coping. I hypothesize that in a about another two or three months, we will see a big trend upwards in reaching out for help.”

People are encouraged to reach out to neighbours, friends and family members to make sure they are in healthy relationships at home. Anyone in a dangerous situation is told to call 911.

Domestic abuse rises during COVID-19 pandemic
Domestic abuse rises during COVID-19 pandemic

— With files from Heide Pearson, Global News

Resources:
Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services Call or text 1-866-403-8000
Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters Call 1-866-331-3933
Sagesse Call 1-866-606-7233
Family Violence Information Line Call 310-1818