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Empty Manitoba family shelters expected to fill up as coronavirus restrictions loosen

Family violence hasn't stopped due to the pandemic, says a local expert — it's just made it harder for victims to seek help. Getty Images

Shelters for Manitobans fleeing family violence are emptier than normal — and one expert says it’s due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Deena Brock with the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters (MAWS) told 680 CJOB shelters are seeing fewer people going through their doors — and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The concern, she said, is that people experiencing domestic violence may be weighing the risks of staying versus leaving and potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19, or may be unable to leave.

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“I think people are still trying to figure out how to get out,” she said.

“If you’re stuck in a house or an apartment under constant surveillance by an abuser, it’s very hard to sneak out.”

READ MORE: Domestic violence victims struggle to navigate justice system, Winnipeg family lawyer says

Brock said with the province’s ongoing loosening of restrictions, it’s more likely victims will be able to get outside for long enough to place a phone call for help.

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MAWS put out a call to the public a month ago, letting them know that Manitoba’s shelters remain open despite the pandemic, but numbers are still low, said Brock.

“We’re still seeing slightly less than normal, especially in the rural shelters. We have some rural shelters that, as of Friday, were empty, which is very, very unusual. I’ve never experienced that.”

Brock said anyone experiencing family violence should call the crisis line — 1-877-977-0007 — even if they’re not set on leaving right away.

The struggle of victims of family violence during the pandemic isn’t specific to Manitoba or even Canada.

“Times of social isolation increase the risk of domestic abuse,” said the European Institute for Gender Equality, which also noted that even once the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak subsides, life doesn’t just snap back to normal.
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“It can also be harder for women to leave their abuser once the crisis is over, due to the financial insecurity that might follow.”

Manitoba health officials announced three new cases of COVID-19 Sunday.

That brings the total number of lab-confirmed and presumptive positive cases in the province to 287.
The province is in the midst of a phased re-opening of its economy, which began May 4.
Premier Brian Pallister emphasized at the announcement of the re-opening “this is not a return to normal” and said if numbers spike, the situation will be re-evaluated.
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Click to play video 'Manitoba’s family emergency shelters remain open during coronavirus' Manitoba’s family emergency shelters remain open during coronavirus
Manitoba’s family emergency shelters remain open during coronavirus – Apr 7, 2020