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London, Ont., program sees increase in calls, visits relating to domestic abuse during pandemic

The St. Joseph’s Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program is urging anyone who believes they are in danger to contact them for support. . Getty Images

A London, Ont., support program for women facing domestic abuse is highlighting the issue as a major threat during the coronavirus pandemic and during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Dr. Susan McNair with the St. Joseph’s Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program (SADVTP) says right now is an especially “dangerous” time for women who are abused.

“The stress of confinement, the financial uncertainties and a desire for control during a pandemic all heightened the (risk) of abuse,” said McNair.

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But not all abuse is physical.

“We see psychological abuse, we see women having to be much more isolated which is consistent with COVID itself, and we certainly see financial abuse.”

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SADTVP says common types of abuse could include isolation from friends, family and employment; constant surveillance; strict, detailed rules for behaviour; and restrictions on access to such basic necessities as food, clothing and sanitary facilities.

An infographic outlining domestic violence statistics during the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Joseph’s Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the number of people reaching out to SADVTP has increased.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, [we] saw a very sharp increase in the volume of telephone calls,” said Cassandra Fisher, the coordinator of SADVTP. “[It] was about a 24 per cent increase.”
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Fisher says the program also saw a 12 per cent increased in face-to-face visits.

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SADVTP is urging anyone who believes they are in danger to contact them for support.

A nurse is available at St. Joseph’s Hospital at all times who is specially trained to support those who have experienced sexual assault or domestic violence.

Fisher says nurses are also trained to help create safety plans for anyone who comes through, and the program works with emergency agencies to make sure each safety plan is effective.

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SADVTP says care and support are offered to individuals of all ages, sexual orientation or gender identity both at the time of the assault and in the months following.

Those looking to access the program can call 519-646-6100, ext. 64224 any time, or go to St. Joseph’s Urgent Care Centre or any emergency department in London, Middlesex, Oxford, or Elgin Counties and ask to speak to the nurse on call for sexual assault or domestic violence.

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With files from 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock

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