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Domestic violence supports in Alberta seeing more requests for services during COVID-19 pandemic

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WATCH ABOVE: More than one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s shelters continue to see an increase in the frequency of domestic violence and demand for shelter space. As Erik Bay reports, Lethbridge is not immune to the need for more family supports – May 20, 2021

It’s a problem creating impacts that are being felt across the province.

Women continue to seek shelter from domestic violence, but the COVID-19 pandemic is limiting the number of people allowed in shelters.

Public health restrictions and a large female workforce is making it difficult for shelters to accommodate everyone seeking help, according to Jan Reimer, the executive director for the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters.

Read more: Southern Albertans dealing with ‘mental toll’ as COVID-19 continues

“Many of them have children, so this last couple of weeks, what do you do?” she asked.

“Your kids are home from school, someone’s got to be there with them, accommodating the restrictions.”

The number of reported domestic violence incidents actually dropped to 1,667 in 2020, according to the Lethbridge Police Service, down from 1,779 in 2019. But the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

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Lisa Lewis with Lethbridge Family Services counsels families who have experienced domestic violence and says there has been an uptick in requests over the past year.

“Since March of 2020, we have consistently seen a stable (amount) or increase of calls related to family violence, including sexual violence,” she said.

Reimer said unemployment and substance abuse related to the pandemic increases the risk of violence.

“We’re seeing all this mix as part of the pandemic,” she said. “(Then) add in all the uncertainty of what’s happening next.

“Even the physical distancing… requirements play into the power and control dynamics of abusive relationships.”

Lethbridge domestic violence supports are keeping up with the demand by moving online.

“We did not have any slowdown in the ability to deliver our counselling services,” Lewis said. “When the pandemic hit, we immediately went into online and phone counselling.

“We didn’t miss a beat.”

Advocates say family and friends are the biggest supports for those suffering domestic violence and they need to speak up.

“I would just encourage you to listen, believe, support and validate that person,” Lewis said.

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