Domestic homicides increase nationwide during pandemic; Maritimers among victims
DIEPPE, N.B. -- The COVID-19 pandemic has placed added stress on homes where domestic violence is an issue. As numbers steadily increase, experts say it may only be the beginning of a tragic trend as victims are trapped at home with the people their abusers.
At Crossroads for Women in Moncton, N.B., a shelter for families escaping domestic violence, clientele numbers have been lower than usual. The reduction in people seeking help has led to rising concerns for victims trapped in isolation with people who they fear.
"People are stuck at home and don't have the same kind of flexibility in terms of when they can call, where they can find a safe place to call," says Elise Vaillancourt of Crossroads for Women.
The lower number of intakes is also attributed to fewer community resources available during the pandemic, such as facilities to refer victims of domestic violence to transitional housing.
"What's happening is that a lot of victims of domestic violence are home with their abusers twenty-four-seven," says Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre executive director, Kristal LeBlanc. "So their ability to seek help and to go to shelters and to receive services have very much been limited due to safety concerns with them not being able to leave."
According to Battered Women's Support Services, a Vancouver-based crisis line, as of Wednesday, there were nine cases of domestic violence-related homicides in Canada within 36 days – some of those cases in the Maritimes.
"Some of the assaults that were taking place, and/or homicides, in and around the Atlantic provinces," says Women in Transition House executive director, Jan Smith. "We knew that's what was happening. People maybe couldn't get to a phone or couldn't get to email because they're actually housed with the people that are hurting them."
LeBlanc says domestic violence has the potential to raise the death toll in New Brunswick alongside the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Women are being murdered every day," says LeBlanc. "I hope I'm wrong about it, but I think our death toll count will be directly related to domestic homicide during the pandemic – versus actually deaths relating to the COVID-19 virus."
Leblanc says only 20 per cent of victims seek help on a regular basis; meanwhile, crisis interveners say the pandemic has only added to that problem. However, they but hope more victims come forward as restrictions loosen.
"Right now, people are really isolated, and it's super scary to be at home living with someone who isn't safe," says Vaillancourt. "Things like checking in on friends and family are super important."
While it may be hard, domestic abuse advocates encourage victims to make the first step.
"If we don't know what's going on, we cant help," says Smith. "But, if they reach out to us, we will do whatever we can to get the connections that they need, the community support that they need or answer any questions they have to ease the anxiety through all of this."
Meanwhile, the Leblanc says the Beausejour Family Crisis Resource Centre is currently preparing to help victims after COVID-19 restrictions ease. She notes they will need to have the capacity to take in an increase in clients and provide essentials such as bedding – all while abiding by COVID-19 protocols.