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As lockdown restrictions in certain areas of Canada begin to lift, a new study reveals that 85 per cent of women’s service providers anticipate an increase in gender-based violence as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), there is evidence that links an increase of violence against women, girls, trans and non-binary people whenever a public crisis or disaster occurs. This includes not only physical, sexual and emotional violence, but also child and elder abuse. As public health directives instructed Canadians to stay home, Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) reported that 20 percent of the 70 shelters it represents experienced an increase in calls for help.
In a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle Canada, Andrea Gunraj, vice president of Engagement for the CWF, explained how COVID-19 has exacerbated what was already considered a high-risk climate for women.
“Rates of gender-based violence were high in Canada, even before the pandemic: on average, every six days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner,” Gunraj said. “Social isolation may mean that abusers are in close proximity around the clock and other people aren’t around to see the signs of violence and intervene.”
Despite more people relying on social media, text messages and video calls to stay in touch, quarantine provides ample opportunity for abusers to carefully monitor women’s digital devices and conversations.
In April, the CWF launched a new campaign called “Signal For Help” to provide victims of abuse to non-verbally communicate to family and friends that they are unsafe and in need of assistance, without leaving a digital trace.
In an instructional video, the CWF instructs anyone who receives a signal for help from a friend or loved one not to react. Changing the conversation to address the signal can put your loved one at further risk, instead, remain calm and carry on the conversation as best as you can.
How can you help if you receive the signal?
If you received a signal, the CWF advises you to try reaching out in a manner deemed “safe.” Phoning the person who signalled for help and asking “yes” or “no” questions like, “Would you like me to call 911?,” “Do you need me to call a shelter?” or “Do you want me to look into services to help you?” are ways to intervene without putting your loved one in further danger.
The CWF also advises using text messages, email, WhatsApp or social media to check in, which can reduce the risk of the person’s device or conversation being monitored.
Additionally, to help support the person in need, ask if they would like you to check in on them regularly or what you can do to help support them.
How to get help
The CWF recommends calling 911 and notifying local authorities if you or someone you know is in immediate danger.
Websites like Shelter Safe can help you locate a shelter within your area, and provides access to valuable resources that can help you develop a safety plan for you and your family.
Many women’s shelter pages, like Shelter Safe, recommend women seeking help view their page in privacy mode (also called ‘incognito mode’ or ‘private window’) to avoid having the website saved in your browser history. If you don’t know how to go into privacy mode, Shelter Safe provides instructions depending on your browser to navigate safely and delete your browsing history if you suspect you are being monitored.
They also have a “Hide Page” button, which will immediately take you away from the website if you become unsafe and need to hide what you are doing quickly.
If you need to make a phone call to a shelter, it is recommended that you use a friend’s phone or a public phone away from your partner or abuser.
For additional resources, click here.