The 'shadow' pandemic of domestic violence

August 2021
Rebecca Bowslaugh

Staying home during a pandemic is not safe for everyone. After more than a year and a half of lockdowns and quarantines, domestic violence has increased across the globe. The drastic increase in intimate partner and domestic abuse has been coined the “Shadow Pandemic” by the United Nations. In Israel, the number of domestic violence complaints has increased by 800 per cent since the beginning of COVID-19. The Assaulted Women’s helpline in Ontario reported a 400 per cent increase during the first month of the pandemic. With no opportunities to leave the house and limited or no access to friends and family, it became that much easier for abusers to isolate their victims.

The “Shadow Pandemic” is hitting close to home with a rise in domestic violence complaints across the Hamilton area. The director of women’s services at Good Shepherd and co-chair of Hamilton’s Women Abuse Working Group said, “The violence-against-women shelters, legal supports, and counselling services cannot meet the demand. As such, shelters are operating above 100 per cent occupancy and wait lists to access supportive programs are increasing.”

The annual report by the Canadian Femicide Observatory for Justice and Accountability, which was released in March, showed that 160 women and girls were killed in Canada in 2020, many by current or former partners or family members.  In the first half of 2021, 92 women and girls were killed, mostly by men.

The report also stated that one woman or girl is killed every 2.5 days in Canada. One in five women and girls killed by a man was Indigenous. Indigenous women make up 12 per cent of femicide victims, despite comprising just 5 per cent of Canada’s overall population. 

Now is the time to empower women by stepping up emergency support and services.  In order to break the cycle of violence and prevent victims from re-entering an abusive relationship, local organizations must:

•  provide the basic necessities needed to help each family start over safely after they leave an emergency shelter; 
•  provide a safe haven for at-risk children and support mental health through a variety of outlets; 
•  empower women and their children by providing housing, financial help, social and personal support, employment support, and a network of other women in similar circumstances.

Even though things are opening up again, and it seems like life is returning to normal, these negative effects will linger long after the pandemic ends. There are many ways you can help support victims of domestic violence, both locally and across the world. Inasmuch House, Interval House of Hamilton, Native Women’s Centre, and the YWCA Hamilton all offer emergency services and accept donation. And for those looking to help our Israeli community, Canadian Hadassah-WIZO (CHW) is launching a 24-hour crowdfunding campaign on August 24-25 to empower victims of domestic violence in Israel.

Rebecca Bowslaugh is a marketing communications manager for a non-profit, trying to make change happen at home and abroad.