Isolation due to COVID has increased the risk for women experiencing intimate partner violence

By November 25, 2020 No Comments

On CBC Radio stations across the country, Arlene McCalla Executive Co-Director of Interval House shelter, discussed the reality of a pandemic within the COVID-19 pandemic.

November 25th, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. It is also the start of the 16 Days of Activism, a pledge to work collaboratively and speak out against violence against women, renew our commitment to its eradication and provide education to the public about this issue.

When COVID struck, we were already in a crisis, we already had a pandemic, violence against women is already a pandemic that we have been dealing with for many years. Together we can speak out, to hopefully get others to listen; get it out of the darkness and into the light so people understand that it is happening and that there are ways you can help.

CBC Radio Stated – The pandemic has led to more domestic violence against women and children in this country- And it has put a strain on women’s shelters. Now, with winter closing in, those shelters need more resources to better support the women and kids who are knocking on their doors.

Arlene acknowledged that all shelters have experienced daily challenges, operating in a constantly changing emergency environment, it was the first time for everyone. Shelters had to think very quickly, prioritize, and manage risk because there was no instruction manual for this situation and existing pandemic plans did not suffice.

When the pandemic hit and shelters were deemed essential services, the health and safety of residents and staff was prioritized by devising new health and safety policies, procedures and protocols, that met both local and provincial health regulations as well as any emergency orders that came about for congregate living settings. Healthy and Safety protocols include, daily symptom screening for residents, staff and essential visitors, outbreak and isolation procedures and proper use of Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) measures such as, handwashing, wearing masks and face shields) and physical distancing.

CBC Radio asked: What are we learning about violence against women during COVID?

Women who are experience intimate partner violence are completely isolated if they are stuck inside with their abuser and so shelters have received less calls.

During the spring lockdown, shelters were saying that fewer women were reaching out, which is incredibly concerning because women experiencing intimate partner violence are still out there, but they are not reaching out.

Lockdown left women completely isolated in their homes, with their abusers. When the Prime Minister said “Go home, stay home” that meant staying home with your abuser. Even though these women did not feel safe at home, there was so much uncertainty, anxiety, and fear about the virus. They thought they had less chance of catching COVID by staying home, so they had to do a balancing act, “What is going to keep me safer?”

Isolation due to COVID has increased the risk for women experiencing intimate partner violence, they are at home with their children, at home with the abusive partner, perhaps they are working at home or their partner is working at home or both, they don’t have any privacy to have a confidential conversation, or even the time to make the initial call. Fear and uncertainty about the pandemic, adds stress and frustration for the entire family which can lead to increases in incidents of abuse.

Also, some social services needed to shut down temporarily while they are adjusted their procedures, so there was even less resources at a critical time for women.

In the summer, when COVID case numbers were going down and there were less restrictions, we saw that calls increased slightly, perhaps there was a little more time and opportunity to reach out and shelter staff were getting creative about how to tell women how they can reach out and when.

More women have been calling for support, to let someone know that this is what is happening at home, figuring out ways to deal with their situation while still being at home, some women are still seeking space at shelters and we are doing the best we can to ensure that we have space for them.

CBC Radio asked: What resources do shelters need?

Shelter across Canada need continued operational financial support to provide these essential services to women experiencing intimate partner violence. Some shelters are experiencing challenges meeting their fundraising budgets because they are unable to fundraise in the same way. Many shelters are not physically configured to support physical distancing, so they may need financial support to develop and implement alternative shelter options. Technology and technological support required to sustain ongoing remote and virtual services is costly, so shelters will need assistance with that as well.

Also, there is a need for more transitional housing spaces that include options for women and children. There is an ongoing need for more access to private market units that are affordable. Finally, there is a need for education and awareness for landlords, to stop discrimination against people who are on social assistance or other benefits from the government. Shelters are supposed to be a short stay, not a long stay, and there needs to be affordable housing for these women to find their next safe home.

If you or someone you know needs help right now, please remember that shelters are open and safe.

Shelters are more than just a bed. Shelters remind women that they have choices and are not alone, they’ll help make safety plans and safe exit plans, provide counselling, resources and information, and help women navigate complicated social systems and difficult challenges, and during this time when there is lots of isolation, they provide them with a support system. We help women to rebuild their lives, after abuse, even during COVID.  If you do not feel safe in their home, please call 911 or Assaulted Women’s Helpline 416-363-4144

Thank you to CBC Radio for offering a platform to share Interval House’s mission. As Canada ‘s first shelter for women and children experiencing abuse, we remain trailblazers in the campaign for women’s empowerment and independence, providing innovative, specialized and transformative services that help to break the cycle of intimate partner violence. We envision a world without intimate partner violence against women and their children.


Listen to the CBC Radio Interviews Here:

Ontario Morning from CBC Radio with Julianne Hazelwood – Wednesday November 25, 2020 – Part 1 

Ottawa Morning with Robyn Bresnahan – Nov. 25, 2020: A new report out by Women’s Shelters Canada


Arlene McCalla is executive co-director of Interval House shelter, Canada’s first ever shelter for women and children.  Arlene is also the Toronto Region, Chair of the Board of Directors for Ontario Association of Interval & Transition Houses (OAITH)


You can read more about the SHELTER VOICES, the annual report of Women’s Shelters Canada here


If you do not feel safe in their home, please call 911.

Crisis Support:

Phone: 416-924-1491 or 1-888-293-5516

Assaulted Women’s Helpline 416-363-4144

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