Reading between the lines of Calgary’s domestic violence statistics during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Calgary Domestic Violence Collective is opening a difficult conversation and offering staggering domestic violence statistics to ensure people learn more about the other pandemic that lies in COVID-19‘s shadow.

In the first months of the coronavirus pandemic, the CDVC saw a decline in the number of calls to police, helplines and service providers for support. It’s a scary trend because “family violence didn’t stop,” the collective said; instead, the lockdown made it more difficult for victims to report violence if they were trapped at home with their abuser.

Read more: ‘We’re at a breaking point’: Addressing mental health during COVID-19

“The calls out are maybe decreasing, but the complexity of the danger that people are seeing is increased,” said Kim Ruse, CEO of Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter and co-chair of the CDVC.

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“When clients are accessing our services compared to this time last year, they are dealing with an increased severity of potential violence — so more threats, more weapons available.”

‘Shadow pandemic’

About 65 per cent of domestic violence victims never access services like shelters or police, said Andrea Silverstone — executive director of Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society and co-chair of the CDVC — citing Statistics Canada.

“Although we saw a drop in the number of calls, we saw a massive increase in informal support. So friends and family members of those who are experiencing violence go way, way, way up,” she said.

“It’s a shadow pandemic where it shows us, first of all, the role of informal supporters, how much we are a caring community as a society, how much every Albertan does have a role in ending violence and how we have to learn new ways of doing that during this time of the pandemic.”

Read more: More funding for shelters needed to help domestic violence victims in Canada: report

Silverstone reminded people to check in on their loved ones.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of naming the behaviours that we see. ‘It seems like your partner is controlling you and you’re not able to be on the phone with me anymore. What’s going on? Are you OK?’” she said.

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“It might just be, ‘I’m feeling really down about COVID-19 and the pandemic, and I don’t want to ever leave my house,’ but it could also be, ‘I’m afraid.’”

Read more: ‘Back to square one’: Calls to domestic violence lines jump again as coronavirus surges

As restrictions lifted over the summer, support calls increased, the CDVC said.

“As soon as lockdown ended and we saw a spike in the rates of the pandemic, we also saw a spike in the rates of domestic violence calls,” Silverstone explained.

The Family Violence Info Line (310-1818) saw a 23 per cent increase in calls from April to August this year compared to the same time last year, according to the CDVC.  The chat service experienced an 83 per cent increase in use in 2020 over the same period in 2019.

Click to play video 'Recognizing signs of domestic violence critical during COVID-19 isolation' Recognizing signs of domestic violence critical during COVID-19 isolation

Recognizing signs of domestic violence critical during COVID-19 isolation

‘We have the supports in place’: police

The Calgary Police Service responded to 15,038 domestic incidents from January to September 2020, which is about nine per cent above average. Eighty per cent of those calls stemmed from verbal fights or resulted from when a person wanted officers there during an interaction with a partner.

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Staff Sgt. Paul Wozney with the CPS Domestic Conflict Unit said there is usually a financial component to domestic violence.

“There’s that ebb and flow to the economy that is also reflected in the domestic violence in Calgary, and that’s, of course, a significant concern for us,” he said.

Read more: Her husband told her not to work, then cut off her money — how financial abuse traps women

Officers will “never not come to your home” if you call to say you’re experiencing abuse, Wozney said.

“The Calgary Police Service and the greater community’s response to domestic violence has changed 180 degrees in the last 10, 20, 30 years,” he said.

“We have the supports in place, we have the funding in place to help these people and we want to help these people. We just don’t know what’s going on in every home in Calgary, and we need to be invited into those homes, if you will, through a phone call.”

Read more: ‘Deeply disturbing statistics’ show COVID-19 is hurting kids’ safety: report

November is family violence prevention month.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or violence, you can reach out for help by calling 211, the family violence helpline at 403-234-7233, the police non-emergency line at 403-266-1234 or 911.

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