Stay-home orders are meant to keep Canadians healthy amid the COVID-19 pandemic — but home is not a safe place for victims of intimate partner or family violence.
Are you a victim of violence home, or are you worried for someone you know? Here are some resources for those seeking help for themselves or others in danger:
If you are in immediate danger, call 911
Seek help if you are in danger. Police are still responding to domestic violence calls, and police stations are still open for walk-ins for domestic violence victims.
Contact your local shelter or support provider
ShelterSafe.ca has a Canada-wide directory of contact information for your local services, as does EndingViolenceCanada.org and Canadianwomen.org.
Meanwhile, crisis lines are also open throughout the pandemic. And because front-line workers know it can be difficult to speak out loud with someone who is be living with their abusers, many are now communicating by text, through messaging apps or online.
Pamela Cross, the legal director of Oshawa-based Luke’s Place, said conversations with an abused person begin with safety planning, including finding out if the person has privacy from her abuser and if the device she is using — whether a laptop or phone — is private and password-protected.
A worker will explain how to delete messages, records of phone calls and browser histories. The conversation might happen by phone, by Zoom or by chat — whatever and whenever works best for her.
Even if an abused person doesn’t plan to stay at a shelter, staff can provide services or help make an emergency escape plan catered to specific needs, as well as a safety plan.
Luke’s Place also publishes a series of safety planning tips on its website.
You can also find resources for victims of elder abuse published on canada.ca, and for child abuse at kidshelpphone.ca and crisistextline.ca
Let someone know you’re in trouble using a special hand signal
If you don’t have a way to call, text or message someone safely, you can still try to communicate that you need help by using a special hand signal the Canadian Women’s Foundation recommends using on a video chat.
To make the signal, point your palm to the camera with the thumb tucked, then close your fingers over your thumb.
Access free legal support
Free legal advice with no financial eligibility requirement is available through Legal Aid Ontario at 1-800-668-8258 and through a new emergency family law referral line at 1-800-668-8258.
The family law referral line offers half-an-hour of advice and referrals to other services.
Luke’s Place also offers a virtual legal clinic for women experiencing intimate-partner violence — an expansion of a service already offered to women in rural areas. This can be accessed by contacting the local women’s shelter at ShelterSafe.ca.
Family court support workers continue to offer help to domestic violence victims going through the family court process. More information about that can be found through the Victim Support Line toll-free at 1-888-579-2888, or 416-314-2447, and online at the website of the Ministry of the Attorney General.
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How to help others
Friends, neighbours and family members play a critical role in supporting victims at all times, but especially during a pandemic.
If someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
Don’t hesitate. Call the authorities if you believe someone is in imminent danger. Police are responding to domestic and family violence calls as usual.
Check in on a victim carefully
Keep in regular contact with someone experiencing abuse and, where possible, visit in a way that lets you keep your distance or set up a video call. It’s important to first make sure that the person can communicate safely through whatever channel you’re using, whether by email, text or phone.
One way is to find this out is call and ask “yes” or “no” questions, which can avoid arousing the suspicion of anyone nearby. Questions could include: “Would you like me to call 911?” or “Would it help if I called a shelter for you?”
The Canadian Women’s Foundation also recommends asking general questions when communicating by text, email or messaging apps — the kind that aren’t unusual to be posing in the middle of a pandemic, and won’t cause alarm if an abuser sees them. These include: “How can I help you out?” or “Get in touch with me when you can.”
Call a local shelter or crisis line on a victim’s behalf — or offer up a space to stay
Kaitlin Geiger-Bardswich, a manager with Women’s Shelters Canada, said family and friends can get advice for a specific situation even if the victim can’t call herself.
“We don’t want to put too much information out there because then abusers will know what to look for,” Geiger-Bardswich said. “So at least if we’re encouraging people to call the shelter, the shelter can then help the family member or neighbour or friend safety-plan.”
If you have a separate living space where a relative, friend or neighbour could stay while maintaining physical distance, offer it, said Sly Castaldi, executive director of Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis.
“I know it’s really challenging now, but if it’s a separate area you’re not using, offering this is important,” Castaldi said.
If you’re able, donate money to programs supporting women and girls
Despite provincial and federal government funding to support women’s shelters during the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement at the Canadian Women’s Foundation, said these non-profit organizations will require far more financial support.
This is especially true as the pandemic stretches on and typical fundraising efforts continue to be cancelled, she said.
“I think we need to remember that we have to give support to women and girls in particular — don’t expect that when you give money to general things that it necessarily filters to the needs of women,” Gunraj said. “I would really encourage them to give towards gender-specific services.”
If you’re able to donate, research violence against women charities in your area. The Canadian Women’s Foundation has also launched a COVID-19 fund to help support women and girls called Tireless Together.