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Domestic abuse a bigger fear for survivors than COVID-19: Expert
LONDON, ONT. -- There is rising concerns for survivors of domestic abuse as self-isolation threatens their safety.
For the first time in the agency’s almost 40-year history, the London Abused Women’s Center (LAWC) has closed its doors, suspending in-office services.
LAWC’s Executive Director Megan Walker says they are extremely concerned for the health, welfare and lives of the women who depend on their help.
“They are, at this point, isolated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with a man that they are fearful of, who could do anything at any time to them. They have no real escape and they are not able to access any service at the moment at a number of organization because of the lockdown."
For domestic abuse survivors, isolation can feel like being trapped inside their home.
As local agencies temporarily suspend in-person services, they are turning to new ways of providing essential services, such as Skype and Zoom for video conferencing, and over the phone.
The manager of Education, Training and Research at ANOVA, Annalise Trudell says that despite the fact that their shelters are an essential service, they’ve had to put a pause on intake.
“We are getting calls from women right now on our crisis line, looking for a safe place to go and we are not able to support that because of very tangible health means. We are trying to work with them in safety planning, as we always would, but there is a huge stress on our system right now and we are all scrambling, to figure out what that might look like, if in fact this is going to be months,” says Trudell.
Trudell says social distancing and isolation means an increased risk of experiencing violence for women who live with their abusers.
Althought there is no current data related to pandemic-induced isolation, Trudell says they do have over a decade of Coroner's Inquest reports that indicate an increase in domestic homicides when a few key factors are present.
“When we think about significant job change or job loss, income change or income loss, and significant mental health challenge and a decrease in community social support availability. When we have those three factors in place we see a much higher numbers of domestic homicide over the past decade,” Trudell says.
Walker echoes that sentiment, adding that this virus has forced families to stay home together, worsening economic hardship and upsetting routines.
"Many women understand the fear of being assaulted and abused, and in fact would describe that fear as much more significant than any fear they have right now of the coronavirus," Walker says.