LONDON, ONT. -- Domestic violence has been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, so much so, that the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized it as a public health threat.

“This is global threat to women’s health and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Cassandra Fisher, coordinator of St. Joseph’s Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program (SADVTP).

Fisher says at the centre, there has been a steady overall increase in women reaching out for help.

“Pre-pandemic we’ve actually went up 35 per cent and throughout the lockdowns we’ve stayed pretty steady at that,” says Fisher. “When everything started opening up again we did start to see the comfortability of more people coming into the hospital system.”

The program at St. Joe’s is multidimensional, with a specialized team of nurses and doctors for immediate medical care, as well as professionals in psychological care, and finally a unique area called forensic care.

“It’s the collection, documentation and preservation of forensic evidence that may later be used for medical legal proceedings if an individual wishes to go down that route,” says Dr. Susan McNair, medical director of SADVTP.

McNair hopes that talking about domestic violence will let women know they aren’t alone, and if they feel ready to take that first step the centre at St. Joe’s is opened 24/7 and is accessible by phone or showing up in person.

“I don’t want to see the number of individuals suffering to go up but I would like to think the numbers will go up because they do exist in our community. I would like to think that more and more people are reaching out to us for care and coming forward.”