Intimate partner violence in London, Ont. worsening amid pandemic

Middlesex-London Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie is the latest to raise alarm over the issue of intimate partner violence, which has become more frequent and more severe amid the pandemic.

During Thursday’s COVID-19 update, Mackie used the opportunity to specifically identify intimate partner violence as a major issue in the community.

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“We don’t have great reporting because it is often, in this pandemic context, more difficult for people to report intimate partner violence, given that there is more contact in the home,” he said.

“What we have been able to do is we’ve been able to speak with service providers. Eighty-six per cent of the people who are working in this sector have noticed an increase in intimate partner violence and an increase in the severity of intimate partner violence in this time.”

Jessie Rodger, executive director of Anova, supported Mackie’s comments but also pointed to provincial data to demonstrate the extent and severity of the issue.

According to the latest femicide report from Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH), there have been 35 deaths in the first six months of 2021 compared with 19 in the same timeframe in 2020.

“The province is seeing a massive increase in women being killed because of domestic violence. I think that if that’s not ringing everybody’s alarm bells, it really should be,” Rodger said.

On a local level, Anova has seen an increase in the intensity of violence reported.

“That happens for a few different reasons. Some of them are delaying calling us because of COVID restrictions, because they can’t get to a phone, because they can’t get to a way to talk to us so the violence gets worse. Sometimes they’re being kept from contacting us or getting in touch with people to help,” she explained.

“We’re also seeing a number of women who don’t want to come in to shelter because of COVID-19. Despite all the precautions that we take and that they would take, it’s still too big of a risk for them and for their children.”

As a result, the demand for Anova’s outreach counsellors has “skyrocketed,” Rodger says.

The pandemic has also been particularly trying for staff as they try to offer as much support as possible with limited resources.

“Before COVID-19, we would have to tell women all the time that we didn’t have enough room in shelter. This is an epidemic meeting a pandemic. And what’s changed now is that the options available are fewer.”

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The London Abused Women’s Centre also tells Global News it has seen an increase in service demand during the pandemic but says “there has been increased reports of male violence against women over multiple years.”

“The most dangerous place for women and children continues to be in their homes,” says executive director Jennifer Dunn. “LAWC encourages Dr. Mackie to proclaim male violence against women as a public health issue.”

LAWC says it provided services to a total of 9,235 women and girls during the 2020-21 fiscal year, with 3,835 women and girls accessing “individual and group support and 5,400 phone calls for service.”

The figures also include a 45 per cent increase over the previous year in demand for LAWC’s Urgent Services Support Program.

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While raising the issue on Thursday, Mackie also provided advice for anyone suspecting that someone they know might be experiencing intimate partner violence.

“First of all, please try not to be angry or frustrated. There are lots of reasons why people stay in relationships in spite of violence. It is a very complex, difficult situation, including reliance financially or for shelter, concern about violence — we know that violence does mount when people try to leave intimate partner violence situations — and concern for their children,” he explained.

“If you know somebody who you witness or believe is experiencing domestic violence, talk to them about what you see. Tell them you’re concerned about their safety, for their emotional well-being and for that of their children. Tell them that you believe them, that it’s not their fault.

“Make sure that they have some support to develop a safety plan. You can offer to provide child care or pet care. Go with them when they seek help.”

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Anova’s Rodger suggests that members of the public looking to help check in with people in their lives, especially anyone they haven’t heard from in a while.

“The likelihood that you know somebody who’s experiencing intimate partner violence is very high,” she said.

“The other thing that we need to be thinking about is we’re about to walk into about a year or so of elections — federal, provincial, municipal. And there are a lot of things that we need to be talking about, but domestic violence and gender-based violence is one of them.”

The Middlesex-London Health Unit has a list of resources available on its website, which includes contact information for Anova and LAWC as well as contacts for other support providers, information on safety planning, and more.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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