November is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the risk of violence has only increased with the ongoing stress and restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, a Canadian woman is killed by an intimate partner every six days.
In addition to the added risks to victims, there are additional challenges for service providers helping victims and survivors, and Winnipeg is no exception. Experts say that domestic and family violence is often heightened by the stress, social isolation and restrictions of the COVD-19 pandemic, not to mention its impact on supports, services and shelters.
Dr. Kendra Nixon, director of RESOLVE, just received a grant for her research project studying the impact of COVID-19, and also pandemics generally, on domestic violence service providers and survivors. RESOLVE describes itself as a “prairie-based research network that co-ordinates and supports research aimed at ending violence, especially violence involving girls and women” and has offices at the Universities of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Calgary.
Nixon says there is anecdotal evidence that domestic violence may be increasing, because victims are at home more often and may not have respite from the perpetrators of violence due to pandemic restrictions, as well as the stress and financial pressures created by the pandemic itself.
Nixon’s research will study the impact on survivors and service providers to learn from their experiences and to be prepared for future waves of this pandemic, and even future pandemics. Her research will involve interviewing service providers and mothers across the province who have been in shelters and second-stage shelters, as well as in different areas of programming and need.
Marcie Wood, the executive director at Willow Place, says they are the largest shelter providing domestic violence services in Winnipeg, and that “usually people that are using our shelter space have exhausted all other resources, and it’s their last bit of hope to come to, to be safe.”
Willow Place is a 24-7 facility, with services like counselling, harm-reduction programs, a healthy living program and an on-site schoolteacher supported by the Winnipeg School Division.
Willow Place operates from a trauma-informed, strength-based perspective, “trying to meet people where they are at, to provide services according to what their wants are, when they want them,” Wood says.
Due to the pandemic, the shelter is limited to only 17 residents, with only one person or family per room, compared to their usual capacity of 38 spaces. Wood says they have worked hard to implement procedures to make the shelter space as safe as possible for everybody.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, shelters are open and offering safer spaces for victims of violence. Nixon says that during a pandemic, safety planning looks different, and being able to reach out to victims and survivors is vital. As Nixon says, victims of violence may have thought, or been told by perpetrators, that shelters are closed.
Wood says domestic violence “exists everywhere, in every race and social class. It’s not something that people talk a lot about. People think it happens in certain spaces to certain people.” Wood encourages people to reach out and ask questions to learn more about what it is and who it impacts, because it could be the person sitting next to you.
To access Willow Place services or the emergency shelter, phone the 24-hour crisis line, 204-615-0311 or 1-877-977-0007. For information on shelters in Winnipeg, visit domesticshelters.org/help/mb/winnipeg or maws.mb.ca/.
Published in Volume 75, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 8, 2020)