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Staying home a curse for some

COVID-19 sees women in abusive relationships at home 24/7 with abuser

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

For some having to work from home right now is a blessing, others not so much, and for victims of domestic violence, it’s a nightmare.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many women’s shelters to turn away new clients, and some to shut down entirely, many women who may have been planning to escape from their abusive spouse are now forced to spend all day in the same home with them, as many are working from home now.

If women are in an abusive situation, Debra Mattson, the manager of communications and fund development at the YWCA Durham, says women can call the organization’s crisis lines, which are open 24 hours a day.

“Women can call our crisis line. She can also access our counselling program, as we have counsellors available by phone,” she says.

The YWCA has transitional counselling, which is for a woman who has recently left her abuser, as well as long-term counselling.

“Women who have already developed a relationship with our counsellors can continue counselling,” she says.

Mattson explains the COVID-19 pandemic is causing stress in many homes, and anytime these levels rise, abuse rises.

“Anytime there’s extra stress in a family situation, we know that abuse levels rise,” she explains. “We’ve seen it in economic downturn, we worried about it [when the General Motors plant shut down]. So any sort of economic financial stress increases abuse.”

For a woman who is looking for somewhere to go despite shelters being closed, Mattson says she would recommend giving the counsellors on the crisis line a call since they have an abundance of resources.

“Women who are abused are able to navigate their relationships to mitigate that abuse – they’re the best ones to do that… So, the women in those situations are navigating as we speak, they’re finding ways to make sure that they’re not being abused at the moment,” says Mattson.

She notes it may be difficult for these women to call right now because the abuser isn’t leaving the house because of COVID-19 and the abused is also not leaving the house.

“There may not be time to call us, but she’ll find a way,” says Mattson.

Mattson says she believes the government is doing enough to help women who suffer from abuse during the pandemic.

“There’s always more to be done. We were already stretched resource-wise before this pandemic, so we have been told there is money coming so that we can come up with creative ways to make things more accessible for women, we just haven’t seen that money yet,” says Mattson.

She adds the women working in the shelters are currently spending time thinking of creative ways to use that money.

“So, have they done enough? Well, they’ve done what they can and we know that something’s coming, we’re just waiting for it,” says Mattson.

Pamela Cross, legal director at Luke’s Place, explains there’s two direct ways women in abusive relationships are affected by self-isolation.

“One is that when a woman is with her abuser, without any kind of break from that, so neither one of them is going to work, the children are at home, you add the stress of the virus itself… the potential for abuse escalates,” says Cross.

She explains these women may not have the opportunity to go to work for several hours to get away from the abuser.

“Even if she doesn’t work outside the home, perhaps she has typically taken the kids out several times a day to go to a swimming lesson, a piano lesson, go to the movies, none of those options exist anymore,” says Cross.

She explains the process of leaving an abusive relationship is a slow one, and if the woman had identified it as a relationship, she needs to get out. But this process takes time to put the pieces in place to enable her to leave.

However, right now the shelters in Durham Region, such as the Denise House in Oshawa, are full, or aren’t accepting new clients because they need to follow social distancing guidelines, and need to reduce capacity.

“What we are seeing at Luke’s Place, because our work focuses on supporting women once they decide they are going to engage with the family law process, we’re now delivering our services virtually,” she says.

However, this has posed a problem as many women seeking these services have been unable to use them because the abuser is now in the home with them.

“The lawyer could otherwise speak to her via telephone or via zoom, but because the partner is in the home, that’s not safe for her, and so we don’t have the appointment continue,” she says.

Cross also points out while shelters are not currently taking in new clients, they do still have workers on site who can provide resources over the phone.

Mattson notes women who are abused are often self-isolated anyway, but now it’s only going to get worse for them.

“Going to school, talking to a child’s teacher, going out for coffee with your friend, talking to all your allies and maybe coaches of your children, activities, maybe all of that is cut off, so you’re even further self-isolated,” says Mattson.

For those who are in distress, Mattson emphasizes the YWCA’s crisis line is still open, and can be reached at 905-576-2997, or 1-888-576-2997.

In Oshawa, the Denise House can be reached at 905-728-7311, or 1-800-263-3725.