Calls to domestic violence help line on the rise, but support is available, says minister

·3 min read
Lisa Dempster, minister responsible for the status of women, says the province's domestic violence help line has seen an uptick in calls in the last week. (CBC - image credit)
Lisa Dempster, minister responsible for the status of women, says the province's domestic violence help line has seen an uptick in calls in the last week. (CBC - image credit)

Newfoundland and Labrador's minister responsible for the status of women says there's been a recent increase in calls to the province's domestic violence help line but there are services available to help women living with violence.

Lisa Dempster says the increase in calls is concerning, but she's encouraged that women are reaching out for help, despite the public health restrictions in place.

"While we are in lockdown, you do not have to feel you are locked down at home with an abuser, so we do know that there's been some increase in calls," she said.

Dempster didn't give specific details about how many more calls the line is receiving.

The domestic violence help line was launched in June. When someone calls or texts, the system will automatically detect the region they're in and connect them with a trained professional at the nearest transition house.

If necessary, they can then be connected to services, like women's centres or police, for further help.

Non-profit groups said they saw a significant increase in domestic violence calls during the early stages of the pandemic.

We know that some of the calls coming in are more focused on physical violence. - Lisa Dempster

Dempster said the pandemic has had a greater effect on women, and restrictions can create added pressure for women living with violence. As a result, the types of calls the line is receiving has also changed, she said.

"Prior to the pandemic, we would get various calls to the line, could be around financial abuse, different types," she said.

"But right now — and we know the pandemic has been really difficult for many people and it's not impacted all of us equally — we know that some of the calls coming in are more focused on physical violence."

During an election, the government is in caretaker mode, but Dempster is still the minister, and she says has been checking in with staff in the department at least once a week. She said the increase in calls began within the past week.

"Yesterday, maybe, when I learned there had been an increase, I felt compelled to get out, to do my part to hopefully reach some women that are in unsafe situations," she said.

Help available for women experiencing violence

The minister urged women not to stay in an unsafe situation at home because of the public health restrictions in alert levels 4 and 5.

"To women who are struggling with violence in their lives today, I want you to know that help is available," she said.

"There are services right across this province, and when you feel you are ready and you feel that it's safe for you to reach out, there are organizations waiting to help you."

Dempster said transition houses across the province are open and have room to accept women in need. She said, on average, the transition houses are now at about 55 per cent capacity.

"While we've made good strides and we're moving in the right direction, certainly there is progress that can be made," she said.

"We're grateful that we have fared better than many other provinces. Still, we have our own issues — all is not well and we need to get out and we need to talk about those. We need to hear from folks out in the community and we need to put whatever services in place that we can to support them."

The province's domestic violence help line is 1-888-709-7090, and can be reached by call or text, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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