Domestic violence more severe during pandemic, Edmonton police data shows

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Edmonton police say the pandemic has played a part in an increased number of victims of domestic violence in 2020. (Getty Images - image credit)
Edmonton police say the pandemic has played a part in an increased number of victims of domestic violence in 2020. (Getty Images - image credit)

Domestic violence has grown worse during the pandemic, data released Thursday by Edmonton police indicates.

The number of victims of domestic violence was up 13.5 per cent from 2019 to 2020, according to information provided by the Edmonton Police Service.

The average crime severity index for domestic violence incidents also rose almost 20 points to 131.7.

The index takes into account how many such crimes are reported and their seriousness.

While the number of assaults fell overall, the number of assaults causing bodily harm or with a weapon increased by 31.6 per cent, meaning there were 156 more victims.

The number of sexual assaults in domestic violence cases also rose — by 37.2 per cent with 45 more victims.

While in 2019 there were 8,153 incidents of domestic violence, there were 9,366 in 2020.

Insp. Sean Armstrong with the EPS Serious Crimes Branch said the pandemic has undoubtedly played a part in the rise.

"Without question, there's a direct correlation between the increased number of domestic violence incidents that are being recorded and the societal pressures being created by the pandemic," he said during a media availability on Thursday afternoon.

"Coupled with the stress and at times despair, the pandemic has wrought upon us disruption and the personal supports we would access during tough times."

Compared to 2019, there was a significant rise in the use of serious weapons against domestic violence victims. Last year saw 34 victims of a firearm compared to 22 in 2019 and 155 victims of a knife compared to 124 in 2019.

There were also 35 victims of acid attacks last year, compared to 20 in 2019.

Armstrong said the 2019 numbers were comparable to the previous four or five years.

Violence related to job loss

Sgt. Alexandra Simpson said the domestic offender crime section is seeing an increase in families dealing with situation stress.

"A lot of that is related to job loss, to financial strain, to looking to substances as a mechanism for managing that stress. And that can also be the impetus for increased violence."

Simpson said police have made efforts to employ trauma-informed education and build rapport with complainants.

"That's really the push that we're always putting forward to our membership," she said.

The numerical increase could also be viewed positively, she said, in that it could indicate a decreasing stigma around reporting.

The domestic violence unit is seeing a higher level of reporting of historical abuse, Simpson said.

"To me, that is indicative of relationship-building ... with these complainants and providing an environment that would allow them to feel free to convey that history so that we can take appropriate police action."

Armstrong said the dramatic increase has seen the service re-examine how it deals with family violence. One recent move was shuffling domestic violence unit from investigations bureau to the community safety and well-being bureau, where it has better access to intervention and prevention resources.

Police are also evaluating how they work with community partners for more effective collaboration, he said.

The recent passage of Clare's Law, which allows Albertans who suspect their intimate partner has a violent history to find out about past criminal charges, has also been a positive development, Armstrong said.

But he warned domestic violence was a larger societal problem and a community responsibility.

"Whether you're a neighbour, a co-worker, or a direct family member, sitting idly by and not doing something is not acceptable. It could cost someone their life.

"Tell someone, get help."