The COVID-19 pandemic not only saw the businesses closures and mental health challenges; it also saw a rise in domestic violence. Due to lockdown restrictions, many victim services have had to modify how they help victims because physical locations had to close, forcing staff to work from home.
According to Statistics Canada, victim services commonly include counselling and crisis services, protection services as well as court preparation and accompaniment and other assistance to navigate the criminal justice system.
Peggy Loyie, program manager of the Rainy River District Victim Services Program, said they have seen an increase in different types of violence.
Peggy said since April of last year until now, they have seen at least 80 different cases of domestic violence and over 30 cases of sexual assault.
“People have been hit economically, isolation gets to people and wears them down,” Loyie said. “Restrictions have really played havoc with people and I think we’re certainly seeing it in the levels of aggression that are resulting in acts of violence, sexual aggression, sexual violence or more physical aggression.”
A Community Safety and Crime Report by Statistics Canada states that while countries reported a decline in police-reported crime during lockdown measures early in the pandemic, many organizations in Canada raised concerns about the increase in domestic violence.
The report further states that during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, 17 police services in Canada reported a 16 per cent decrease in selected criminal incidents when compared to the previous year but the number of calls for service increased by seven per cent during the early months of the pandemic.
Calls in particular include wellness checks which increased by 12 per cent, domestic disturbances also increased by 12 per cent and mental health-related calls increased by 11 per cent.
Loyie said they have had more reports of sexual assaults and a general increase in different types of violence.
“We don’t know if it’s due to COVID or if it’s just a change in what people are doing in the dynamic of domestic violence,” Loyie said. “One thing often can play off another if there’s addiction and the types of things people are using can lead to more aggressive behaviours which lead to more violent attacks within intimate relationships.”
Loyie said they have been fortunate to stay open during the pandemic but that there have still been restrictions with what they can do and what the services they connect victims to are able to offer.
Loyie said services have changed because they have to do more by phone, adding that in the past, the hospital would call them to come and sit with somebody who was a victim of sexual assault and sometimes bring clothing, food, but due to pandemic restriction, they have not been able to.
“We’re not able to do as much in person so that makes a difference because you want somebody to feel supported but it’s really difficult to do when you’re over the phone,” Loyie said. “When you’re sitting with somebody you’re able to express that by your tone, body language and voice.”
The Rainy River District Victim Services Program provide services from legal aid, counselling, and Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope which is open and accessible to victims of domestic violence to name a few.
Loyie said the shelter has been difficult to navigate because it requires people to isolate which is difficult when you have children, Loyie said. She adds that they are trying to figure out solutions that will make it easier for individuals to stay at the shelter such as getting tested beforehand, requiring little to no isolation time.
“That’s the bulk of what we do is to make sure people are connecting with other services,” Loyie said. “At the same time, some of those services aren’t in office right now. You feel like sometimes you’re letting people down because they may be connecting with a service that somebody’s working from home.”
Loyie said despite the hardships they have had to overcome, they are they are still open for those in the community who need them and will do their best to provide the necessary services.
If you or anyone needs help, you can contact the Rainy River District Victim Services Program at 807-274-5687 or their toll free number at 866-484-5687.
Natali Trivuncic, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times