Fredericton police officers saw an increase in intimate partner violence calls in 2020 over 2019, and experts say the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns were likely a factor.
In its annual report, released last Friday, the Fredericton Police Force said it responded to 978 "intimate partner occurrences" in 2020, up by about 12 per cent from the 873 such incidents the year before.
The data released by the police force is consistent with trends observed in other parts of Canada and the world, where pandemic-related lockdowns forced people indoors, said Karla O'Regan, chair of the department of criminology and criminal justice at St. Thomas University, and research fellow at the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research.
At the height of the lockdowns, seen in New Brunswick in March through May 2020, victims of intimate partner violence might have lost their physical connection to support services and peers, O'Regan said.
With that, signs of abuse that would have otherwise been noticed early, might have remained unknown to victims' friends and family.
CBC News asked for similar statistics for previous years, but the Fredericton Police Force was unable to provide those before deadline.
"A lot of times survivors of intimate partner violence and survivors of family violence rely on community members to notice, for instance, when you haven't seen someone for a while or maybe you haven't seen the kids or you notice injuries or strange behaviours," she said.
"And so a lot of those kinds of informal intervention methods, it's also not been available to folks because throughout the pandemic, it's been normal not to see your neighbours."
O'Regan said financial insecurity suffered due to job losses could have also contributed to victims staying in homes where they suffered abuse.
"Then just on the causative side of things, you've got increased factors that actually aggravate the severity and frequency of violence in the home, right?" she said.
"Increased substance abuse, financial stress, all those things that that any one of us have experienced during the pandemic within a context that's already violent, you're just going to see... aggravation of those factors."
Shelter operating at capacity
Women in Transition House, Inc., a shelter in Fredericton that takes in survivors of domestic abuse, has been operating at full capacity since July 2020, said executive director Jan Smith.
Smith said the shelter saw a drop in demand from clients at the beginning of the pandemic, but once restrictions eased, the shelter began seeing consistent demand.
"We've had to call other shelters in our region, you know, to help us with some of some of the clients because we just didn't have the capacity," she said.
Like O'Regan, Smith said she thinks the statistics from the Fredericton Police Force show the impact the pandemic lockdowns had on victims of intimate partner violence.
"Because of the pandemic, there were a lot of ladies and families that were forced to isolate with their abusers. And some of them, you know, were just trying to keep things status quo until they had a safe place to go," Smith said.