Stressful times often mean families are at a greater risk for domestic violence

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MANITOULIN – As soon as COVID-19 began to spread globally and it was evident that Canada would not be spared, Marnie Hall, Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR) executive director, became concerned. “Physical distancing goes against how we run almost all of our programs,” she told The Expositor.

“Shelters across Canada have been over capacity for months,” Ms. Hall continued, “nor are these shelters set up for physical distancing.”

Ms. Hall said that the 10-bed women’s shelter in Mindemoya is not over capacity now, but because of physical distancing measures, there will be less space available at the current location. Plans are in the works to create an emergency secondary space with extra beds should the need arise.

While MFR might not be able to provide the same face-to-face contact to women in this time of physical distancing, Ms. Hall assures the women of Manitoulin that MFR will continue to support them in every way they can. MFR recently launched a new text-only line for women to reach out if they find themselves in crisis.

“Women are most at risk from the people housed with them,” she said. In times like this, with families being forced to stay out of the community as much as possible, with layoffs and job uncertainties and tensions higher than normal, women know what they need to do to maintain their safety, which is a frightening thing, Ms. Hall said.

According to the Gender and Disaster Network, following Hurricane Andrew in 1992, calls to domestic abuse hotlines in the Miami area increased by 50 percent and more than one-third of 1,400 people surveyed in the city reported that someone in their home had either lost verbal or physical control in the two months following the natural disaster. Studies following Hurricane Katrina and the floods of Bangladesh show similar increased rates in intimate partner violence. The pandemic and natural disasters are similar in that there are increased rates of isolation, stressors and a decreased ability to seek help. “Desperate times can trigger certain situations.”

If women reach out to the MFR crisis line, via text or telephone, there are still counsellors available to talk by phone, Ms. Hall said.

The executive director said that while people don’t typically like to get involved in other people’s family lives, she reiterated the fact that women and children are at a much higher risk for domestic abuse in times of community crisis and urged neighbours or other family members to be vigilant. “If you have a concern, this may be the time to reach out and report to police,” Ms. Hall said.

“We know that this will be a very violent time for individuals and that there will be people in their homes being hurt,” she continued.

“There is room at the shelter and we have created a system whereby we stay open to those at high risk,” Ms. Hall added.

So far, MFR has not seen an increase in calls for domestic violence, but they have fielded calls from women outside of the region looking for a bed in the shelter for reasons of homelessness and shelters at capacity in their area. In these cases, MFR staff direct them to the appropriate resources in their area.

“Things are quiet, but it’s an eerie quiet,” Ms. Hall continued.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the MFR crisis line at 1-800-465-6788 or 705-377-5160, text it at 705-968-0499 or, if you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.

For a full list of emergency numbers, please see the ad on Page 19 of this newspaper.