Domestic violence calls to Hamilton police have increased during COVID-19
Inasmuch House has launched a texting service (289-212-6399) for people who need silent help
Domestic violence calls to Hamilton police have increased since COVID-19 hit, but police say it's too early to know if the pandemic has caused it, or if it's just a blip.
Meanwhile, women's shelters are looking for new and creative ways to reach out to clients trapped in homes with abusers.
From May 17 to June 4, calls have increased 4.6 per cent over that period in 2019, says Hamilton Police Service (HPS).
Sgt. Sara Beck from the domestic violence unit says domestic violence numbers fluctuate anyway. It will be months before HPS can look back and point to any trends caused by COVID-19.
"In terms of the stats, we do see some natural fluctuations between weeks, days, months and years," she said.
"At this point, it's too early to tell if that increase is a natural fluctuation in our calls for service, or if that is an increase overall."
Local agencies say the cases they're hearing are different from non-pandemic times. Calls are down, as are the number of people going to shelters, but demand for online services is up.
That's likely because people living with abusers can't get a private moment to call, says Erin Griver, director of Inasmuch House and Women's Services. Fewer people are leaving the house and going to work, which means fewer opportunities to speak out loud — or leave.
Griver says calls to Inasmuch House are down, but she knows the demand isn't. That's why the agency has started a texting program (289-212-6399) for people who need to get silent help. Interval House is watching to see if this is successful too.
"When women are home with their abusers, they have fewer opportunities to reach out and call our crisis line," Griver said. "We are hoping the ability for them to text us will make our services more easily available."
Other local agencies report the similar dynamic — that people who want to leave aren't alone long enough to pack and run.
Fewer chances to leave
"What we hear from women is that abuse is escalating in the homes, but the options and opportunities to get out are marginal," said Medora Uppal, director of operations at the YWCA and a member of the Woman Abuse Working Group. She's also heard of women who are afraid to go to shelters for fear of getting COVID-19.
Nancy Smith, executive director of Interval House, said there's less demand for shelter beds right now and more demand for online counselling.
Some women, she said, don't want to be cut off from their kids with no idea when physical distancing measures will allow them to be reunited. They also worry their partners won't abide by public health warnings.
The stories Interval House is hearing, Smith said, are "extremely violent."
"We have heard from women that there's an increase in sexual assault, sexual violence … We are hearing of women being forced to overwash their hands until they're bleeding. The types of violence and abuse are different, and the impact is much greater."