London

Calls to Anova double as pandemic restrictions ease

Calls to Anova, London's agency for gender-based violence, doubled last week as the province lifted a number of pandemic restrictions and the Victoria Day long weekend prompted a spike in domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

The agency's shelters have been full for the last five years

An Anova women's shelter location at 101 Wellington Rd. in London, Ont. (Travis Dolynny/CBC)

Calls to Anova, London's agency for gender-based violence, doubled last week as the province lifted a number of pandemic restrictions and the Victoria Day long weekend prompted a spike in domestic violence and sexual assault cases. 

The calls to the agency are also higher than the same week a year ago, said Anova executive director Jessie Rodger. 

"This has been a wave we've been predicting for a long time so we've been taking the time, preparing our staff, looking at our programs and figuring out how to deliver our programs differently," Rodger said. 

"Across the country, we knew that once restrictions were going to be lifted, there would be more calls and more requests for support." 

Weeks after the long weekend are always busier for Anova and shelters across the country, Rodger said. 

This year, coupled with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the need for help is even greater. 

"All of a sudden, people could leave their homes. They could tell an abusive partner they needed to go to the store or leave the house, then they could make a phone call to us, where they couldn't for the past 10 weeks," Rodger said. "We've been preparing for this inevitable increase in calls." 

Calls about sexual assault have also increased, possibly because for some, leaving the house and being with friends or a date is safer than being at home, Rodger said. 

"Everyone is dealing with this pandemic a little differently and there seems to be some judgment if you're not staying home or isolating," he said. 

"It's important to think about the circumstances that force people to leave their home. Maybe home is not a safe place. Maybe going on a date is the safer option for you." 

'Anova is open'

The calls were for information, for help with a crisis, and for a place to stay, she said. 

And while Anova's shelters have been full for the past five years, staff always try to accommodate people fleeing violence, using hotels and other community accommodation, or women's shelters in other cities and towns. 

"The safest place is behind the very secure doors of a women's shelter," Rodger said.  

More people than ever have been placed in the community because it's challenging to practice social distancing in a shelter. 

Workers have been connecting with women through video calls and the crisis line is available 24-7. 

"Anova is absolutely still open," Rodger said. "Because of COVID-19 restrictions, we can't have people come into our buildings, but if someone came to our door, they'd get help through the vestibule or through the intercom.

"Phone is really the best way of getting a staff member. Our line is answered 24-7. There's no calls back, there's no message to leave and someone will get back to you. It's immediately there for you."

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