Nfld. & Labrador

Calls increase at violence prevention office as COVID-19 drags on

The RNC has not seen an increase in calls but says domestic violence often under-reported to police.

Children witnessing abuse now that school is closed due to COVID-19, Val Barter says

Val Barter, executive director of Violence Prevention Avalon East, says calls to her office have increased during the pandemic. (Submitted by Val Barter)

It could be a call, a Facebook message or email, but people who are facing violence in their own homes are finding ways to reach out for help.

Violence Prevention Avalon East typically sees one to two inquiries per day, says the office's executive director, but since the COVID-19 pandemic has isolated people inside their homes, often with an increase in financial pressure, that number has risen to six or seven.

"I had one woman who called me from a closet," said Val Barter.

Barter said most calls or messages are from people looking for support services for themselves or family and friends. 

Statistics Canada reported earlier this month that one-third of Canadians reported they were "very or extremely concerned about family stress from confinement."

Eight per cent of Canadians (10 per cent of women and six per cent of men) reported they were very or extremely concerned about violence in the home.

Barter said it's been challenging for some people to reach out for help without being heard by their abuser within their own home.

"They ask, 'What are my rights if I leave? If I leave, where do I go for help?' And [questions around] food insecurity," she said.

Barter has been fielding calls and messages from concerned parents who say their children are witnessing violence at home due to COVID-19 restrictions keeping them from school. (Erin Brohman)

With children home from school, violence that was once hidden behind closed doors has spilled out into the open, Barter said.

"Usually they were hidden from it but now they're seeing it, with violence increasing around people yelling and screaming, and pushing each other. And there's no out."

The violence prevention office launched the Unsafe at Home campaign Monday, which includes a directory for support services, and resources both for people who are facing violence and the perpetrators.

"We believe, and we feel, that once this COVID-19 restrictions are lifted a bit that our support will be increased, more people will be coming for support," Barter said.

"We really need to make sure they know where to go and how to get help immediately."

There are violence prevention offices across the province to help people find support. (Violence Prevention Avalon East)

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has said its intimate-partner violence unit has not seen an increase in calls, though a media relations officer stressed domestic violence is often under-reported to police, and it can take years for people who are abused to come forward.

While the statistics haven't shown an increase in this province yet, the global domestic violence rate has grown.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for the end of domestic violence on April 6 and for countries to address a "horrifying global surge in domestic violence" directed toward women and girls, which has been exacerbated by families being locked in during the pandemic.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball acknowledged those concerns during a recent press briefing in which he said provincial groups are continuing to receive funding.

"We're aware of the higher incidents potentially at this point related to the crisis. We want to support those groups as best we can."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


  • A previous version of this story had the incorrect website address where people could access resources for Violence Prevention Avalon Easy. It has since been updated.
    Apr 28, 2020 8:51 AM NT


Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit.