Windsor

COVID-19 puts women in abusive relationships at increased risk, says Hiatus House

As many are self-isolating due to COVID-19, there are some vulnerable people in our communities who might not have somewhere safe to go. 

Facility was operating at capacity even before pandemic hit

Debra Fowler conducts crisis counselling at Hiatus House in Windsor. (Peter Duck/CBC)

As many are self-isolating due to COVID-19, there are some vulnerable people in our communities who might not have somewhere safe to go. 

Debra Fowler conducts crisis counselling at Hiatus House in Windsor. She's also a survivor of abuse. 

"I think if women are still with their abusive partner, they're probably just feeling more anxious about whether they have the opportunity to access services in the community or whether they can call the shelter," she said.

"The reality is, if your children are home with school and you're home, there might be more stress in the home. If you're not working, if your partner is not working, if the children are home, just a general stress level might increase the risk and anxiety of abuses going on in the home."

Genevieve Isshak, clinical director of residential and community services at Hiatus House, said the facility was operating at capacity three weeks ago even before the global COVID-19 pandemic broke out. 

She's also worried for women that may need to stay home.

"We know that isolation is a common abusive tactic that partners use — isolating them from friends, from family and so, if they are at home and self isolating, that puts them absolutely at increased risk of violence and harassment," said Isshak. "So this COVID-19 pandemic has certainly put abused women at increased risk."

The federal government is pledging up to $50 million for agencies that help women fleeing abuse cope during the pandemic.

A recent CBC News investigation found that an ongoing shortage of available shelter beds is leading to thousands of women and children being turned away every month.

Heightened screening at the facility in Windsor means many women will have to access services by phone or online. 

"All of the outreach programs for women, for children have been suspended until April 6," said Isshak."But all those clients, we are providing phone support, phone counselling and they can access our 24-hour help line for additional support."

Isshak said about 3,000 crisis calls are made to Hiatus House each year. On average, they see about 250 women and 195 children. 

With files from Amy Dodge and Julie Ireton

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