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Family Law... Domestic Violence During COVID-19

For victims of domestic violence, being confined to their homes with their abusers for months while waiting for the pandemic to end could be particularly dangerous.

Danika Beaulieu – April 2020

In an effort to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Canadians have retreated to the comfort of their home to remain safe and healthy. However, not everyone has a safe place to call home. For victims of domestic violence, being confined to their homes with their abusers for months while waiting for the pandemic to end could be particularly dangerous.

Since the commencement of the pandemic, many countries have reported an increase in reports of domestic violence. In Canada, Argentina, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, government authorities and women’s rights activists have advised of increasing reports of domestic violence during the pandemic, and asked for an increase in emergency shelters.[i] 

In France, reports of domestic abuse have increased by 36%, according to police. In China, calls to helplines have tripled compared to last year. In the UK, calls to helplines have increased by 25%.[ii] In Singapore and Cyprus, calls have increased by more than 30%, and in Australia, 40% of frontline workers have reported increased requests for help with violence that was escalating in intensity. These statistics are staggering.

To provide some information about the frequency of domestic violence prior to the pandemic, Statistics Canada reported that intimate partner violence, which includes emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, as well as homicide, accounts for 25% of violent crimes reported to police. In 2011, there were approximately 97,500 victims of intimate partner violence, and 80% of these victims were women.[iii] Further, approximately every six days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner, and on any given night in Canada, approximately 3,491 women and their 2,724 children sleep in shelters to escape abuse.[iv]

The increase in domestic violence appears to be linked to increased stress in the population and loss of power. Stress increases anxiety, which in turn can lead to anger and increasingly elevated outbursts and blame. At a time when people’s stress levels are at an all-time high due to loss of employment, financial uncertainty, and uncertainty for the future, domestic violence victims are at increased risk.

What I find most terrifying, however, is that victims of domestic violence have found it increasingly difficult to seek refuge in  shelters as physical distancing measures have limited the capacity of these facilities, and some facilities have even been forced to turn away women.

However, there may be a silver lining. Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the government would contribute $40 million to Women and Gender Equality Canada. Approximately $30 million of that would be provided to more than 500 shelters and various sexual assault centres across the country, and the remaining $10 million will go to Indigenous women and children’s shelters, which could help increase the capacity at these shelters.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety, please call 911.

Another option available to you to protect yourself from future harm is to request an Emergency Protection Order (“EPO”). An EPO is a short-term solution to deal with those situations when you are in urgent need of protection. To apply for an EPO:

You may also apply for an EPO if you have been the target of domestic violence from the parent of your child.

To apply, you simply call the Justice of the Peace Centre at 1-866-816-6555. The application is made over the phone and will take about an hour.  You can apply any day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  The Justice of Peace will talk with you about the kinds of abuse you are experiencing, how long the abuse has been happening, when it happens and other important information, like if you have children and why it is an emergency. If the EPO is granted, a copy will be faxed or mailed to you and the police. The police will tell your spouse or partner about the EPO.

If you require an EPO outside of these hours, or you wish to have a support person help you, a police officer, victim service worker or designated employee of a transition house can apply on your behalf. A list of  shelters near you can be found at: https://www.sheltersafe.ca/nova-scotia/.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, an MDW Law lawyer can discuss your options with you and help you through the above processes. To schedule a consultation, please call 902-422-5881 or email info@mdwlaw.ca .

[i] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2020/4/statement-ed-phumzile-violence-against-women-during-pandemic#notes

[ii] https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/domestic-violence-increases-with-stay-home-pandemic-response-1.4885597

[iii] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2013001/article/11805/11805-3-eng.htm

[iv] https://canadianwomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FactSheet-VAWandDV_Feb_2018-Update.pdf

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