Domestic violence hides in the shadow of pandemic: Elizabeth Fry Society - InfoNews

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Domestic violence hides in the shadow of pandemic: Elizabeth Fry Society

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
April 03, 2020 - 8:00 AM

Michelle Novakowski worries the COVID-19 pandemic will play right into the hands of perpetrators of domestic violence.

Already, the executive director of the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society has heard from RCMP officers on the frontlines that they’ve seen more cases of domestic abuse. The RCMP’s numbers, however, don’t yet reflect any change in the calls for help made, since the state of emergency was called.

Domestic violence, nonetheless, is about power, control and isolating people from family and friends, Novakowski said.

With restrictions like social distancing in place due to the virus this type of forced isolation may be harder to recognize from afar and deal with when in the midst of it. It's been the case across Europe and Asia as the pandemic swept through, with associations that help victims of domestic violence sounding alarms in almost all major cities. There's no reason to assume it will be different here.

“We are seeing situations with clients, where the phone is in their partner’s name and they’re cutting it off and the ways women are contacting us,” she said.

“Our staff are worried about women who don’t have access to data technology — where an ex has destroyed a cellphone, or people who can’t afford a phone or a computer. Some of our clients have pay and talk, and when the data runs out we can’t get a hold of them. It is a concern, especially for low income working women who don’t have data technology.”

They’ve come up with some ways to address some of the gaps that are starting to make themselves apparent.

“We are having to do interventions, and getting cellphones to our clients so they can connect with us and police if they need to,” Novakowski said.

To get the phones into the hands that need them, the Elizabeth Fry society made a call out this week for old, working condition mobiles. The community stepped up and now Elizabeth Fry has a small stock of phones for when and if another woman needs it. If anyone has an extra laptop they can donate, it would also be appreciated.

Other issues they’re dealing with is serving their clients who are used to in-person counselling, either one on one or in groups.

Like so many others in the working world, Zoom is being used to maintain social distancing while still doing the one-on-one work that needs to be done.

“We’re finding a lot of our clients are liking this — they don’t have to worry about childcare,” Novakowski. “We’ve always had kids in the office, but we’re not set up for childcare.”

Group counselling, however, has been cut for the time being. While the social problems posed by the pandemic may not be easily solved, Novakowski said they can be helped simply by being a watchful and kind neighbour.

“Spread kindness and keep an eye out,” she said, adding if you see someone who is in trouble, don’t hesitate to report it.

They’re also doing a fundraising drive.

Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society is partnering with Kelowna Women's Shelter to raise awareness of the realities facing women across the country due to intimate partner and family violence.

As essential services in our community, both are committed to supporting women and children throughout this challenging time when barriers to accessing help are higher than ever.

To donate, click here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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