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Why rise in hate and domestic crimes during COVID are expected to continue

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK

Two of the most significant changes in Canadian crime rates during COVID saw increases in hate crimes and domestic abuse.

While the roots for each are different, and not necessarily directly linked to COVID, they continue to show unwanted growth.

Statistics Canada reported recently that hate crimes increased in Canada by 37% in 2020 versus 2019. While 2021 data is not yet available, anecdotally there doesn’t seem to be any decline, according to Rochelle Stevenson, Interim Department Chair for Thompson Rivers University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

“I think there was a whole host of things that happened and I don’t think we can specifically blame COVID,” she said noting, however, that hate crimes directed towards Asians did go up when COVID got blamed on China.

Statscan loosely defines a hate crime — there's no specific criminal code section — as any crime motivated hate based on many factors including race and gender.

“We can look to some general ideas around politics and around the political environment,” Stevenson said. “We saw, certainly, a lot of that rhetoric coming out of the States during Trump’s presidency. It’s not like he created that. He just gave permission for those attitudes to come forward.”

That had something of a trickle-down effect in Canada where more people felt they could speak up in racist terms.

“It gets scary and, certainly, folks who were not necessarily thinking clearly or were scared or have this underlying attitude to start with, it almost gives them a little bit of permission to act out,” Stevenson said.

READ MORE: COVID’s toll on Kelowna citizens showing up in crime stats as increase in assaults

While that trend seems to be persisting, COVID’s impact on intimate partner violence and domestic assault is, in some ways, just now coming to light.

“What we’ve seen is an increase in calls to domestic violence shelters and crisis lines with folks basically saying that the violence that has been perpetrated towards them has increased in severity and frequency,” Stevenson said.

While it does not seem that people who had never abused a partner before COVID started during COVID, the intensity and frequency of the abuse went up due to the added stress and things like increased alcohol consumption.

“On the other hand, what we did see, was some of the (phone) lines go quite silent,” Stevenson said. “The fact that someone was home all the time with their abuser. They didn’t have those outlets, for example, of going to work, where they could seek safety, or going to school where they could seek safety and so, what we saw, was the silencing of people who really needed help because they didn’t have a safe space to reach out.”

Now that there is a growing relaxation of COVID restrictions people are more able to start the difficult road of trying to escape from the abuse.

“We’re coming out of that dark place but we’re not out of it,” Stevenson said. “It’s difficult to come out of a dark place when we’re talking about intimate partner violence because it’s so prevalent. Going back to work and with schools being open again, there’s more opportunity and more space for people who need to seek help, they have more ability to reach out for that now.”

What's not yet clear is the magnitude of the need or the ability of agencies to help.

Stevenson is currently involved in a research project called the Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group that looks at the relationship between animal and human abuse.

Part of that research includes collecting data on what resources domestic abuse shelters currently have, which will show the level of the problem and what more resources may be needed to help these agencies meet the increasing demand for services.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 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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