A Vancouver organization supporting women facing abuse and violence has seen a spike in calls to its crisis line amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
Angela Marie Macdougall, executive director of the Battered Women’s Support Services, said that calls have increased by over 100 percent.
“We're getting calls from women that are currently experiencing abuse,” Macdougall told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
“We’re getting calls from people who are concerned about their neighbors,” Macdougall continued. “We're getting calls from people that are concerned about their co-workers.”
MacDougall said the BWSS’ crisis line typically gets 50 calls a day.
“At the moment, we're getting 60 more calls than usual,” she said in the interview on March 25.
Women’s advocates have warned that as people are made to stay indoors to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, women in abusive relationships will face more risks of harm.
According to MacDougall, this phenomenon was observed in China, where the virus was first reported in 2019.
“We’ve heard from our Chinese counterparts how much the isolation that was associated with being quarantined was a factor in domestic violence and how difficult it was to support survivors,” MacDougall said.
In a March 16, 2020 media release, BWSS stated that 90 per cent of recent domestic violence cases in China cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a “contributing factor”.
With this in mind, Macdougall and her colleagues went on a campaign to inform women that BWSS crisis will remain open.
“What we want it to do is that we wanted to get out in front of this, and we wanted to get the word out in advance so that we would be able to support survivors in a very pro-active way,” she said.
The campaign also resonated with friends and professional colleagues of women in danger.
“People are recognizing that victims of violence are now potentially at more risk,” MacDougall said.
MacDougall said that the current requirement for social distancing to fight COVID-19 has made it difficult for women and their supporters to deal with circumstances.
Before, it’s easier to get out of the house to do things like talk to someone, or access a variety of supports in person.
“You can go meet a friend for coffee, but when you're stuck in the house, there isn't that same ability and so it changes everything,” MacDougall said.
In a March 19 media release, MacDougall called on the provincial government to provide immediate financial support for BWSS.
Additional funding will help the organization increase staffing and extended hours for the crisis line.
With more resources, the BWSS can also help women purchase additional phone minutes and Internet data for them to stay connected to the crisis line.
The BWSS crisis line is at 604-687-1867 or toll free at 1-855-687-1868.
Phone lines are open Monday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., and on Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The BWSS advises women:
- If you’re unable to speak safely, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you are in danger, call 9-1-1.
- Have a friend that you trust call the crisis line and make a plan with your friend if you’re not able to talk.
- Create a safety plan if you’re not able to call BWSS: www.bwss.org/why-safety/planning.
- Use a neighbor’s phone to call BWSS (if safe).