While social distancing, self isolation and quarantines can be a difficult and frightening time for everyone, there are members of our population who might be put in direct danger as a result of the government’s calls to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the Government of British Columbia, intimate partner violence is the most common kind of violence experienced by women in the province. Women in rural areas experience even higher overall rates of intimate partner violence, with rates close to four times higher than those for men in the same area.
With COVID-19 forcing everyone to stay at home, it raises the question, how will the virus impact those experiencing domestic violence and intimate partner violence?
“It’s well established that sexualized violence, intimate partner violence and child abuse increase dramatically when disasters such as the current COVID-19 pandemic strike, as well as in the recovery times post emergency,” explained Lauren Fox, executive director of the Fernie Women’s Resource Centre (FWRC). “It’s important that we stay connected with our clients and continue to provide as much service as possible during the coming days, weeks and months as the impact of COVID-19 continues to unfold.”
Although they, like everyone else, have been forced to alter the way they support women in the valley, the FWRC is still working hard to ensure women, children and vulnerable populations in our region stay safe.
Fox noted that the centre is still operating, albeit in a different fashion. They are taking phone calls from Monday to Friday between the hours of 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. and working more online.
“We are also supporting clients electronically with email and video conferencing,” she said. “We are offering face to face support for essential services like help with safety planning, income, and housing. I would really encourage people to like our Facebook page as we are sharing a lot of info that way right now.”
Although the centre is still offering face to face support for essential services, they are keeping stringent measures in place to keep everyone involved safe and healthy. In a statement from the FWRC, they noted that they “are currently practicing good social distancing but also keeping the doors open to drop ins and in person counselling sessions.”
Anyone who has travelled in the last 14 days or who is either showing symptoms of the virus or living with someone who is showing symptoms is asked to not come into the centre but to reach out via phone or email instead.
“If they are symptom free we are welcoming people in the centre but only one at a time,” said the statement. “We are also sanitizing a lot. We are providing over the phone outreach support and are working on being able to provide online counselling services.”
For people who may be experiencing domestic violence, Fox encourages them to reach out to the FWRC during operating hours. Outside of operating hours Fox suggested contacting Elk Valley Safehomes by phone at 250-946-6004. This resource responds to calls 24 hours a day and texts from Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
In this time of great uncertainty, the FWRC is making sure to look out for those who might be in a dangerous situation. Fox noted that despite COVID-19, this essential service will continue to support women and children in any way that they can.
“At this point all of our programs will continue to run, just in different ways,” she said. “We will be offering a lot more support online and over the phone.”