Christian Calzar and Coreen Fahrenschon staff the crisis line at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter. Calls are way down in April, which is troubling staff at the shelter. (Advocate file photo).

Calls for help are way down — raising concerns at the Red Deer women’s shelter

Director believes many abused women are finding no opportunities to seek help

Calls about domestic violence are down at the Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter — but that’s likely not good news.

The centre’s operations director, Corrie McKilligan, said 139 calls were made to the emergency line in April, compared to 257 calls in April 2019.

“It’s quite a significant decrease… and it’s worrisome,” said McKilligan.

She explained stress caused by financial uncertainty and isolation — which are burdening many families during this time of COVID-19 — is known to fuel domestic strife instead of diffuse it.

With so many spouses working from home or unemployed this spring, McKilligan believes more women could be in unsafe situations. But with their abusers around all the time, they could be finding no opportuities to call for help, she added.

“It’s disturbing.”

McKilligan wants central Albertans to know “we are definitely available to help you in any way we can.”

The local shelter is now operating with 10 rooms instead of the usual 14 because of physicial distancing requirements set by the province, and all 10 rooms are full.

But McKilligan said staff are prepared to call other shelters to find room, or discuss other options for getting women out of dangerous homes. They are also willing to provide emotional support and other resources.

“We will assess the risk and connect any way we are able to.”

Jan Reimer, executive director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, said shelters are working to keep their spaces safe, both for women coming in to flee violence and for their workers.

“We know that historically, in times of crisis, incidents of domestic violence increase… With the public health messaging of ‘stay home,’ we are concerned that many women are afraid or unable to seek the help they need,” said Reimer.

She wants to ensure women know that shelters are doing everything they can to continue to accommodate women facing domestic abuse.

“And you don’t have to go into a shelter to get help from one. Shelter workers can support you to prepare to leave safely or find another safe option.”

The council put out a release on dealing with domestic violence during the pandemic. It’s available here or at https://acws.ca/covid-19-update.

domestic violence

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