opinion

Shadow pandemic: Domestic violence has risen worldwide

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a devastating mark on communities across the province. Daily, we are reminded of the importance to remain vigilant and safe by complying with public health measures. While this is helping fight the spread of COVID-19, this inevitable isolation is leading to increased rates of domestic violence.

The United Nations has deemed this worldwide spike a “shadow pandemic.” In Alberta and around the world, we are facing a tragic wave of increased violence. We are taking action in Alberta. In fact, we are leading the way with domestic violence prevention practices.

Additional provincial funding has been instrumental in helping our community partners to meet these challenges – ensuring that vital supports are available, even in the midst of the pandemic. Service providers and community organizations have stepped up, adapted and modified their services to continue helping anyone experiencing domestic violence, with ongoing support from Alberta’s government.

For instance, workers with the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) now take additional steps to assess safety and provide support to clients who may be living with one or more abusive individuals. This includes increasing awareness of a signal they can use to communicate violence wordlessly over video calls.

Another example is a new app developed by the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter, called ShelterLink. The app provides real-time access to shelter bed availability in Calgary-area women’s shelters. This technological solution means individuals affected by violence do not have to make multiple calls and shelter staff can coordinate real-time access to beds and other supports.

In addition, there are many successful family violence prevention initiatives currently underway in the province, including the Dragonfly Counselling and Support Centre in Bonnyville. This organization offers specialized crisis intervention, counselling, police and court support and other services. Last year, the centre expanded their services and opened a new satellite office in Athabasca. This is helping them connect with clients in hamlets, towns and Indigenous communities. This is especially important as 42 per cent of Dragonfly’s clients identify with an Indigenous cultural background.

For those individuals and families fleeing violent situations, the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional barriers. Many people are facing unemployment and cannot afford to move. Alberta’s Safer Spaces program helps remove a barrier for survivors fleeing domestic violence by enabling them to end a tenant agreement without financial penalty. Over 1,420 Safer Spaces certificates have been issued since 2016.

Most recently, Alberta’s government announced $7 million in funding to 21 civil society organizations. Of that, $800,000 was awarded to the Sagesse Domestic Violence Prevention Society in Calgary. This organization empowers people and communities to break the cycle of domestic violence.

Finally, Alberta and Saskatchewan are leading the country in the implementation of our versions of Clare’s Law. In Alberta, the Disclosure to Protect Against Domestic Violence (Clare’s Law) Act came into effect on April 1. People who feel they are at risk of domestic violence can apply for a disclosure to find out if their intimate partner has a history of domestic violence or related acts.

It is important to emphasize that help is and always will be available. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call the Family Violence Information Line at 310-1818. This line is open 24/7 and support is available in more than 170 languages.

The shadow pandemic demands a coordinated, compassionate and long-term response. Alberta’s government is working actively and collaboratively with partners across the province to prevent domestic violence and support those experiencing it. We will continue to do so until domestic violence is eradicated in our province.

Rajan Sawhney is the Community and Social Services Minister.

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