By: James Burrows

Sandgate Women’s Shelter in Jackson’s Point is reporting higher call volumes, as York Regional Police respond to an increase in domestic incidents during the pandemic.

YRP Cst. Laura Nicolle said domestic incident calls were up 15 per cent in April, after rising 22 per cent in March, which means more women and families are reaching out for help.

“I think our call volume is up 20 per cent from last year at this time,” said Michelle Smith, the executive director at Sandgate.

The pandemic is also presenting some unique challenges for women who want to leave their abusive relationship, according to Ms. Smith.

“Women would usually have the opportunity to come out of their homes and have time to plan an exit strategy, and they no longer have that opportunity,” she said.

“Unfortunately, we know women and children are stuck in their homes with their abusers.”

That stark reality makes reaching out for help more difficult. For instance, using computers and social media to seek assistance can actually make women more vulnerable, as their spouse or partner may be able to read their emails, messages or posts. And the heightened anxiety we are all experiencing during the pandemic isn’t helping.

“We know domestic violence rises at peak times. Holidays, loss of jobs. Many factors contribute to a rise in violence,” said Ms. Smith.

“I think we’re going to see a spike after this for a long time. We are in touch with our outreach workers, but many of these women have never entered into our system. So we rely heavily on our community to provide outreach to women in need.”

While the pandemic may be causing higher rates of domestic abuse, it has also exposed a fragile support network that is in dire need of support.

Both provincial and federal governments have recently announced more funding for women’s shelters.

Last month, the federal government announced $26 million for Women’s Shelters Canada and $4 million to the Canadian Women’s Foundation to distribute the funding to sexual assault centres across the country.

In a press release Maryam Monsef, the minister for women and gender equality for the federal government, stated:

“We’ve asked Canadians to self-isolate and to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But not every home is safe. These investments support hundreds of women’s shelters, sexual assault centres, and Indigenous women’s organizations across the country. To those experiencing domestic violence and gender-based violence: speak to someone you trust and seek help. You are not alone.”

On April 2, the Ontario government announced a one-time payment of about $2.7 million to support services for victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes.

“Before COVID-19, women’s shelters were extremely underfunded for the services we provide,” said Ms. Smith. “Between Yellow Brick House and Sandgate, we only have 60 beds for a population of a million and a half.”

“We have been doing more for less for many years now. And now we’re going to see a further increase in need which could last until next year,” she added.

“Our governments have responded quickly, but there is always going to be a need for more funding.”

Sandgate is asking for donations to help support staff and provide services during the pandemic. Money, disinfecting wipes, gift cards, laundry soap and other essentials are needed.

To donate to Sandgate visit: www.sandgate.ca

Sandgate is encouraging people in the community to check in on those they feel are in abusive relationships.

To talk to a Sandgate women’s advocate about your personal experience, call their confidential 24-hour helpline at 1-800-661-8294.

Confidential and anonymous provincial crisis lines are also available.  
Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 1-866-863-0511
Talk4Healing: 1-855-554-HEAL
Fem’aide: 1-877-336-2433 (French language assistance)

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