While millions of Canadians stay home to keep safe and help flatten the curve, for one group of Canadians, home has become more dangerous than ever.
Victims of domestic violence are experiencing a greater threat as many are confined to their homes with their abusers.
One woman told CTV National News that since self-isolation and physical distancing became the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic, her home life has grown increasingly violent.
“He hits me, he chokes me, he throws me on the stairs,” said Sadia, whose identity has been protected for this story.
Her husband, a truck driver, used to be on the road for work. But the pandemic changed all of that. Her torment has intensified since his work stopped. “It's not been easy since he came home,” she said. “Before the coronavirus hit, I felt safe because he's not around.”
On Friday, she escaped to a shelter with her two children.
Seeking the refuge of women’s shelters has grown difficult around the world, as physical distancing measures limit capacities. Some facilities have even been forced to turn away women.
“Our number of calls is rising across the board for financial abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse -- everything,” said Zena Chaudhry of Sakeenah Homes Shelter.
Globally, cases of violence at home are on the rise during the pandemic. In France, reports of domestic abuse have soared 36 per cent, according to police. In China, calls to help lines have tripled compared to last year. In the U.K., they’ve increased by 25 per cent.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently called for urgent action on the issue by world leaders, suggesting countries ensure shelters are deemed essential services, that they invest in online services and outreach groups, and set up emergency warning systems in pharmacies and grocery stores.
“Violence is not confined to the battlefield. For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest -- in their own homes,” Guterres said in a Twitter video on Sunday.
“I urge all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19.”
In Canada, funds recently committed by the government could help boost the capacity at shelters. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the government would contribute $40 million to Women and Gender Equality Canada. About $30 million of that will go to more than 500 women’s shelters and various sexual assault centres across the country. The remaining $10 million will go to Indigenous women and children’s shelters.
The undisclosed shelter where Sadia took refuge last week, doesn’t know how much of that money it will get and when, officials told CTV National News.
While not much is certain during the pandemic, Sadia is certain about her message for other victims of violence.
“Don't think about where you’re going to go. Just leave,” she said.