Helplines for women, LGBTQ youth increase services amid influx of calls due to pandemic
TORONTO -- Nearly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic abuse faced by women and LGBTQ youth hasn’t slowed, and lockdowns only make matters worse.
With provinces and territories in and out of various states of lockdown, women and LGBTQ youth can be more vulnerable in precarious and unsafe living situations. Whether they’re about an abusive partner or unsupportive parent, the calls haven’t stopped or slowed.
“Pre-COVID-19, we received nearly 50,000 calls annually from women across the province. Between April 1 and Dec. 31 2020, counsellors answered over 70,000 calls. One third of those calls are from outside of Ontario,” Yvonne Harding, manager of resource development at Assaulted Women’s Helpline told CTVNews.ca in an email.
The increase in calls has become a new normal, much like intermittent lockdowns and masks.
“In the first 3 weeks alone [of the pandemic], there was a 400% increase in the number of calls specifically seeking shelter,” said Harding.
Helplines for LGBTQ youth are seeing a similar increase. Youth Line's phonelines have been down since last March, but they've turned to text and chat services in place of phone calls.
“Even with our phone service currently down (which it has been since last March) we saw a large 30 per cent increase at the start of the pandemic,” said Minna Frederick, manager of peer support at the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line. “Our numbers continue to be higher than usual. We have had to increase our new volunteer training cycles to meet demand.“
And it’s not just the number of calls that has changed.
“The biggest impact restrictions and lockdowns have had on the lines is actually to the content of the calls,” she said. “We are experiencing increased chats/texts from queer, trans, and two-spirit youth who are at home with unsupportive families and in some cases experiencing family violence,” she said.
The youth who use the helpline often rely on the support and connection of peer groups outside of their homes, but with lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions in place, they’re unable to meet with their peers and supportive groups.
Lockdowns and physical distancing can create a perfect storm in violent home situations.
“We know that stay-at-home orders and physical distancing are necessary for the greater good, but fear for folks living in violent situations because these circumstances are the perfect conditions for intimate partner violence to occur and intensify,” Keri Lewis, executive director of the Interval House in Ottawa, said in an email to CTVNews.ca.
As people are stuck at home with abusive spouses or family members, helplines have had to adapt their services to help those who may not feel safe picking up the phone, on top of increasing their numbers of counsellors and volunteers.
“In the late fall we introduced online counselling. We knew many women were finding it difficult to call with their partner at home,” said Harding.
If you are experience domestic abuse and seeking help you can access these services:
Assaulted Women's Helpline: toll-free line 24/7 at 1-866-863-0511, or online Monday to Friday 11-8.
Youth Line services are available here.