Doris didn’t know she was an abused woman.
She married young and knew her husband was increasingly angry as their family grew. He became more and more moody, controlling and physically abusive. Doris had no income, community connections or anywhere to go so didn’t tell anyone, even after her children moved out of the family home.
She was 77 and a widow when Doris realized the trauma she’d endured. Doris, her name changed for her security, called Victoria Women’s Transition House (VWTH) after reading an article in the newspaper about an arts program for survivors of domestic violence and abuse. She recognized herself in the article, contacted VWTH and worked with a counsellor. She realized her strengths, reconnected with her children, met her grandchildren and moved forward with her life.
Greater Victoria experts don’t want women experiencing violence to wait the decades Doris did.
Unfortunately, at times of crisis, evidence shows an increase in gender-based violence both in and out of the home, according to Susan Howard, development director of Victoria Women’s Transition House.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the United Nations notes emerging data and reports from those on the frontlines show violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.
The UN dubbed the growth in intimate partner violence, the shadow pandemic.
Prior to COVID-19, a woman was killed by her intimate partner every six days in Canada. In April and May 2020, that number rose to once every three days, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. Nationally, 16 per cent of women reported concerns about domestic violence.
Locally, the Victoria Women’s Transition House Society opened a second safe home to help women and children, Howard said. At the start many women didn’t know the shelter was available and found themselves isolated with an abusive partner. When the restrictions lifted in late spring last year, a flood of women suddenly reached out.
Many were in situations similar to Taylor, a woman who came to the emergency shelter with police after calling 911 on a night her partner threatened to kill her.
Taylor was a single mom to a little boy, Ryan, when she arrived in Victoria. The city was expensive, and she lacked the supports of family and friends. Her life was stressful and she had little confidence.
Then she met a charming, handsome man who was attentive to Taylor and her son. He helped with Ryan, bought them gifts and treated them to take-out dinners from restaurants. Taylor felt safe and cared for. Once the three of them were living together, things started to change. David installed a GPS on her phone. He always knew where she was, but also wanted to know who she was with. He was critical of the way she dressed, the books she read and her parenting.
After a cycle of fighting, fear, violence and apologies, Taylor no longer felt safe but also felt embarrassed. With COVID-19 and a limited social bubble, she felt trapped.
Taylor mustered the strength to call police and get to the safety of the emergency shelter.
The VWTH shelter is open and available to anyone who identifies as a woman, as well as their children, for a stay of up to 30 days. Digital platforms allow for secure online counselling should a woman wish, and programs for children are also available.
“We want women to know that the resources are available and that we’re here to help,” Howard said.
Because research has shown abuse can be generational, with traumas occurring from one generation to the next, the organization also offers critical counselling programs for children who witness abuse. “We want to provide them some guidance so it’s not normalized for them,” Howard said.
Marlene Goley, manager of Victoria’s Cridge Transition House and Outreach Services, said the number of women using their transition house remains steady. However, the severity of violence increased significantly in 2020. The Cridge Centre for the Family offers various services, including shelter and resources for adult women.
“The violence always gets worse, and indeed it did. For a lot of women, by the time they were able to leave, they had experienced a lot more serious violence,” Goley said. “COVID hasn’t caused violence against women, but it’s shone a light on the horrible dark corners of how women are isolated, how they’re trapped, how difficult it is for them to get out.”
Anyone in immediate danger should call 911. A woman not in immediate danger can call the Transition House 24-hour crisis line at 250-385-6611 for resources and help.
Women can access outreach services, or those looking to volunteer can call Cridge Transition House crisis line at 250-479-3963.
Men in need of help and resources can call the Pacific Centre for the Family at 1-866-478-8357 or the Men’s Trauma Centre 1-866-793-6367.
For those in society looking to help, actions are key, Goley said.
“Do whatever you can to confront those attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate the violence. That takes a lot of courage sometimes, it can be awkward and uncomfortable but it’s important – women’s and kids’ lives are depending on it.”