By Sally Armstrong, The
, 22 April 2020. Stay at home
to be safe. For women trapped in abusive relationships this mandated measure to
get out of harm’s way is condemning them to terrifying danger.
One in 10 women is very or extremely concerned about the possibility of
violence in the home, suggests a Statistics Canada survey about COVID-19.
A woman is locked in with a man whose intention is to hurt her – to blacken her
eye, to break her arm, to toss her against the wall or down the stairs.

The Assaulted Women’s Help Line reports a 400 per cent increase in calls
from desperate women. The shelters are full. While some women are getting
through to the help lines, the police and the shelters worry that many victims
can’t pick up the phone or leave the house.
That’s why the Canadian Women’s Foundation developed a code to assist
women who need help. It’s a hand sign – hand straight up, thumb turned across
the palm and fingers folded down over the thumb. It means “I need help.”
Paulette Senior, president and CEO of CWF says, “It can be used on Face
Time or a Zoom call but, she cautions, “It’s only helping women who are online
and once it’s known it’ll become ineffective.” She says this is a time when we
need to use all the tools in the toolbox to rescue women in danger.
The stressors in a pandemic are a perfect storm for intimate partner
violence: fear, uncertainty, close quarters, job loss, reduced income,
disrupted routines, loss of the services that help families in trouble combined
with the usual ingredients of jealously, misogyny and the obsessive need to
The Center for Global Development says, “Quarantines and social
isolation mean that abusers and those they harm are in close proximity around
the clock and other people aren’t around to see the signs of violence and
Even before the pandemic began, the statistics around violence against
women for this country were a disgrace: one woman is killed by her partner
every six days, and 6,000 women seek shelter every single day. Much has been
done – the federal government provided $30 million in increased funding to the
575 shelters for women and children. Hotel rooms have been seconded to increase
the number of shelter beds, women have been given cellphones so they can call
for help.
But that’s not the point, is it? The great success of the premiers and
the territorial leaders and the prime minister in this pandemic is the way they
have directed a blazing hot light on existing problems that are now demanding
attention: supplies for front line workers, nursing homes, the treatment of
vulnerable Canadians, the guaranteed annual income (surely after providing
adequate income during a crisis we won’t claw that back and tell people to
manage without sufficient money to buy food and pay rent).
Now is the time for the leaders of our country to speak out about
intimate partner violence, to tell the husbands and fathers and sons and
brothers that this is a problem YOU must solve. Laws have been rewritten,
awareness levels have been raised, shelters have been built all across the
country and counselling is available.
The cost of this violence in Canada is $7.4 billion a year. Imagine
that. It is our oldest and most expensive problem.
For all the changes that have been made and all the progress heralded
for our daughters, the outlier that stubbornly resists change is the dark and
secret underbelly of intimate partner violence.
It simply must stop. Its consequences are mind numbing. Its scars are
everlasting. And it has a way of injecting itself into the next generation.
But it will not stop until men are part of the conversation. I call on
the leaders of this country to reach out, to tell the men – if you’re having
trouble with your anger and your temper, if you aren’t treating the members in
your family properly, there’s help available – call a support line or join an
anonymous group. There are dozens online.
But that’s not enough. The leaders need to speak truth to power. “If my
brother, father, son, friend, colleague is abusing his partner, I want him to
know I am against his behavior and our relationship is over until he does
something about it.”
Let that be a legacy of this wretched pandemic.