Over the past year, many events have taken place, affecting the lives of Canadians. There have been government measures implemented, restrictions imposed, curfews and more. Some have talked about a pandemic in the shadows. What is that? According to a national report in Canada, since the start of this global crisis, shelters have seen a sharp increase in attendance.

CBC recently reported that, in a survey of 87 women who had used shelters in the past, 79% said they had experienced domestic violence during the confinement. In addition, 43% said their children had also been abused. “There was domestic violence and, as a result of that episode, I took my children and went to a shelter with them,” Mona, a survivor of domestic violence, reported. Stories such as this are more and more frequent since the beginning of the last year. According to Statistics Canada, one in four violent crimes reported to police is concerned with spousal violence. Women and their children have been at risk from the onset of forced isolation.

Recently, some Canadian provinces have imposed curfews to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. Unfortunately, this has also trapped those at high risk of abuse. “Right now, the thinking is that women who are confined with an abusive spouse under curfew are at greater risk of abuse. The reality now is that escape routes are not always available to women involved in a violent relationship,” says Louise Riendeau, spokesperson for the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale.

It is extremely difficult to find an escape route from this problem due to the constraints of social distancing and forced isolation at home: “The first thing a violent spouse will do is isolate his spouse and children from their social networks. Thus, the pandemic becomes a breeding ground,” explains Manon Monastesse, Director of the Federation of Women’s Shelters.

In addition to an increase in cases of violence against women, the severity also increases. According to the shelters, there is an increase in the number of women who suffer stabbings, strangulation and fractures. This abuse affects the mental as well as physical health of Canadian women. As these victims live 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their abuser, it is sometimes difficult for them to find the right time to contact help.

Another serious issue involves shelters having had to reduce capacity to meet new government-imposed health standards. There is very limited space for women and children in distress.

The resources for women who are victims of domestic violence are more and more limited than they were before the pandemic. This situation must be exposed, and we must take action to help abused women and children in Canada. “A national action plan on gender-based violence is something that many advocates have been calling for over many years,” says Andrea Gunraj. There is a hand signal now recognized as a cry for help: put your thumb in the palm of your hand and close your fist. If someone shows this call for help, remain calm so as not to alarm the aggressor, and call police. Stay alert. You can save lives.