Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Over the past year, domestic violence calls have gone up 29%, something that Natasha Carvalho, executive director of the Medicine Hat Women’s Shelter Society (MHWSS) attributes to the stress of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic casting a darker shadow on already potentially dangerous situations.
“We’re seeing a definite increase in people accessing services. I think that the pandemic has definitely cast another shadow on top of people who are already stressed out and not living in great situations,” said Carvalho. “So that sort of exacerbated it. And we’re seeing a lot of people we hadn’t seen before and other people. But on the other hand, I’m glad that people are reaching out for help when they need help, and are coming to seek shelter or connect with our programs or whatever they need to do to get the help that they need.”
The added stress of the pandemic may have become the final straw for families, said Carvalho, creating a sort of “perfect storm” situation in the household.
“There’s been a lot of things that have come out not just about like, not just COVID related, but maybe like the domino effect of COVID. Job loss, financial insecurity, that adds a lot of stress to families, children having to do homeschooling or online schooling,” said Carvalho. “That adds a lot to families to be expected to sort of manage and support that. And so I think when our families are in crisis, adding anything extra on top of that, to expect them to manage that it’s just sometimes untenable, and they just can’t do it. And then with that comes a strain on mental health and, you know, perhaps addictions related issues to cope with that. Everything is sort of piling up together.”
One in three women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and one in eight will be affected by complex post traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD said Dr. John Kennedy, a psychiatrist with Brain Health Alberta. C-PTSD is usually caused by repetitive traumatic experiences as opposed to a single event.
“Domestic violence is simply a full assault on the individual’s boundary to begin with. That alone produces a trauma in the sense that it’s like your border got invaded, and it has a lingering long term effect. And when you add physical assault to that, you then bring in effects upon all the senses that form us,” said Kennedy. In these circumstances those victimized become overwhelmed and often revert to survival instinct and shut down, and are left with lingering experiences of fear and avoidance even if there is no further violence.
The effects of this can result in not only difficulty for those experiencing the abuse, but may affect future children and those as far as four generations removed from the individual who was victimized.
“When a man beats up his wife in front of a child, when she goes on to have other children, the children that she has are likely to have anxiety disorders, even if the man died and it isn’t happening anymore. And the children who watched carry on the tradition,” said Kennedy. “If your father beat your mother, you are more likely to marry a guy who will beat you. So you can see that cumulatively across generations terrible consequences.”
“The abuse of another person is not determined by social economic factors. It occurs in the most wealthy families. It occurs in the poorest families. It occurs in both very well educated and very undereducated people. And it’s not protected by religion,” said Kennedy.
These factors can affect the ability to effectively access resources, however, and one silver lining of the Pandemic is that the creation of virtual or distanced assistance has allowed for more people in rural or otherwise isolated areas to reach out, said Carvalho.
“So we definitely have seen an increase in our outreach clients in terms of uptake. For people who do live in sort of outlying areas being able to access support, because they don’t have to worry about making the trip, they don’t have to worry about childcare, like there’s a lot of barriers that are removed, they can just pop on the Zoom and have a session with their worker and so that has actually been a great thing for us to be able to reach more people that way,” said Carvalho. “COVID has made things really hard with all of us socially distancing, and isolating, and all those different things. So if you’re worried about somebody, maybe check in on them and reach in and try to help them and have some conversations, maybe let them know that you do know about services if that’s what they indicate they need, help them make that call, or bring them over to the shelter to talk to somebody, whatever that looks like. But I think that, you know, it really requires a community effort to be a part of the solution to end family violence in our community.”