30% rise in domestic, family dispute during pandemic

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Women’s shelter doubles in call volume

By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative

An analysis done by the Chatham-Kent Police Services found that assaults, domestic and family disputes have been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The purpose of the report was to present the board with an overview of how the pandemic was affecting crime.

“The Chatham-Kent Police Service suspected this would be the trend given the issues surrounding COVID,” reads the report to the board.

Calls for service were analyzed from April 1 to Aug. 31, 2020 and compared to the same time frame last year.

Most alarming were calls for service regarding domestic disputes – verbal arguments or physical altercations between those in past or present intimate relationships – which have seen a 32.5 per cent increase (535 calls to 707).

Calls for service regarding family disputes (verbal argument or physical altercation between family members) has seen a 26.5 per cent increase.

The police data is also in line with what the Chatham-Kent Women’s Centre has been seeing over the past seven months of the pandemic, according to executive director Karen Hunter.

“We are hearing from a lot of women. The (pandemic) stressors are of course having an increase in abuse for many people. and that’s not an excuse or reason for the abuse to happen,” Hunter said. 

The centre has nearly doubled in calls as many clients have been struggling with dealing with the pandemic and fears at home, according to Hunter. 

“But with the isolation piece, when people can’t get out to access services sometimes abusive partners hold that against their partners. ‘You can’t leave me there’s nowhere to go.’ So it’s often very difficult to access those services.”

Walk-in clients and in-person group work has been put on hold because of the virus, but the centre has increased their virtual individual and group counseling meetings.

“It’s not that we’re extremely busy because people during the pandemic are  isolating so they are not always able to leave their partner or their home or stay at another location. So it’s a difficult situation for women, or anyone, being abused,” she said. 

The centre’s congregate living setting means that the majority of clients are being brought to other locations, such as motels, to ensure everyone is properly spaced apart.

“It’s adding extra costs and makes it very difficult to provide services that women and children need,” Hunter said.

The Women’s Centre will also be asking the community to make donations or give gift cards during their annual “I Believe” Christmas campaign. The monetary gifts will be handed out to clients this year instead of gifts.

People struggling with anger or mental health issues can reach out to Chatham-Kent’s different counselling services, Family Service Kent, Canadian Mental Health Association Lambton-Kent, or view CK Public Health’s full list of resources.

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