There has been a 20 per cent increase in domestic violence calls in Oceanside this year compared to last, according to RCMP. This increase can largely be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Const. Tara Gueulette.
“The abusers are at home more often now — people don’t have that access they had before to leave and to have that break and [because of] financial concerns — emotions are higher, so we are finding there are a lot more domestic violence calls,” Gueulette said.
There has also been an increase in the severity of cases during COVID-19, Gueulette said. She found domestic violence occurs in all age ranges and social statuses.
“It’s all over Oceanside — there is not one particular area that has more than the other. I have been to Nanoose in these big, nice fancy houses; I have been to Bowser; I have been to Qualicum… it’s all over,” she said.
Cases of domestic violence often go unreported because victims do not know what an investigation, court and police involvement will look like — Gueulette said she wants to answer questions to empower people to choose the best way to deal with their unique situations.
Police have different procedures for domestic violence compared to other calls and Gueulette said it is important to highlight this. In most cases, it is up to the victim and not the police to press charges, but domestic violence is an exception.
“When arrive at a domestic violence call — if there is evidence that a physical assault has occurred — then we do arrest and put forward charges on that person,” she said. This takes blame off the victim and directs anger at the police officer instead, which Gueulette said is what they want.
COVID-19 has affected the way police can deal with domestic violence. Gueulette said it was common for officers to ask one party to leave for the night to calm down in cases where there is no physical violence.
”Now we are finding with COVID that people don’t have those families or friends’ houses that they can go to like they did before,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created what Toni Wheeler, executive director at the Haven Society called a “shadow pandemic.”
“[It] is an alarming increase in violence against women that we are experiencing now in our society,” Wheeler said.
“This is attributed to confined living conditions — house, economic and food insecurities as a result of COVID-19 and it has absolutely intensified cases of domestic violence, putting women and children in immediate danger.”
On average, every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Wheeler and Gueulette participated in a panel on domestic violence in Oceanside called Silent No More on Sunday. Community partners shared stats, opinions and ideas.