Haven Society says it is faced with a ‘shadow pandemic’ of gender-based violence

The Canadian Federation of University Women/ Parksville-Qualicum club sponsored Silent No More, a virtual panel on domestic violence on Nov. 29.
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The Haven Society has been forced to adapt to what social workers call a “shadow pandemic” brought on by COVID-19 regulations.

“We know that the violence that women are fleeing is significant enough that, in spite of a global pandemic, we have no choice but to make sure we set forth different rules of engagement — but for sure we are there for our clients, each and every one,” said Toni Wheeler, executive director at Haven Society.

A Statistics Canada study involving 17 police departments across the country found domestic disturbance calls increased by 12 per cent from March–June this year. Departments participated on a volunteer basis— Stats Canada said respondents serve approximately 59 per cent of the Canadian population.

Oceanside RCMP has seen an increase of 20 per cent in domestic violence calls this year over last, according to Const. Tara Gueulette. Despite this increase, the Haven Society said it have served fewer clients in its shelter this year, but stays in have been longer. 

“This trend is coupled with an increase in the number of women calling for emotional support, information about our program, resource information and safety planning. Yet, many are not ready to leave due to COVID related fears or report they are in the constant eye of their offender and fear what might happen if they try to leave,” said Dawn Clark, housing manager for the Haven Society.

Clark and Wheeler participated in Silent No More, a virtual panel discussion on domestic violence, last month to share their work and ideas. It aligned with the United Nations 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which runs from Nov. 25 – Dec. 10. 

“My message is two fold — number one, there is help available and number two, you don’t have to stay”

Bonnie Wallis

Bonnie Wallis, a local businesswoman who has used the services provided by the Haven Society in the past, shared her story with the panel. 

“My message is two fold —number one, there is help available and number two, you don’t have to stay,” she said.

Wallis said it sometimes surprises her that she was required to use the services at Haven House because she is strong and confident now. “But I wasn’t always. At one point in time I had very low self esteem and difficulty making decisions as a result of the abuse that I suffered by my spouse,” she said.

The abuse Wallis suffered began subtly — she said her husband had a temper, but she was used to this because she grew up in a home where tempers flared often. When the abuse became physical, she was ashamed to tell the truth — she said she lied to a chiropractor and said she fell down stairs.

“He wasn’t one to use his fists, but he threw me around quite frequently,” she said.

When her husband lied to police about what had happened after an instance of violence, Wheeler said she began questioning her own recollection of events. “Then I realized I was being brainwashed and my memory was correct,” she said.

Wallis said she saved money to rent a place of her own, but had to spend time in a safe house while she waited for it to become available. She got a job as a bookkeeper and became independent.

“Things got better bit by bit and here I am now. I am OK — I refuse to tolerate any abusive or blame behaviour,” she said.

The Haven Society has not shut its doors or changed its programs due to COVID-19, but it has faced challenges adapting. Clark said they have provided shelter to 11 women and four children as of April this year. 

“The urgency we are facing at the moment is — how do we keep women and children safe who are paralyzed by this pandemic? Women have been affected in a variety of ways such as, freedom of choice, disproportionate job loss and increased childcare responsibilities,” Clark said.

A recording of the Silent No More Panel discussion will be available on YouTube this month.

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