’IT’S LIKE A PRESSURE COOKER IN THE HOUSE’: Calls to helplines jump during pandemic
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In B.C., the Battered Women’s crisis line received more than 1,800 calls in March, doubling the number of calls received for the same month a year earlier, said MacDougall. Calls more than tripled in April compared with the same month in 2019 before levelling off later in the summer, she said.
The number of calls the crisis line receives usually ticks up by five to 10 per cent each year, however the increases in the months corresponding with the start of the pandemic were “massive,” said MacDougall.
In Toronto, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline usually receives about 4,000 calls per month, said resource development manager Yvonne Harding.
This year, counsellors picked up more than 55,000 calls between March and September alone, she said. Call volume began ticking up in March and hit a peak of about 8,000 calls in June. An additional 11,630 calls didn’t get through or were dropped before connecting.
Women have called the helpline from bathrooms or closets when their abuser was taking out the garbage, said Harding, who has also noticed an escalation in the severity of abusive behaviour in the calls.
“Where things maybe were at a level of emotional abuse and verbal abuse, they’ve crossed the line into physical abuse. Where things were already physical, it crossed another line into threats and fear for their safety and their life.”
The helpline serves women across Ontario and Harding said she’s heard from shelter workers in rural areas who noticed an “eerie silence” in the first few weeks of COVID-19 restrictions.