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Possible rise in domestic violence incidents during COVID-19 pandemic

IMAGE. Supplied by Waypoints

Incidents of sexual violence continue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The crisis deepens as isolation increases and socialization decreases.

Janine Keagan, Sexual Assault Program Manager with Waypoints said she believes there is an increase of similar incidents in Wood Buffalo.

“There is emerging evidence from around the world that self-isolation to prevent the spread of [COVID-19] is creating the perfect storm for a spike in both domestic and sexual violence, as well as child sexual abuse.”

Keagan said they reviewed data from other countries such as China.

That nation experienced the pandemic around three weeks earlier than Canada.

She said China’s domestic and sexual violence rates increased threefold.

“Pandemic stressors such as unemployment, financial stress, or loss of coping strategies can increase attempts to “control” others through sexual violence.”

Keagan also mentioned a similar situation for survivors of child sexual abuse.

“For child sexual abuse and sexual assault, statistics have shown that for survivors whomever their abuser is [that’s] someone that they know. With COVID-19 and people self-isolating, chances are they’re in situations that aren’t very healthy right now.”

Online grooming and sexual violence could also put isolated individuals at risk during the pandemic.

Research indicates approximately 60 per cent of women and 29 per cent of men in Alberta experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime.

READ MORE: Half of all Albertans experienced sexual abuse in their lifetime

Keagan encourages survivors to speak with someone they trust about what affects them.

She said residents should listen, believe, and support survivors who entrust them with that information.

“Tell them that you believe them, let them know that you’re there for them, encourage them to seek support. You don’t ever want to push someone to go to the police or make a report; that’s completely up to them to do. You just want to make sure that they know you’re there for them, and how ever they need you to help that you will do that for them.”

Waypoints have a number of services available for survivors and their families experiencing sexual abuse and assault.

Their outreach services go to the region’s rural communities, and the women’s shelter is still in operation.

Keagan said there are COVID-19 parameters in place to keep staff and guests safe inside the shelter.

Any survivor in crisis may contact Waypoints’ 24-hour trauma support line at (780) 791-6708.

For more information about programs, services, or counselling, go to Waypoints’ website.