If you’re feeling less-than-delighted about the curfew, think of the women struggling with conjugal violence, for whom the home is far from a safe place.

The Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence conjugale and its 43 member shelters are calling for vigilance and solidarity so that conjugal violence, violence from an intimate partner, does not do more damage than the virus.

In the spring of 2020, forced isolation meant countless women in unsafe homes had to live constantly with their abuser, while being cut off from their loved ones and co-workers, the only lifeline for some.

In a survey conducted by our collective, we collected the stories of 87 female victims of conjugal violence between July and Nov. 2020. The finding is clear: violence intensified, both in frequency and severity, during confinement.

Forty-two per cent of the respondents said they underwent more serious violence and 43.5 per cent were victimized more frequently.

Among the types of violence suffered, almost everyone reported psychological (91.3 per cent) and verbal (89.9 per cent) violence, but also economic (58 per cent) and physical (49.3 per cent) violence, harassment (35 per cent) and sexual violence (27.5 per cent).

In 51 per cent of cases, children experienced abuse from a parent's partner more frequently and with greater intensity. 

As we enter into a new lockdown, coupled with an unprecedented curfew, there is an urgent need to draw lessons from the spring to protect women and their children.

Our survey showed that women did not seek help mainly for three reasons: the presence of the partner who did not allow them to call for help (43 per cent), everyday concerns related to the pandemic (29 per cent), but also public health recommendations that discouraged them from seeking support (21 per cent).

In addition, lack of access to transportation and fear of not finding a place to live after housing also led some women to abandon their efforts (46 and 31 per cent respectively).

These observations invite us to take an active role, both individually and collectively, with these women.

As relatives, neighbours, elected officials, employers, and essential workers, we can make a difference.

Three simple actions can be taken by each and every one of us:

  • Widely disseminate information on the shelters and help centres that remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to welcome women and their children in compliance with health regulations. Services can also be offered by telephone. Share the SOS Violence conjugale contact, which offers the possibility of calling (1-800-363-9010), texting or chatting online, or the one at the shelter in your area.
  • Ask the women around you, who may be experiencing relationship difficulties, how they are doing. If you detect signs of distress in one of your loved ones, keep in touch with her, listen to her, suggest resources, agree on a code that will allow her to tell you if she needs help if she cannot speak because of her partner's presence, and offer to contact these resources on her behalf. If necessary, offer to take her into your home. This may be a matter of life and death.
  • If you are in contact with clients or patients as an essential service provider, indicate that you can support women who are victims of conjugal violence, as several pharmacies did in the spring by offering to make a call discreetly.

We also invite the government to communicate widely, as Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault did, that the curfew and lockdown must not in any way prevent a woman from fleeing an abusive living environment, at any time of day or night.

In this context, access to affordable housing, beyond emergency shelter, must be a government priority.

To all women struggling with violence, let us send them the strength to get out of their homes, and the message that they are not alone.

Chantal Arseneault is the president of the Regroupement des maisons pour femmes victimes de violence.