Abuse is awful at the best of times, and these are the worst of times.
Whether that abuse is verbal, emotional, physical or sexual, it’s hard to flee when you’re ordered to stay at home – or get sick and possibly die.
By mid-April, less than a month after we were all sent home, domestic violence rose 20% to 30% in some parts of the country. Lord knows what it is now at the end of June.
Gillian Freeman, the executive director of the non-profit Victim Services of York Region, told the media: “Anecdotally, it looks as though it tripled overnight.” Some days her organization gets 30 to 60 referrals compared to a dozen before the pandemic.
Maybe the loosening of restrictions will be a life-saver for the 1 in 10 Canadian women who are abused and especially for the Canadian woman who is killed by her partner every six days.
But maybe we can stop this carnage via some new thinking – as well as expanding women’s shelters and securing the funds to keep their lights on.
Here are two ideas, one from China which is increasingly viewed by Canadians as devilish, and the other from New Zealand, which is positively angelic. When it comes to abuse, neither of these labels really stick.
On July I the city of Yiwu in eastern China will open a searchable database so its residents can check if their future spouse is an abuser before they get married. The reason, of course, is the pandemic, and the before marriage part is critical in a traditional society like China’s. There are lots of issues here – surveillance, leaks, police indifference – but it’s a start that we might consider ourselves.
The second idea comes from a land you wouldn’t think would have one of the highest rates of domestic abuse in the developed world. But New Zealand is and does. Police there respond to family violence every four minutes.
The idea, now the law, gives victims of domestic violence 10 days paid leave so they can flee their partners and find a new place to live for themselves and their kids.
Good on them, I thought. Plucky New Zealand. We all know that the decision to leave an abuser is fraught with all kinds of reasons that scream: “Don’t leave.” So to remove even one of those reasons is laudable.
But then I read more carefully. This didn’t happen last month. It happened two years ago. The Bill was passed in July 2018 only after the entire opposition National Party withdrew its support claiming it would cost businesses too much and dissuade employers from hiring women they thought were victims of violence.
Puleeeze. It reminds me of when seat belt legislation came to Canada in 1976. The automakers screamed seat belts would add hugely to the cost of their vehicles, and that no one would buckle up anyway. Forget that seatbelts save 1,500 lives each year in Canada. That’s more than 10 times the number of women killed by their partners in Canada each year.
But at a time when the boundaries between work and life are blurring more than ever, anything we can do to help the thousands of women trapped in their homes with an abusive spouse is long overdue.
No matter where that idea comes from, or when.