The Plague-Ground – Cooped up with someone you dread?

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.

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12 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Cooped up with someone you dread?”

  1. Domestic violence is such an important issue. I applaud New Zealand for taking steps to help women leave but still don’t think it goes far enough. The database is an excellent idea, the best in my opinion. Unfortunately with our privacy laws here in Canada, I just can’t see the powers that be allowing access to that information. But they should because public shaming works.

  2. The Guardian article referenced the fact that PC blue Ontario has similar legislation. That would have been nice to see in today’s blog entry but was mysteriously absent.

  3. When I filmed a sequence in Chile, for a film on the subject of violence against women, I worked with the Women’s Police. They were somewhat subordinate to the men’s unit, but very active in cases of violence against women, which were plentiful. It was such a logical solution. Male police officers had difficulty recognizing the seriousness of a husband beating his wife.
    I appreciate that it is a complicated solution, but from the stories I heard from women who are victims in Canada, perhaps almost anyone would be an improvement on those members of the police force who have issues acknowledging the levels of danger. It seems that some police officers experience the complaints of female victims of male violence, as whining, and overstated. A women’s police force. Think about it.

    1. Gail — I’d love to write about the women’s police force in Chile. But I can’t seem to find anything about it online. Can you steer me to the right links? Cheers and thanks. Bob

  4. Penelope Fridman

    There is no national helpline in Canada for women in an abusive situation. Since the lockdown, the Assaulted Women’s Helpline, which is an Ontario service, has had an increase in calls and has been accepting calls from all across Canada and doing their best to locate the necessary resources and support as required in each province. We need a national service and more funding for organizations such as AWHL.

  5. Living with domestic abuse or child abuse during uncovid is hard enough, and with covid diabolical. Kudos to NZ for their program – I am curious the percentage of people who take courage and advantage of it. Abortion is legal in Mexico but next to impossible to get.
    A lawyer once told me a woman is abused on average 36 times before she seeks help.

  6. Sally Armstrong

    Bob why must we shelter women and leave the men out of the conversation. Women have done everything possible – they have changed the law, written their way into constitutions the world over, raised awareness, put shelters up all over the ;place. Now it’s time for the men to own this problem. It’s time for men to speak out , to censor their friends, brothers, fathers, associates who beat up their wives and girlfriends. If you know a man who is violent with his partner or who speaks in violent terms, tell him your friendship is over until he changes. Give him the number of a support group that can help him get over his rage. But STOP telling women what to do – we already did it. This is a problem men are responsible for. It costs $1.3 trillion a year around the world.If a man does nothing about it – he is just as guilty as the brute who comes home from work in the c-suite or the factory floor and takes out the rage he has with this life on the defenseless woman who is stuck with him – not to mention in front of the blameless children who witness this horror on a regular basis. Over to you.


    I absolutely agree with Sally that men need to own their part of the problem and take effective action. However, even though many women have done everything possible to deal with these issues, there are also women who are complicit in the problem. They, too, can be negligent by not holding men accountable for their unacceptable actions. They, too, can contribute to the problem by staying silent or worse by taking the side of the aggressor. I have experienced that some women will protect men, whether they be friends, partners or relatives. In trying to comprehend this phenomenon I can only speculate as to the complexity of reasons. (I’ve edited out whole paragraphs in a futile attempt at brevity.) It should be added that some women also abuse men.
    In calling out women, I would also include myself. I can only be more helpful to others by continuing to explore my own difficulties, by accurately identifying certain male transgressions and by learning to deal with transgressions more effectively. I am specifically referring to lesser abuses such as bullying and inappropriate sexual comments, but the wounds of even these can be compounded by the added betrayal of having no validation and community support by those present. In my case this mirrors early childhood experiences. How much worse will a person’s ongoing violent abuse be with a failure to intervene by known witnesses?

    So I would say, as a society, we ALL need to clarify what is acceptable and what is not. We ALL need to heal whatever is in our past that holds us from clearly identifying actions that are damaging to ourselves or others. We ALL need to recognize that a better comprehension of these issues can be activated to protect others. We ALL need to take a stand. Understanding trauma in our own lives and acknowledging how it compromises both personal and societal health is a start. It is far easier said than done.

    I am adding a link to a free online trauma conference, The Trauma & Mind Body Super Conference, starting June 29 and running through July 5. Registration allows immediate access to informative videos by such trauma experts as Gabor Mate and Bessel van der Kolk. I have no affiliation with any of the organizers or presenters.

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