So far, the fallout of Canada’s recession has been largely confined to job loss and devastated finances. But women’s shelters across the country are starting to see financial woes spilling over into violence, as reports of domestic abuse rise.
The Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter has seen one of the largest jumps, with the number of phone calls to its helpline tripling in February, compared to the year before. Its counsellors say the economy is often cited as a contributing factor. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” says Lisa Falkowsky, the shelter’s executive director.
Similarly, the Vancouver Crisis Line has experienced a 36 per cent increase in calls so far this year over last year. There are also reports of a 100 per cent increase in domestic violence calls taken by police in Brockville, Ont., and the Ottawa Carleton Sexual Assault and Partner Abuse Care Program says it is getting more requests for medical treatment. Oshawa, which has experienced a heavy round of layoffs in male-dominated ?elds such as the auto industry, is reporting a 24 per cent increase in cases of violence against women in the fourth quarter of 2008 versus 2007.
“The abuse is intensifying,” says Falkowsky. “We’ve always known there are economic links to the way people respond to stress. There’s an increase in drug and alcohol abuse.” She says that space is getting so tight that her shelter is having to house women in hotel rooms, but she adds that they would never turn anyone away.
Nationwide statistics on domestic violence have yet to be compiled for this year—but studies have shown that rising unemployment can cause an increase in spousal abuse. In particular, a 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Justice found “a strong link between intimate violence and the economic well-being of couples and the communities in which they live.”