Usual – 25 to 30 calls per month
March 2020 – 59 calls, six COVID-related
April 2020 – 100 calls, 29 COVID-related
May 2020 – 76 calls, 10 COVID-related
June 2020 – 101 calls, 28 COVID-related
Calls about domestic abuse have more than tripled in St. Albert since the start of the pandemic.
Stop Abuse In Families (SAIF) Society is reporting its numbers have spiked since the pandemic began in March, and the society continues to handle more than three times its usual amount of clients as the months go on.
Areni Kelleppan, executive director of SAIF, said the calls are “unprecedented” but the society's staff are working hard to serve all those coming to them in need.
“It's been pretty significant,” Kelleppan said.
“A lot of people are in abusive relationships who never seek help, so they'll never go to a shelter, they won't seek help, they'll just cope ... they just learned to live with this. And with COVID, it just exacerbated things.”
Typically, SAIF has an average of 25 to 30 calls per month. This March, they had 59 calls, six of which were reported as COVID-19 related. In April, they received 100 calls, with 29 reported as COVID-19 related. In May, they received 76 calls with 10 being reported as COVID-19 related. In June, they received 101 calls, with 28 reported as COVID-19 related.
In the St. Albert RCMP’s latest quarterly report, police said they received 30 calls about domestic assaults in the first three months of 2020, compared to 27 calls in the last quarter of 2019.
Kelleppan said the calls to SAIF are made up of people asking questions about abuse and staff help them understand what abuse is. People could also be sitting at home alone during COVID-19 processing old trauma, or people who would typically access other services, like sexual assault supports, are coming to SAIF instead.
Kelleppan said due to cuts in funding and an increase in calls for service, the SAFFRON Sexual Assault Centre, as well as the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE), have been overwhelmed with calls and wait times have gone up, driving people who need support to SAIF as well.
“We've become one of the only games in town, for lack of a better word.”
The executive director said there is no one reason why domestic abuse calls are on the rise, and the issue is a complex one, but factors that can exacerbate an already abusive situation include hits to the economy, working from home, job losses and money problems, spending a lot of time together, alcohol consumption and isolation from friends and family.
“It’s not just one thing, and I think it would be remiss of me to say (it’s one thing). It's a complex set of factors. And people cope differently – and without any of their coping mechanisms, crap hits the fan,” Kelleppan said.
Right now, SAIF is fielding all of the calls that are coming in by keeping their team members flexible. So far, they are managing to support all of the clients. But cuts to budgets and grants across the province could pose a problem next year, after federal COVID-19 money runs dry, Kelleppan warned. SAIF is already having to dial back some services, and in November they are forced to close their elder abuse program because of funding cuts.
“Come January, when all of these COVID-19 programs and all of the COVID-19 funding opportunities will probably dry up – because at some point, they're going to have to dry up – I think that we will be in some real trouble in trying to continue to meet the need, because I think the need will continue to grow in January, but the funding may not.”
SAIF can be reached at (780) 460-2195, and they have a list of resources on their website.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Those not in immediate danger are encouraged to call the RCMP general information line at 780-458-4300.
To donate to SAIF, you can visit their website at www.stopabuse.ca.