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Marking the 4th Pandemic Anniversary, New Report Brings Shadow Pandemic of Domestic Abuse into the Light  

Author: Dr. Miranda Pilipchuck

March 19, 2024

During the summer of 2023, my colleague Tosha Duncan and I took a research trip across Alberta to study the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on domestic violence and abuse survivors and the domestic violence shelters and shelter staff who support them. Over the course of seven weeks, Tosha and I visited nine communities across all parts of the province. This was the first time since the pandemic began that ACWS had done in-person research with our members, and it was my first time visiting our member shelters. I knew this was the right decision, but especially after all the stressors of the past four years, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What we found was astonishing. 

Shelter staff and survivors welcomed us into their spaces and their communities with warmth and kindness. They shared incredible stories of fear and resilience with an honesty that humbled us. Survivors made it through the worst of what the pandemic had to offer at a time unlike any other in modern history. Shelter staff never stopped supporting them as they did.  

We took the stories that survivors and staff shared and combined them with quantitative data ACWS and our members have collected since the start of the pandemic. The resulting report, When Other Doors Were Closed, Ours Were Open, is one of the most comprehensive accounts to date of how the unique conditions created by the pandemic impacted survivors, their children, their communities, and the shelters and staff who support them. 

These findings should stop us all in our tracks. The long-term effects of the pandemic are profound. Both survivors and staff have faced extraordinary barriers. Early in the pandemic, as organizations closed or moved online, many survivors and their children were trapped at home with their abuser, unable to safely reach out for help. Those survivors who were able to reach out had less help to reach out to, as governments and community-based organizations closed their doors or moved their services online.  

These barriers have had an undeniable impact. Survivors and service providers report feeling exhausted, stressed, and burned out. They also expressed serious concerns about the impact the pandemic has had on the well-being of children. When schools closed early in the pandemic, more children were exposed to abuse 24/7. This increased exposure has led to a corresponding increase in negative side-effects, including behavioural problems, aggression, anxiety, and challenges in school. To quote one staff, “some scary things came out of COVID with kids and [there being] nobody there to hear them or to be able to report.” 

But despite the overwhelming difficulties they’ve faced, the survivors and staff we spoke with kept going through it all, and their stories serve as a guidebook for how to escape and address domestic abuse during extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Throughout the entire pandemic, not one of our members faltered: every ACWS member shelter remained open, even when other sources of support closed their doors. In every community we visited, that was an incredible point of pride for shelters, and an invaluable resource for survivors. 

I hope you read the report and are as inspired as I am by the stories in its pages. I am continually amazed by how dedicated survivors, shelters, and their staff are to ending violence and abuse. The last four years has proven that nothing will stop them from working toward this goal. 

They cannot do it alone. For all their dedication and hard work, survivors, shelters, and staff are all facing increasing systemic barriers with dwindling resources and funding that has not kept pace with demand. And so many of the shelters we visited said the same thing: this is only just the beginning. We are only now starting to see the full impact of the pandemic. Shelters need our help, survivors need our help, and now is the time to step forward. In the words of one survivor, “I can get through anything in life if I have people by my side.”