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On Covid Anniversary, New Report Shines Light On Alberta’s “Shadow Pandemic”

Findings show Alberta communities must prepare for increased domestic abuse in order to meet survivors where they are at 


Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters’ newest report, When Other Doors Were Closed, Ours Were Open released today, shines a light on the impact of COVID’s “shadow pandemic” on Alberta’s domestic abuse survivors and the shelters that support them. Featuring the voices of survivors and service providers from across Alberta, it is one of the most comprehensive reports to date of how the unique conditions created by the pandemic, declared four years ago today, impacted survivors, their work, their children, their families, and their communities.  

Including stories and data, the report serves as a guidebook for how to escape and address domestic abuse during extraordinarily challenging circumstances. It also warns that the worse may be yet to come.  As one shelter staff shared, “I feel pretty strongly we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg.” 

The report reveals what is making it harder for survivors to heal and how navigating systems barriers have itself become an additional form of stress and trauma. For all the challenges, the report also shares stories of resilience, innovation, and success because domestic violence shelters across Alberta never closed their doors. Instead, they adapted their service delivery methods to continue to support survivors amid health restrictions. While public messaging campaigns urged people to “stay home, stay safe,” shelters recognized home was not always a safe place for people to stay. They developed their own public campaigns to let survivors know shelters were open and available to support them both in-person and virtually.  

The impact on Alberta survivors, shelters, and service providers of this “shadow pandemic,” a term coined by many scholars, advocates, and activists to label domestic abuse conditions that arose during COVID, is staggering.  When Other Doors Were Closed, Ours Were Open reveals: 

  • Children exposed to abuse face greater barriers and display more challenging behaviors than four years ago 
  • Shelters were often the ONLY resource for women in the community and were a lifeline for many survivors. 
  • There is a continuing dearth of many social services across Alberta and especially in rural communities. 
  • Survivors are experiencing dwindling empathy from both organizations and neighbours. 

Perhaps most alarming, across the province, shelter directors and staff expect the impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic on our social fabric to get worse, even as pandemic resources dry up.  Report author, Dr. Miranda Pilipchuk, ACWS’ Research and Evaluation Coordinator, says, “Many of the systems of support that survivors rely on—including mental and physical wellness supports and supports for managing substance use—have been stretched thin by the pandemic, and survivors are experiencing more barriers than ever accessing them.”  

Jan Reimer, Executive Director of ACWS, adds, “After four years of supporting survivors during pandemic conditions, without increases in funding or resources, shelter staff are tired and resources are limited in the face of growing problems.” 

This report may be used by researchers, planners, advocates, survivors, and community leaders to better understand the state of the problem as well as the crucial role domestic violence shelters play in their communities, and to provide a framework for working with survivors and shelters to construct solutions. 


  • Calls for help and the number of survivors that Alberta shelters are unable to house are both at 10-year highs. 
  • 85% of staff surveyed reported that economic abuse has increased since the pandemic began. 
  • 65% of survivors surveyed in the last year are at severe or extreme risk of being killed. 
  • 72% of staff surveyed reported increases in burnout caused by the pandemic. 




Contact: Dr. Miranda Pilipchuk

Phone: (587) 689-5710

Email: miranda.pilipchuk@acws.ca