Brea Hutchison, executive director of Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, says calls to their crisis and support line have increased dramatically since people have been told to stay home during the current pandemic.
“We’ve seen about a 40 per cent increase in crisis contact,” Hutchison said.
“That’s enormous; we’ve haven’t seen a 40 per cent increase in such a short period of time in my time at the centre.”
Kingston Interval House runs a shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence.
Interval House’s executive director, Pam Havery, says they haven’t seen that increase in their organization, but she’s concerned.
She says women staying home for extended periods of time with abusive partners is dangerous.
“We aren’t by any means contradicting that message from public health,” Havery said, “but we also have to continue to acknowledge home is not always the safest place for women or for children.”
Havery says she expects an increase is coming in women looking for help from Interval House. Families staying home together for extended periods of time, she says, is similar to the holiday season.
“We don’t see any women calling to come in to the shelter, this sort of getting through the holiday season with their family, and then after the holidays we’re extremely busy,” she explained.
The need for social distancing, meanwhile, is impacting how both organizations deliver their services to the people they help.
Counselling isn’t done in person for the time being, Havery says.
“The councillors are working with our clients remotely, either over the phone, through texting or with Skype.”
Hutchison says Sexual Assault Centre Kingston had started a pilot project to deliver counselling remotely after receiving a federal grant nine months ago.
“Back in June of 2019 we had the opportunity to start bringing on the technology, bringing on the technology and training our staff,” she said.
The the pilot project, called Going the Distance, is supposed to run for five years to test and measure the best practices for video and distance counselling.
The pandemic has forced Sexual Assault Centre Kingston to ramp up the project more quickly than originally planned, Hutchison told Global Kingston.
“Come mid-March, we went from a very slow rollout to a very rapid rollout very quickly,” Hutchison said.
Hutchison says remote counseling comes with a number of challenges.
“You don’t get the privacy of a counselling office,” she said. “We have to deal with family, we have to deal with perpetrators.”
Hutchison says they’ve been lucky to have the nine-month leadup that many other organizations haven’t had as they change their practices to match the need for physical distancing.
Hutchison says their original plan pre-COVID-19 was to enroll 300 participants to participate in distance counselling over three years.
The executive director says because of the changes due to COVID-19, they’ve already enrolled 200 participants since March 15.
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