Ottawa, 25 November 2020

Today, Women’s Shelters Canada (WSC) released Shelter Voices 2020: The Impact of COVID-19 on VAW Shelters and Transition Houses. A majority of violence against women (VAW) shelters reported a decrease in crisis calls and requests for admittance during the first three months of the pandemic, while a similar majority experienced an increase in those calls and requests when lockdown measures eased. One in two (52%) shelters saw an increase in the severity of violence that the women they were serving had experienced.

“These findings have confirmed what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from women’s shelters across the country since March,” said Lise Martin, executive director of Women’s Shelters Canada. “We knew that women were having trouble reaching out to shelters when they were isolating at home with their abuser. The demands on shelters – in terms of capacity and in dealing with more severe cases of abuse – have only increased as the pandemic continues.”

Comments revealed disturbing trends in the violence frontline workers were seeing, including an increase in physical attacks (specifically stabbing, strangulation, and broken bones), forced confinement, sexual violence, emotional and financial abuse, increased human trafficking, and an overall higher frequency of abuse in all forms.

Findings showed that perpetrators had used the pandemic itself as a strategy to further abuse and control women who were confined to the home due to COVID-19 restrictions. “Isolation is an abuser’s dream,” said Martin. “Shelters have been seeing more cases of survivors reporting controlling behaviour and coercive control. Government stay-at-home orders inadvertently made things worse for women, with abusers even threatening to give women or their children COVID.”

This special issue of WSC’s annual report also includes information on capacity, how COVID-19 has impacted the work of shelters, how they have adapted, and what adaptations they plan to keep post-pandemic. Responses were received from every province and territory, urban and rural areas, and Indigenous (First Nation, Métis, Inuit) shelters and transition houses.

As we head into the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, WSC is also partnering with Twitter Canada to ensure women across the country know that help is available. Beginning this week, when users search for certain keywords related to domestic abuse and violence against women, a prompt will appear letting them know that if they or someone they know is experiencing violence, they can reach out to a shelter 24/7 using WSC’s online map, This is part of Twitter’s international #ThereIsHelp Gender-Based Violence prompt.


For media enquiries, contact:
Kaitlin Bardswich, Communications and Development Manager

Women’s Shelters Canada brings together 14 provincial and territorial shelter organizations and supports the over 550 shelters across the country for women and children fleeing violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence, you can find your nearest women’s shelter and its crisis line on