We suspected that the wave of feminicides that hit Quebec in 2021 was somehow related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now a study from the University of Sherbrooke has confirmed that the periods of incarceration imposed on the population against the virus have exploded domestic violence cases.
According to data collected through research from three medical students – Ariane Pelletier, Alycia Therrien and Marie-Aude Picard-Turcot – under the supervision of Dr. Mélissa Généreux, more than one in six women in a relationship (17.6%) experienced some form of spousal violence in Quebec in October 2021. In addition, 3.2% of women reported experiencing physical violence at the time.
If we could see a marked increase in reports of serious cases, leading to police intervention, resource support or tragically, murders, “What we didn’t know was at what point behind each femicide, there is a large number of women who live in an unhealthy climate”, emphasizes Dr. Généreux.
“We didn’t realize the magnitude of domestic violence was a little more invisible, which isn’t reflected in requests for help,” she adds.
These figures were obtained from online questionnaires sent to more than 3,500 women in pairs at four key moments of the pandemic, between November 2020 and October 2021.
By comparison, data from the 2019 General Social Survey (GSS) indicated that in Canada, “1.5% of women reported having experienced physical or sexual violence in the previous year” in Canada.
Still, according to information gathered by the three community health student interns, the Montreal region has been hit the most. Reportedly, 22.5% of women in a relationship had an index of domestic violence in October 2021.
The direct link between domestic violence and containment measures is explained by the fact that violent behavior towards women is said to have peaked in February and October 2021, during intense waves of the virus’ spread where severe restrictions were imposed.
Conversely, rates were lowest in June of the same year, when Quebec benefited from a summer easing that came with an opening.
However, this violence did not arise spontaneously with the advent of the pandemic. However, the health crisis has exacerbated these while reducing access to community support resources and to the social network that helps build a safety net.
dr. Mélissa Généreux hopes that by making these new data public, people will open their eyes more and listen more in search of signals that could raise a risk of domestic violence and prevent slippages.
The results obtained by the researchers lead to the conclusion that behind every femicide recorded in Quebec in 2021 are “nearly 3,000 female victims of abuse in a spousal context” and “more than 16,000 female victims” of one form or another. including verbal or psychological abuse.
“For example, if your partner repeatedly yells or speaks contemptuously to you, he has a name. It’s called verbal abuse or psychological abuse and it’s no more acceptable than physical abuse,” emphasizes the professor of the community health sciences department.
Based on these findings, UdeS researchers plan to propose new solutions to continue to fight domestic violence. A detailed report of their results with possible solutions should be revealed in June.
A public health problem
In addition, Dr. Mélissa Généreux, a public health specialist, believes that domestic violence is a serious public health problem and should be treated as such.
During her research she came across a void of knowledge about the magnitude of the phenomenon in our society. Except for the meager data from the GSS, a Canadian study, there was practically nothing to measure the prevalence of spousal violence in Quebec in a sustainable way.
“It seems to me that it sends a pretty clear message that we would benefit from a better understanding of how low-noise violence manifests itself in households,” said the University of Sherbrooke professor. We can’t just say that one in six women is living with an index of domestic violence and stop there, we have to keep going.
She recalls that the Public Health Act requires that a problem identified as a problem in this area be documented and then become the subject of a promotion, prevention and protection action plan.
“I am free to call it a public health issue because there are risks to safety, well-being and quality of life first and foremost,” she emphasizes.
dr. Généreux also adds that this violence leads to many secondary victims, starting with the children of a household. Then the numbers show that a woman with a domestic violence index is twice as likely to have anxiety or depression and three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts.
And as the pandemic seems to be quietly giving way to a return to normal, the expert is concerned about thousands of women now trapped in households for economic reasons.
“We could say to ourselves ‘it has to do with incarceration, everything will be back to normal’, but no! A relationship that has deteriorated will not suddenly improve. Moreover, with the rising cost of living and the housing crisis, there are very few many women are locked up and unable to escape an abusive husband due to their inability to find affordable housing,” she describes with concern.