January is Sexual Assault Awareness Month but due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings, events usually hosted to promote the message have had to go virtual.
But that doesn’t mean the events, which focus on violence faced at home, will go unnoticed.
Organizers with the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society (COEFS) and UBCO’s Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) said this is especially important now, as calls for service have increased.
COEFS victim services worker and team lead Samantha said since the pandemic started and more people have had to stay home, the number of people calling in to ask for help and those using their services have skyrocketed.
“Just this past summer, especially in July, we’ve seen some of our highest numbers ever,” she said.
“Our numbers are skyrocketing and have pretty much stayed consistent since then… we also see an increase during the holidays, especially in January, and we’re seeing that now.”
She said that overall, they’ve seen at least a 30% increase in new clients coming to COEFS for help.
Samantha said now more than ever, it is important to highlight issues of sexual assault especially as many people aren’t able to physically check in on their friends and family because of the pandemic.
“We need to shed a light on this… because sometimes, those in your bubble, those you’re isolating with, they’re the ones who are abusing you.”
She added this is why it’s important to make sure you have a select group of trusted people with who you know you can talk about your situation. Another tip she gave is having a code word with your safe group that will let them know what you need when you need it.
“But it’s just all so individualized so it’s hard to say that there’s a one-size-fits-all way to get out of an abusive situation.”
“Another big thing is to get connected to resources like us, the Kelowna Women’s Shelter, Mamas for Mamas, and other places like this. We will listen to your specific situation and come up with a unique plan that would be safe for you,” Samantha said.
And if you suspect that your friend or loved one may have been assaulted or may be in an abusive relationship, Samantha said the best thing you can do is be there for them, listen to their story, and help them connect to resources.
Another important thing to do is to learn ways on how to prevent sexual violence as well.
For more information on sexual violence and UBCO’s virtual events, visit SVPRO’s website.
To access help through the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society, you can call them at 250-763-4613. More information can be found on their website.