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COVID-19 pandemic impacting SOWINS with helping abused women

“Everything,” responded South Okanagan Women in Need Society executive director Debbie Scarborough Friday without hesitation. “One-hundred percent of what we do has been impacted by the global pandemic.”

Scarborough remembers the day the COVID-19 pandemic hit very well. It was March 11 – her birthday.

“It’s impacted everything. Everyday service we provide has been impacted,” continued Scarborough. “We have not stopped our services. But we have changed the way we deliver our services in order to keep those that we serve and our staff safe.”

At one point, Scarborough was about to expand on details of the coronavirus and its impact on SOWINS, which opened in 1981 – until reality quickly set in.

<who> Photo Credit: NowMedia </who> SOWINS executive director Debbie Scarborough.

“I’d have to say the biggest impact… actually, you know, every program has had a huge impact,” she exclaimed aloud. “For a lot of individuals that are overcoming intimate partner violence and sexual violence, it’s that one-to-one, and that belief that the women you’re counseling believes and trusts you.

“As we know, 80% of what we communicate is through our body language, and tone of voice and inclination, and then words. We’ve had to go virtual, so a lot of women have said they would wait until they could have a face-to-face, which has been hard, because we have a fairly large wait list.”

Intake/outreach advocacy has become critical as a result.

Everyone waiting for a SOWINS counselor is called on a regular basis to see how they are doing, and if they require anything immediately.

“Our advocate can help them with any crisis,” said Scarborough. “She can talk about anxiety, and bring them down and diffuse them. She can also steer them toward help, and fill out forms until they can get in to see a counselor.”

But there is good news as the pandemic enters its seventh month.

“Counselors are now able to see some clients face-to-face. We have counseling rooms where there is enough space and we can meet in person,” said Scarborough. “We’re getting back on our feet with those individuals.

“All of them have felt supported throughout, so that’s really good.”

Social distancing continues to play a significant role in not allowing those most in need to gain a positive connection.

“If you can imagine. You finally get away from your abuser. You come into a transition house, and we have a beautiful one. Everyone has their own bedroom and bathroom – and you’re not allowed to come into the communal area. There’s no communal toys. You can’t sit and talk to a woman and have a tea and let your children play,” said Scarborough, adding that food is now put into go containers and delivered to each room. “Women that were already isolated, are further isolated. But we do have a way we can check in. If they don't have a phone, we can give them a phone, so they can talk to our counselors.”

The children of women who have been abused are also being affected at a time when they require simple comforts, such as a hug.

“We just can’t pick up children and help out and carry them,” said Scarborough. “And with women who are pregnant, the abuse often escalates. If there’s already abuse in the relationship, it escalates during a pregnancy because it’s an added stresser.”

Scarborough shows concern. She says the COVID-19 pandemic has brought out a new element for counselors to contend with.

“It’s kind of sad because what we’ve seen is a different type of abuse. Abusers are saying, ‘I’m going to bite you’, or ‘I’m going to spit on you and I’ve got COVID’, or, ‘I was with a friend and they’ve got COVID’,” she said. “So there’s that added stress and they can’t escape.

“We suspect we’re going to have a whole lot more people coming forward in the next few weeks as school gets back in because a lot of women and children have been suffering in silence.”

Check back soon for more on innovations which are helping women keep anonymity when contacting SOWINS, and how coronavirus has impacted fundraising efforts.

To help with a donation, click here.

And remember, the crisis line is staffed 24/7. Just call 1-800-814-2033.

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