Hundreds of purple ribbons adorn the tree outside of Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society (ACAWS) in Uptown Port Alberni, marking a rise in domestic violence since the COVID-19 pandemic began earlier this year.
The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence is a global campaign that starts on Nov. 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) and ends Dec. 10 (World Human Rights Day). Each year, ACAWS marks the occasion by putting up purple ribbons. Each ribbon represents a reported incident of violence against youth or women in the Alberni Valley over the past year.
This year, there are more than 360 ribbons on the tree.
“It’s horrible,” said ACAWS executive director Ellen Frood. “But at least it’s representative of that fact that women are feeling comfortable coming forward and reporting.”
Domestic violence has been on the rise in Port Alberni since the pandemic was declared in March. According to the Port Alberni RCMP, domestic violence calls were up by 100 percent in the second quarter of the year (April to June) and the third quarter (July to September).
Frood says the pandemic has had a direct impact on these numbers.
“Sadly, an abuser will often try and isolate the partner,” said Frood. “Now we have the provincial health officer telling people to stay at home. Call it a perfect storm, if you will.”
Although the first couple months of the pandemic were “fairly quiet” at ACAWS, Frood said most programs are now fully booked, and victim services is seeing “a large number” of domestic violence files moving through the court system. Most ACAWS staff are working remotely, using phones and computers to offer support services and counselling.
“We’re like everybody in the community right now,” said Frood. “We’ve had to become very innovative in how we offer our services. But we haven’t stopped at any time.”
The Transition House run by ACAWS remains open 24/7 for women who are experiencing domestic abuse and their children. Women who do not feel safe making a phone call can text 250-206-1011 to reach out to the Transition House.
According to Frood, the purple ribbon campaign is a way to raise awareness for the community and to let people know that there is a safe place available for women and children who have been affected by domestic violence.
“Everyone deserves to live, to work, to study in a safe environment,” said Frood. “Really, this is about awareness. We all have a role to play in creating safe spaces.”