(Stock photo from Pixlr)

Rogers, in collaboration with Women’s Shelters Canada, have announced they will connect women experiencing domestic violence and homelessness with phones, along with prepaid cards.

The Digital Lifeline Program will be implemented in 56 women’s shelters across British Columbia and will expand wireless network coverage along Highway 14 and 16, known as the Highway of Tears.

The program is a provincial investment that the BC government announced as part of their 2021 budget and part of Rogers commitment of $6.5 billion to connect underserved rural and Indigenous communities.

“The phones can be used to make medical appointments, apply for financial assistance, look for work and housing, as well as to maintain important social connections with friends and family, especially during this pandemic,” said Executive Director at BC Society of Transition Houses, Amy S. FitzGerald.

“Some of our clients can’t afford internet or cell phones. Others have the phones, but their abusive partner controls and monitors the billing, leaving abusive women vulnerable to reprisal for reaching out for help.”

Rogers will begin construction on 12 new cellular towers on Highway 16 (also known as the Highway of Tears) between  Prince George and Prince Rupert in spring, with a finish date of September 2022.

Domestic Violence during COVID-19

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic violence and abuse has increased.

According to ShelterVoices, a newsletter from Women’s Shelter Canada, domestic violence has increased for a number of reasons including reduced capacity at shelters, public health regulations, fundraising challenges, and staffing.

Frontline workers expressed that they were seeing an increase in violent abuse, including physical attacks, forced confinement, sexual abuse, and increased human trafficking among women who access services.

Even if women wanted shelter, many shelters were at capacity.

And while services were being offered online, ShelterVoices reported that victims either didn’t have a phone or the technology, or were worried their confidentiality would be breached.

“The pandemic has magnified social inequities, FitzGerald told Victoria Buzz

“But this [domestic violence] was a reality before the pandemic.  Every 2.5 days a woman or girl is murdered in Canada. In BC, 7 women have been murdered since the beginning of the pandemic last March.”

While 54% of respondents said that calls for domestic violence decreased in Phase 1 of the public health measures, by Phase 2, 61% of respondents said calls for sheltering and domestic violence increased.

“It was quiet first during the pandemic,” said FitzGerald.

“But we took the time to do a lot of safety planning, anticipating the calls to come. People didn’t feel comfortable coming in at first due to COVID-19; it’s not that the violence wasn’t happening, it was that it was being sheltered at home.”

The phones and plans provided by Rogers are a step towards connecting women so they don’t feel so isolated, said FitzGerald.

“We are relying more on technology now. It’s so much bigger than a phone, it’s a lifeline,” she said.

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