VICTORIA -- Calls to a Victoria women’s centre for domestic violence went quiet in the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, but skyrocketed once restrictions were slightly lifted allowing people facing abuse to be able to reach out for help.

The executive director at the Victoria Women’s Transition House Society says people who were being abused were more isolated during the early days of the pandemic and could not make calls for help. 

“Part of domestic abuse is that people are isolated in their homes and when their partner is not going into work or they’re not going to work there is no opportunity for them to reach out to get information,” said Makenna Rielly. 

Once restrictions were lifted, the centre became so inundated with calls for help that they needed to open a second emergency shelter. 

“We had to expand our services,” Rielly said. “During the first few months it really was more violent situations. It enables abusers to hold that control.”

All of the shelters are currently at capacity and there is a wait list. A new facility is being built in Langford to meet a need in the community. 

Rielly said no matter how full they may be, the society has resources available for anyone experiencing abuse. Coming up with a safety plan is the most important tool, she said.

“In all these cases where we see extreme violence, the concern is to keep everyone safe,” she said.

In a five-month span, two women were allegedly murdered by their husbands, one on Salt Spring Island in June and another in Langford in early November. In each case, family members told CTV News the women had planned to leave their relationships. 

“The time of leaving an abusive relationship is the highest-risk time,” Rielly said. 

Only 28 per cent of intimate partner violence is reported to police, according to Rielly. 

“I think that people have a hard time making that first phone call and I think they feel they’ve committed to something and are taking a risk,” she said. “But the fact is it is highly confidential and they can be totally anonymous and we are not asking them to make a decision. We want to give them the tools.”

The society’s first priority is making sure people are safe. 

“The pandemic has been so hard emotionally on people so they might be missing cues, but if you don’t feel safe, give a call and we’ll help sort it,” she said. 

Friends and family members can call the 24-hour crisis line and remain confidential at 250-385-6611.