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Online counselling introduced for women, seniors in crisis

Assaulted Women's Hotline screen shot. Image courtesy of the Assaulted Women's Hotline

A crisis hotline that has served Nunavummiut women and seniors by phone for several years has expanded its services to include online counselling.

The Assaulted Women's Helpline, based in Etobicoke, Ont., received 508 calls from Nunavut residents in 2019-20 and there has been a “dramatic increase” in calls from women and seniors since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Yvonne Harding, manager of resource development with the helpline.

The Assaulted Women's Helpline launched an internet counselling service in November as an additional option to its longstanding phone crisis telephone line.
images courtesy of the Assaulted Women's Hotline

In April, there were 35 calls from women compared to 14 in April 2019. Among seniors, 29 calls were placed in April compared to just one from the same month the previous year.

In an increasingly online world, the helpline launched a web-based counselling service in November. It has its limitations, however. While those who reach out for assistance by phone can be accommodated in Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun, the online option is only accessible in English. As well, the phone hotline can be dialled 24 hours per day, seven days per week, but the web-based counselling runs Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Another factor that some Nunavummiut will want to keep in mind is whether their abuser can access their computer. If there's a possibility of internet activity being monitored by someone posing a threat in the home, the helpline advises clients to use the phone hotline instead. However, if someone's physical safety is in imminent jeopardy, the helpline recommends calling the RCMP's emergency line.

Calls to the Assaulted Women's Helpline, from women and seniors, have risen sharply since the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, according to the organization's statistics.

The helpline addresses not only physical and sexual abuse, but verbal, psychological and financial abuse as well as neglect. Beyond crisis counselling, emotional support, safety planning and referrals to other support agencies are offered.

The crisis hotline is available at 1-866-863-0511.

Online counselling can be found at

Helpline staff attempt to understand numerous factors that could be influencing clients' lives, Harding noted.

“For instance, does she live in a rural area and lack transportation and/or access to certain resources? Does she have children, access to personal finances? Is language a barrier for her? If a senior calls, do they have mobility issues? It’s about trying to determining how all these factors work together to make access to services more or less difficult for a woman/senior,” she said.

Identifying information from conversations and online counselling will not be shared unless the client perfers to do so to access a shelter or other support services.

The Assaulted Women's Helpline, which has a staff of 10 trained counsellors as well as a relief team, survives on funding from the Ontario provincial government, the City of Toronto and corporate and foundation donors. The helpline began offering assistance to clients in Nunavut in 2014 after holding training workshops with shelters and community programs in the territory, in partnership with the Embrace Life Council.

Recent data from Statistics Canada indicate that 46 per cent of men and 42 per cent of women in Nunavut have reported suffering from sexual or physical assault since age 15.

About the Author: Derek Neary

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