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Manitoba Government News Release–The Manitoba government is launching a request for proposals seeking a vendor to provide a web-based crisis line service to improve access to support for Manitobans experiencing family, domestic and intimate partner violence, Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox, minister responsible for the status of women, announced today.

“Our government is committed to helping vulnerable Manitobans escape violence and abuse, and seek the supports they need to create a safe and secure environment for themselves, their children and their family,” said Cox. “Increased isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on gender-based violence here in Manitoba and across the country as staying at home is not always the safest place for those experiencing family, domestic and intimate partner violence. Implementing a new, web-based crisis chat system will provide another avenue in which vulnerable women and 2SLBGTQQIA+ people can safely seek the guidance and care they need when they need it the most.”

Improving the crisis line platform is an important initiative identified as part of the minister’s mandate letter. Currently, the Family Violence Prevention Program (FVPP) supports a toll-free 1-877 crisis line (1-877-977-0007) for callers who require shelter, assistance or information about family violence services in Manitoba. Staff at the 10 FVPP-funded shelters in Manitoba answer calls to the 1-877 crisis line.

In addition to the provincial 1-877 line, four shelters also operate their own crisis line and two shelters provide text services. The web-based chat feature would be an additional option to the existing crisis phone line.

“In addition to the existing provincial emergency crisis phone system, a secure crisis chat line would provide another safe way for those experiencing abuse to communicate with gender-based violence prevention service providers,” said Deena Brock, co-ordinator for the Manitoba Association of Women’s Shelters. “This is especially important in cases where they and their communications are being monitored and controlled by their abusers.”

Research suggests a chat-based crisis intervention allows for more discrete methods of accessing resources for survivors of intimate partner violence. Additionally, private messaging provides privacy, flexibility and anonymity, which can be a particularly beneficial solution for younger women and 2SLBGTQQIA+ people with access to a cellphone.

The need for chat-based crisis line services was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for Manitobans to ‘stay home’ as much as possible. Public health orders to mitigate exposure to the virus required individuals to spend more time isolated with family and intimate partners at home, which elevates the risk of intimate partner violence and signaled the need for more discrete methods for Manitobans to reach out for support in a timely manner. The increased levels of isolation resulted in the loss of protective factors, such as access to workplaces and schools, and increased negative outcomes for individuals experiencing intimate partner violence, the minister noted.

The new web-based chat line is expected to be implemented later this year, she added.

To learn more about the Manitoba Status of Women and the Family Violence Prevention Program visit www.gov.mb.ca/msw/index.html.