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COVID-19 and Social Distancing In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) a pandemic. The Government of Ontario declared a state of emergency, closing all non-essential services across the province. The public has been asked to practice social distancing measures, as an important prevention activity to help curb the spread of COVID-19. For many, this means only leaving the home when it is absolutely essential, such as going out for groceries or to the pharmacy. While these recommendations support public health and safety, they create unique risks for those at risk of experiencing violence at home.

For survivors of gender-based violence, social distancing has created unique barriers for accessing important social supports, such as sexual assault centres, shelters, and community shelters. Many women, girls, and trans and non-binary people now face a heightened risk of violence at home with COVID-19 isolation measures.

At increased risk: Gender-based violence, violence at home and COVID-19 Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual assault centres were experiencing an unprecedented amount of calls for support; this is something that we at SAVIS can attest to, as our waitlist was at an all-time high wait time of 13-15 weeks. Today, we are facing an unusual situation, in which “selfisolating at home” is both the primary advice to deal with the current public health crisis; yet the most common location of violence and lethality for women experiencing intimate partner violence. Survivors of sexual violence who are seeking support during social distancing must navigate challenging realities; for example, limited opportunities to safely and confidentially call a sexual assault centre; balancing one’s own support needs while caring for children now at home; and changes in access to group and individual counselling.

At SAVIS, we are continuing to support survivors, as social distancing does not mean social isolation. In this time of need we are continuing to offer our services in the following ways:

  • 24-hour telephone crisis support: 905-875-1555
  • Counselling over telephone and Counselling over video
  • Online presence and supportive social media with virtual violence prevention campaigns
  • Engagement of support-seekers through social media and web-based programming
  • Developing our volunteer training in online formats.
  • Anti-human trafficking support services
  • Where possible, helping support-seekers with little or no income to access basic practical supports, such as grocery store and food vouchers.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, we are here to support you: Find the sexual assault centre nearest you, (https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/support/) and check their website directly for service updates related to COVID-19.


Alma Arguello

Executive Director SAVIS of Halton

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