Self-isolation causes increase of danger for women during pandemic

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Social distancing and self-isolation remain top priorities and act as safety measures during the outbreak of COVID-19. Yet, the safety of women and children in vulnerable states in a community also needs to be of concern.

There is a connection between the pandemic of COVID-19 and the safety of women living in or trying to leave abusive relationships or living situations.

Women with abusive partners are at a greater risk of harm as the government has mandated the closure of schools, community centres, libraries, community programming and other municipal facilities or services with the aim to slow the spread of the virus.

As strategies that support good infection control increase by staying at home from work or staying away from public spaces, the risk of perpetrators being violent also increases.

As social supports reduce services the world can close in on a woman who lives in an abusive home, creating another barrier to escape their abuser.


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By the recommendations made by health officials individuals have been encouraged to work from home or distance themselves socially, which can often play into the hands of abusers in the way of socially isolating a partner or spouse.

As abuse is often about control and power, if survivors are forced to live in close proximity with their abuser, an abuser may use any measure to control their victim.

According to the Huron Women’s Shelter Executive Director Corey Allison, social distancing and isolation during this pandemic period is impossible in a shelter setting.

A 10-bed shelter with 13 women and children currently residing there, it remains impossible to maintain safe social distancing in a communal kitchen, living room and dining room. It is also challenging to ask the women, especially those with children, to stay in their small rooms without a TV or access to food during this period of isolation and social distancing.

Allison explains that the shelter is exploring alternative housing options that are safe but will also be more supportive of self-isolation and social distancing.

“Our organization has been and will continue to be available to women and families within our community,” explains Allison.

Shelter staff is working with community partners to continue to provide services through modified means, to ensure women and families have access to support, services and advocacy.

“We recognize that due to the current situation, gender-based violence will increase, therefore, we are collaborating with community partners to raise awareness of this issue,” Allison says.


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In addition to housing vulnerable women and children, the shelter offers services that extend beyond shelter.

Risk assessments, safety planning, advocacy and system navigation are critical services done as well. The ability to connect and build a foundation of trust is critical to comprehensive risk assessment and while these services can be delivered virtually, Allison says it adds an element of difficulty.

“Coupled with the lack of privacy for a woman who is living with her abuser, delivering services virtually actually increases risk,” adds Allison.

“We are getting incredibly creative and meeting women in the park or though new email addresses that allow her to communicate.”

Victim Services Huron County Executive Director Deborah Logue further explains that remote support is a challenge as it offers limited privacy if they do not live alone.

“Many of our conversations are of a sensitive nature and should not be overheard by children or a spouse,” explains Logue.

“Our biggest worry is that people are at home with no escape from a hostile situation and do not know who to reach out to.”

Developing additional social media and community-based campaigns to educate the community to the greater risks of gender-based violence, the shelter and its community partners are facilitating access to available local supports.

Implementing public health directives by offering services through virtual means, the shelter can provide tips around how to safely help a woman.


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“For high-risk situations we continue to provide individualized safety planning in collaboration with community partners and agencies,” Allison says.

“Women and families seeking admission to the shelter are screened for both domestic violence and COVID-related concerns.”

Self-isolating facilities are available to families deemed high risk, and for others who have more resources, the shelter offers safety plans and helps the families navigate the systems.

Allison reiterates that an important aspect the community should realize is that as normal life activities are disrupted as they are with this pandemic, women will be forced to spend time in the same space of their abuser.

“As fears mount and tensions rise, abusive situations may arise more easily and the reality is that home is not a safe space for some people,” Allison adds.

“The shelter believes it is crucial that we inform the public of this potential escalation in gender-based violence.”

Staff at Victim Services Huron County conducts regular phone check-ins to see how clients are managing mental and physical health during the pandemic. Additionally, some financial support has been offered by means of grocery gift cards.

“It is imperative that we all pull together during this difficult time in different ways,” explains Logue.

“With limited options for someone to report abuse, we are relying on neighbours, friends and family to help keep an eye out and ensure resources are being shared.”


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The situation of children living in abusive households is also a concern for services such as the Huron Shelter, Victim Services and Rural Response for Healthy Children (RRHC).

According to Selena Hazlitt, Executive Director of RRHC some of the concerns staff are hearing about include the fear of the unknown – how long public health practices will be in place – the availability of food and supplies and household financial concerns.

Resources and supports will continue to be available for women and children’s physical safety through partnerships with Huron OPP, Victim Services and the Huron Shelter. RRHC makes referrals to these organizations when appropriate.

“RRHC is concerned about the well being of children and youth. Students are no longer at school where they have a community of friends,” explains Hazlitt.

As many homes no longer have landline telephones, access to devices to connect with services such as Kids Help Line may be restricted at home.

“Children and youth are being asked to stay home and socially distance from friends and trusted adults,” furthers Hazlitt.

“Children and youth may also be experiencing even more shifts in their routines when custody situations exist between parents.”

Hazlitt encourages individuals to check in with friends, neighbours and family members and to ask to speak to a child directly.

“The public needs to have an understanding that for some women, children and youth, it simply is not safe to be in their homes,” explains Hazlitt.


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Due to social distancing and the closure of public facilities such as parks, libraries and schools, there isn’t a safe space for children to ask out trusted adults for help.

In addition to reaching out to neighbours and friends over the phone and speaking with children, Hazlitt adds: “Believe and listen to children, be vigilant and aware of red flags for abuse and neglect. When children and youth ask for help, please respond. Assure them you have heard them and you are finding help.”

RRHC along with their community partners, Victim Services and the Huron Women’s Shelter, continually promote the need for the community to access valid information sources related to COVID-19. This includes Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH), the Public Health Agency of Canada and local family health teams.

All services are still offering phone support at the very least, and individuals are encouraged to call services they feel would be the best fit.

Hazlitt encourages those suspicious of abuse and neglect to call 1-519-524-7356 or 1-800-265-5198 to report to Children’s Aid Society.


Victim Services Huron County: or 519-600-4108

Huron County Women’s Shelter: or 1-800-265-5506 or 519-524-6245

For updates on COVID-19, visit Huron Perth Public Health: or toll-free 1-888-221-2133

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