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Women experienced more frequent, and often more severe, violence during the pandemic, creating new challenges for violence against women services and their clients, a newly-released study has found (www.vawresearch.com/marcovaw).   

The report, entitled “Adapting the violence against women systems response to the COVID-19 pandemic” looked at the experience of staff and survivors at violence against women organizations across the Greater Toronto Area during the pandemic. The study was co-led by Dr. Alexa Yakubovich and Priya Shastri. Dr. Yakubovich is an Assistant Professor in Dalhousie University’s Department of Community Health & Epidemiology and an Affiliate Scientist at the MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital. Shastri is an anti-violence advocate with the Toronto Region Violence Against Women Coordinating Committee and Woman Abuse Council of Toronto. 

“Service providers told us they were seeing a lot more clients with really severe cases of violence,” Dr. Yakubovich said. “Because of health restrictions and women being isolated at home with abusive partners, there were just worse outcomes in terms of struggling to access supports, like counselling, housing, legal support, and appropriate healthcare.” 

Results from the report will be shared at a virtual panel event on June 22 co-hosted with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation entitled “Lighting up the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women, Housing and COVID-19” (registration at tinyurl.com/3nxsxr65). This presentation will highlight the experiences of violence against women and the impact on staff in support services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hidden homelessness, shelter access and housing interventions will be discussed. 

In addition, Dr. Yakubovich will be leading a webinar on the study findings with the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre on Family Violence Research on June 23 (https://unbvirtualclasses.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_72BEElhLQTKylhQldonmbA). 

The study also found that nearly every participating organization had to significantly change its service model due to the pandemic, in many cases without sufficient funding. The mental health of both staff and survivors was in many ways negatively impacted. Organizations often struggled with referrals, including to housing, shelter, healthcare, childcare, and legal supports. 

The report speaks to the need for increased funding to violence against women organizations and for strengthening access to housing, health, justice, and social protection systems for women experiencing violence. 

Despite the challenges, Shastri said, many staff went above and beyond to support women. Survivors described this support as lifesaving, quoting one survivor as saying: “They do amazing work… this organization has kept me alive.” 

Dr. Yakubovich has received nearly half a million dollars in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to expand the Toronto study to all of Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This summer, a team of researchers, advocates, service providers, and women who have experienced violence will begin looking at what is working well in violence against women services across the three provinces to inform better policy and practice. 

For more information, contact: 

Dr. Alexa Yakubovich: 
Email: Alexa.Yakubovich@dal.ca  

Brad Honywill:  
Communications Coordinator, 
Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative (CHEC), 
C: 905-334-9259