This page offers some feminist resources on trauma, gender-based violence, and COVID-19.

COVID-19 and Gender-Based Violence: Addressing the ‘Shadow Pandemic’

Last updated August 2020

COVID-19 has created what has been termed a “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence (GBV).  Rates of all kinds of GBV are increasing at the same time that the known causes of GBV (economic precarity, emotional stress, being isolated, etc.) are exacerbated. I share some of the most informative materials and resources being released on the shadow pandemic right now.

In April 2020, at the beginning of COVID-19, the Chief of the UN declared that there had been a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence” and issued an appeal for peace in homes around the world. The Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called the conditions created by COVID-19 “a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors.” In Canada, Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef told reporters that “What the pandemic has done with the self-isolation measures, with the closures of some of the support systems, is create a powder keg.” We have seen a 20-30% increase in violence rates across various regions in Canada, and the federal government has invested around 100 million to address the shadow pandemic of GBV, though the crisis persists. A survey by Statistics Canada found that “One in 10 women is very or extremely concerned about the possibility of violence in the home.”

Image description: A door slightly ajar with text that reads: There’s a shadow pandemic behind COVID-19…Limited or no ability to seek help; rise in cyberviolence; lack of access to coping mechanisms; racial profiling disguised as ‘social distancing enforcement’; control through custody of kids; unreported elder abuse; new or increased domestic violence; virus-specific violence; threat of deportation by employer/sponser; inability to temporarily escape abuser; heightened danger for sex workers; exploitation due to financial hardship (landlords coercing sex for rent); rise in hate crimes and racism; controlling access to essential supplies; fear of abuser not social distancing. Gender-based violence is increasing, intensifying, and taking new forms during COVID-19. We must respond to this pandemic, too. YWCA Canada.

Prior to the pandemic the rates of GBV were already at epidemic levels with women, trans, and non-binary people, especially those who are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour), queer, disabled, poor and working-class, being disproportionately affected. COVID-19 has exacerbated existing inequity and GBV has even taken on new forms (such as with threats of transmitting the virus by withholding PPE (protective equipment), or landlords using their tenant’s COVID-related unemployment to coerce them into sex). As the infographic below describes, there are many intersecting factors affecting the shadow pandemic of GBV during COVID. 

Image description: Key impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on GBV in Canada.  1 in 10 Canadian women say they are very or extremely concerned about the possibility of violence inside the home during COVID-19 (Statistics Canada, April 2020). Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse: using “stress of the pandemic” as an excuse for abuse, threatening to abandon partner if they become ill. Spreading misinformation: withholding access to accurate information in order to maintain power and control.  Child abuse: isolating children from online supports and connections available through schools. Stalking: using safety measures (victim is sheltering in place; has limited connection to other people) to escalate physical stalking. Withholding needed supports: restricting access to medical supplies, testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and hand sanitizer. Abusing family law: refusing to allow custody and access orders; using COVID-19 to alienate co-parent or restrict their access to children altogether; refusing to leave the home. Online sexual violence: non-consensually recording and distributing sexualized images. Homophobia and transphobia: forced ‘outing’ of victim particularly with people whom they may be isolated, demeaning gender identity. Racism: making anti-immigrant, anti-Asian slurs, or referring to the virus by an ethnic name, targeting or denying services to specific racialized groups. Financial abuse: withholding family assets, or refusing to purchase necessities. Isolation: forced confinement by the abuser under the guise if self-isolation.

COVID-19 has created major setbacks in addressing and ending GBV. However, there are organizations doing great work to research, create awareness, and address this phenomenon:

Western University’s Learning Network at the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children has a centralized hub of information titled, “Resources on Gender-Based Violence and the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which includes subjects like: housing and homelessness; immigrant and refugee communities; LGBTQ2S communities; and engaging men and boys. 

MenEngage Alliance have a resource page for addressing GBV titled, “Men, Masculinities and COVID-19: Actions, Resources, and Connecting Online.”

Women Engaged International have published a report called,  “COVID-19 at the Intersection of Gender and Disability: Findings of a Global Human Rights Survey, March to April 2020.”

On June 22, 2020, The Center for Global Development released a report, “COVID-19 & Violence against Women and Children: What Have We Learned So Far?”

Possibility Seeds has published several blog posts with associated resources such as “Home is Not Safe for Everyone: COVID-19 Pandemic Impacts on Gender-Based Violence in Canada” and “Resources for Gender Justice Advocates to Challenge Anti-Black Racism.”