Taking stock of shifts in community need and service provision in response to #MeToo and the COVID-19 pandemic

About the project

The contemporary gender-based violence (GBV) landscape in North America has experienced important shifts over the past decade, and is characterized by growing awareness of GBV, rising rates of violence, greater complexity of need and changing modes of service provision.

This knowledge synthesis project engaged in a systematic review of the literature to better understand how these changes have affected help-seeking and the supports available to victims/survivors of GBV. In particular, this project explored how both the #MeToo movement and the COVID-19 pandemic have transformed the GBV landscape. The #MeToo movement, which emerged from Tarana Burke’s work in the US with victims/survivors, became an international movement in 2017. It connected victims/survivors globally and encouraged renewed and critical dialogue about sexual violence and other forms of GBV. COVID-19, which was declared a global pandemic in March 2020, has been linked to increased rates of GBV and new barriers to help-seeking. While seemingly distinct and unrelated phenomena, both the #MeToo movement and COVID-19 have had profound impacts on victims/survivors and anti-violence service providers (e.g., shelters, sexual assault centres).

A critical assessment of the literature analyzed changes to help-seeking and community-based service provision connected to the #MeToo movement and the COVID-19 pandemic. An intersectional lens was applied to understand differences in community need and help-seeking related to geographic and social location. Moreover, this project identified some of the ways community organizations have adjusted to meet changes in community need, paying particular attention to challenges and emerging best practices.

Key findings

  • Both the #MeToo movement and COVID-19 have contributed to a growing awareness of GBV, including knowledge about its prevalence, its impacts on victims/survivors and different forms of GBV. Greater awareness of GBV is associated with increases in self-identification, disclosures and informal and formal help-seeking.
  • Informal sources of help (e.g., family, friends) can potentially minimize the long-term outcomes of GBV. They can also facilitate or encourage formal help-seeking (e.g., mental health services, medical care). However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, increased isolation undermined support networks, which negatively impacted informal and formal help-seeking.
  • Victims/survivors faced additional barriers to help-seeking during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a variety of factors including interruptions or reductions in services, the halt of new intakes and a lack of clarity about which services were available. Additionally, some abusers used the increased isolation associated with social distancing measures and shelter-in-place orders as a control tactic, creating further challenges to help-seeking.
  • Community-based anti-violence organizations adapted their services to meet community need during the pandemic, and many introduced remote and virtual services. While this made it possible for some victims/survivors to connect to services, others were unable to access these services because they lacked the necessary technology and/or because they were unable to find a private space to communicate with service providers.
  • Structural inequality contributed to intertwined crises for some victims/survivors during the pandemic, including increases in rates and severity of GBV, racism, housing and food insecurity, and greater risk of exposure to COVID-19. This multiplied barriers to help-seeking and contributed to greater complexity of need.
  • Coordinated care and collaboration between different sectors and agencies (e.g., shelters and transitional housing, public health, medical service providers, sexual assault centres) allows service providers to respond to victims/survivors’ complex needs more effectively. However, silos between sectors have detrimental effects on those seeking support, often causing delays or barriers to help-seeking. These silos can also increase service providers’ workloads.
  • The precarious financial situation of community-based anti-violence organizations prior to the pandemic affected their capacity to respond to community need during the pandemic and jeopardizes their future sustainability when faced with growing demands for services.

Policy implications

  • In times of crisis or in emergency situations, it is essential to let the public know that anti-violence/support services are still operating in the community, to share information about how to safely access these services, and to use a variety of communication outlets for the greatest impact. Targeted strategies to reach underserved and marginalized communities are necessary to connect with those who are at greatest risk of harm, and who are experiencing the impacts of emergency situations disproportionately.
  • Community-based supports for victims/survivors of gender-based violence require stable and secure funding to ensure they are able to sustainably meet current and emerging community needs. A combination of project and core funding would allow organizations to reduce wait times, meet operational costs, engage in emergency-preparedness, and undertake and collaborate on initiatives in response to their local communities and contexts.
  • Collaborative relationships between sectors are important to strengthening services for victims/survivors of GBV. Thus, strategies to facilitate connections between sectors should be considered. These might include funding opportunities which encourage partnerships and collaboration, or the creation of networks to facilitate information-sharing and coordination between sectors.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Lisa Boucher, Assistant Professor, Gender & Social Justice, Trent University: lisaboucher@trentu.ca

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