COVID-19 and domestic abuse: Why Canadians need to isolate now, rather than later

On March 18, 2020, McGill students everywhere opened their inboxes to discover that McGill would be shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with classes for the remainder of the Winter and Summer terms being taught remotely. Canada is now in a state of lockdown due to a government-mandated quarantine. The COVID-19 virus has spread rapidly, with approximately 6,320 cases reported across the country as of press time. With a litany of businesses, schools, and workplaces shut down, many people find themselves confined within their homes, unable to leave due to social distancing  measures. This situation is particularly alarming for survivors of domestic abuse, who may find themselves trapped with their abuser and isolated from their friends and family. Refusing to self-isolate does more than just spread the virus: It may also prolong the length of time that survivors are forced to spend with their abuser in quarantine. Quarantine and social distancing policies set by the government must be taken seriously: It is during such extreme circumstances as a pandemic that Canadians must consider the needs and vulnerabilities of others above their own. 

The quarantine has forced many people to work from home or lose their jobs altogether. These potential financial losses strips domestic abuse survivors of the independence and resources that they might use to protect themselves and their loved ones from an abuser. A lack of financial independence further increases the abusers’ control, making it harder for survivors to leave. Many people will continue to remain out of work until the pandemic is under control, which can, in part, be helped by social distancing, until then, many survivors will be faced with co-inhabiting with their oppressors. 

Government-mandated isolation also forces abuse victims to be isolated from their support systems and loved ones. Often, survivors find respite in workplaces and at school, as they provide a physical distance from the abuser. Additionally, educational institutions and places of work can offer survivors social support. These environments provide a measure of control that the victim does not have at home. The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in many shelters for domestic violence victims becoming overwhelmed, many women will be forced to remain in crowded shelters to care for their children, putting them at a higher risk for contracting the virus. With the shelters reaching full capacity and facing the trials and tribulations the virus brings, some women may find themselves unable to seek refuge from their abuser at these shelters. These shelters will continue to be overwhelmed until the virus is under control and the curve is flattened, prospects that heavily depend on how strictly individuals choose to practice social distancing. 

Although many shelters in Canada have turned to online and phone support for women in crisis situations, many have ceased physical measures of support. As healthcare systems nationwide become overwhelmed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, survivors are faced with delays and a lack of healthcare resources as the pandemic is prioritized, making the situation more dangerous and difficult. Until the pandemic is contained, the healthcare systems will continue to be overwhelmed, making it difficult for survivors to seek adequate care and support, further exemplifying why people choosing to socially distance and self-quarantine is crucial to help contain the virus to alleviate the burden on the health care systems. 

During a pandemic, it is important to understand that social distancing and isolation prevent the spread of  disease, but also to shorten these measures. As members of the Montreal community, McGill students have a responsibility to practice social distancing, meaning that opting to quarantine with several friends and hopping from apartment to apartment must cease.  Refusing to isolate out of resistance to giving up “everyday life” prolongs the pandemic and in turn, heightens situations of domestic violence for others, because as long as the virus continues to spread, Canadians will continue to be forced to remain indoors.   

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