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17 Jul 2020

Op-Ed: COVID-19 and the impact on sexual assault

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July 17, 2020 Category: Local Posted by:

By Monique S. Howard, MPH, EdD

Executive Director, WOAR – Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence

Philadelphia and the rest of the nation are entrenched in the coronavirus pandemic. For the past four months, COVID-19 has disrupted our sense of normalcy, and has altered the way we live, conduct business, and interact with people. The entire world has experienced stay at home orders and quarantines to quell the incidence of the virus.

We are in the midst of a public health crisis. For many people, the coronavirus-related stay-at-home order has resulted in victims of sexual violence being quarantined with their abusers. These victims are children or adults. 

The sexual violence that occurs during the stay at home order is continual and does not let up. The violence is compounded by additional stress related to loss of a job, the potential for housing/hunger insecurity and sudden loss of childcare, or unprepared homeschooling of school aged children.

These variables compounded with gender inequities and power hierarchies result in increased stressors in the home and ultimately an increase in sexual violence. Women and children are suddenly removed from the people and services that provided safety and protection. Children who rely on mandated reporting to recognize signs of child sexual abuse are no longer in contact with these professionals.

Co-workers who would lend a caring ear and support are no longer accessible. Victims of sexual violence are alone and attempting to survive. They cannot call for help. They think that no one hears them and they suffer in extreme silence. 

Then in May, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, civil unrest occurred. COVID-19 and its effects were compounded with the latest social justice emergency. Once again, a Black man was murdered at the hands of law enforcement.

Philadelphia had to manage not only a pandemic, but protests and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which exacerbated sexual violence as Philadelphia is focused on containing the spread of COVID-19 and the violence in the streets. The result is that between the months of mid-March until today, Philadelphia has been dealing with a silent epidemic of sexual violence interwoven into the fabric of a pandemic and civil unrest.

An epidemic that we will not know its magnitude until people return to work, virtual learning is over and children are once again in the audience of teachers, counselors and support staff. 

Our families — particularly our children — are suffering. COVID-19 and the negative impact of civil unrest are creating a perfect storm for gender-based crime.

We will not know its impact until Philadelphia has adopted its “new normal.” When people can interact with friends, peers and colleagues; when youth-serving professionals can put their eye on children and adolescents. When people can receive the help and support that they have been requesting. 

Through it, all, WOAR- Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence is poised to provide much needed support and guidance to individuals who have experienced sexual assault during this time. We are ready to handle the increase in hotline calls today, tomorrow, and when our “normal” is created.

If you are a victim or someone you know is experiencing sexual violence, don’t hesitate to contact the 24-hour hotline at (215) 985-3333 or visit our website to access our chat line at:


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