Supports available for Hamilton survivors of sexual, domestic assault during pandemic

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shut their physical office at the YWCA building in downtown Hamilton, SACHA is continuing to provide remote support for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

While Hamiltonians are being advised to self-isolate at home as much as possible right now, those who live with an abuser may feel like they’re trapped in an unsafe situation.

The Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area (SACHA) is continuing to support survivors of sexual violence and domestic assault who may feel their options are limited right now.

Although their physical office at the YWCA building is closed for the time being, SACHA is providing counselling and intake services remotely.

“Some people have actually even mentioned they prefer that at this point,” said Miranda Jurilj, public education coordinator for SACHA, “making them feel comfortable being at home.”

Their 24-hour support line — 905-525-4162 — is also staffed around the clock for anyone who needs help. It’s also available as a resource for those who may have a friend or family member that’s in an unsafe environment.

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Although SACHA hasn’t seen an increase in calls during the first few weeks of self-isolation and social distancing, Jurilj said they anticipate the worst is yet to come, with many survivors becoming more desperate for help the longer the pandemic goes on.

“Not only can people be stuck at home with abusers and perpetrators — who are more likely to, during times of stress, increase the violence — but also because people are not able to access their supports as often, as regularly and in the same way as they may have been before the pandemic.”

In March, the federal government announced $50 million in additional funding for women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to support those who are escaping violence during the pandemic.

Jurilj said that funding is tremendously important in helping them continue to provide support and adapt to a more remote model of service, but she said the messaging from political leaders to stay home and self-isolate should be accompanied by a reminder that there are services available to those who live in an abusive environment.

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“We don’t want folks to feel like, because of this isolation, they need to stay with an abuser,” said Jurilj.

“The government’s already giving us so much information every day, and I think it can be a little bit scary as a survivor to hear, ‘You must stay home, no matter what,’ when really, that’s not the case.

“There are still resources that are still available to people.”

While it may be difficult to physically check on those who are in vulnerable positions right now, Jurilj said the best thing to do is just reach out and let that person know you’re there.

“Calling in and checking in on somebody, and letting them know that you are available to be a support to them is really important. Just letting them that you’re there during this time,” Jurilj said.

“And when possible, when safe to do so, referring them to other resources like SACHA or some of these shelters that are available to women in Hamilton.”

SACHA’s 24-hour support line is available for survivors of sexual assault and domestic assault, as well as allies of those survivors, at 905-525-4162.

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As of the end of March, Hamilton Police had not seen an increase in domestic violence calls, according to Const. Jerome Stewart.

He added that anyone who is in a position of immediate danger, or anyone who thinks someone is in immediate danger, should call 911.

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