Sarah Walker studied MSc International Development at the University of Edinburgh and has conducted extensive research on female empowerment and violence against women. She has experience working with both local and international nonprofits in a range of countries around the world. Most recently, she has worked on humanitarian projects in Greek refugee camps where she implemented programs to support women and children. Sarah is currently working as a Research Associate at the NO MORE Foundation.
It has been well documented that during the COVID-19 pandemic, cases of domestic and sexual violence have surged around the globe – a crisis termed the “Shadow Pandemic”. What has been less documented are the significant challenges facing the sector working to protect the victims and survivors.
I was asked by the NO MORE Foundation to address this global research deficit and conduct an exciting new piece of research that reveals the real experiences of support services addressing domestic and sexual violence during COVID-19. I am so excited to announce the launch of ‘A NO MORE Report: COVID-19’s Global Impact on Domestic and Sexual Violence Support Services’. This global study represents the voice of organizations and their experience of COVID-19 across four impact areas: services and demand, funding, staff, and the future.
What I loved most about writing NO MORE’s report was having the opportunity to amplify the voices of those working tirelessly to protect victims and end domestic and sexual violence.
As the researcher, I was responsible for designing a survey assessing the impact of COVID-19 and distributing it to support services in over 180 countries. The global reach of the survey was made possible through the opportunity to engage with NO MORE’s huge global network of allies, chapters and directory of support services. I loved the challenge of creating a short but powerful survey that addressed the main impacts of the pandemic, whilst remaining relevant to a global audience.
Having recently graduated with a master’s degree in International Development, I was so excited about this new opportunity to apply my academic knowledge and writing skills within a different space – policy and advocacy. During my time with NO MORE, I have developed my research and writing skills considerably as I adapted my writing style beyond one suited only to an academic audience. I have also really enjoyed the challenge of meeting shorter deadlines and being part of a collaborative process with the NO MORE team.
However, what I loved most about writing NO MORE’s report was having the opportunity to amplify the voices of those working tirelessly to protect victims and end domestic and sexual violence. I was given the chance to hear the real, human story behind the statistics by listening to the experiences of staff and leadership and the impact of the pandemic on their mental health and wellbeing. I hope to continue to be able to advocate for the needs of these support workers throughout my career in the shared mission of preventing and ending domestic and sexual violence worldwide.
The findings of the report were guided by the responses of 111 organizations across 31 countries. I was really encouraged that this survey managed to reach such a diverse range of organizations and I am grateful to everybody that participated for their time and generosity in providing valuable insights during these challenging times. It is such a pleasure to be able to share some of the findings from the report with you.
The survey found that at the same time that demand for services escalated, COVID-19 impacted service providers’ capacity to support victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence:
- 88% were impacted by COVID-19 in their ability to support people who need their services.
- 75% had to reduce or cancel their programs or services due to COVID-19.
The report also looks at the role of COVID-19 in exacerbating the pre-existing funding crisis facing the domestic and sexual violence sector worldwide:
- 40% of the organizations surveyed saw a funding decline during the pandemic
- 82% of organizations believe fundraising will be even more difficult this year and next.
In addition, the study explores the impact of the pandemic on staff levels and wellbeing. It was not surprising, given the sensitive nature of working with clients who face a real and present danger of violence, that staff members reported increased pressures during the pandemic:
- 81% of the organizations felt that pressures on their staff had increased.
- 53% of organizations reported a decline in staff’s mental health.
Despite the numerous challenges facing organizations and staff, I was really encouraged to see that the findings point to some positive outcomes of COVID-19:
- 55% of organizations managed to sustain staff levels.
- 71% were able to innovate as a direct result of the pandemic.
It is a testament to the resilience of the sector that despite facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, organizations were still able to innovate. I am excited to see what implications these innovations will have for the future of the sector, in particular the ability to reach more victims through online service provision.
The report also discusses the opinions of organizations about the future of the sector and calls for more attention, funding, and innovation to prevent and end domestic and sexual violence around the world.