Violence Against Women Services in a Pandemic

Project Outputs

Space Planning:

Shelter Spaces and Pandemic Response: A Best Practices Handbook for Flexible Space Planning (pdf, 3.5 MB)


Listen to Dr. Nadine Wathen describe key findings and recommendations for policy and programming in the VAW service sector (~20 min):

Graphic Research Summaries:

Project Overviews:

Main Project Summary
Knowledge Mobilization Project Summary

Peer-reviewed journal articles:

Mantler, T., Wathen, C. N., Burd, C., MacGregor, J. C. D., McLean, I. Veenendaal, J. & The Violence Against Women Services in a Pandemic Research Team (in press). Navigating multiple pandemics: A critical analysis of the impact of COVID-19 policy responses on gender-based violence services. Critical Social Policy.

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MacGregor, J. C. D., Burd, C., Mantler, T., McLean, I., Veenendaal, J., Rodger, S., Wathen, C. N., and the Violence Against Women Services in a Pandemic Research Team. (2022). Experiences of women accessing outreach services in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic: A brief report. Journal of Family Violence. (full text available from the authors)

Mantler, T., Veenendaal, J., Wathen, C.N. and the Violence Against Women Services in a Pandemic Research Team. (2021). Exploring the use of Hotels as Alternative Housing by Domestic Violence Shelters During COVID-19. International Journal on Homelessness, 1(1), 32–49.

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McLean, I., & Wathen, N. (2021). Planning Shelter Service Spaces and Structures for Resilience: A Spatial Analysis of Women’s Shelters During COVID-19. International Journal on Homelessness, 2(1), 1–12.

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Wathen, C. N., Wathen, C. N., Burd, C., MacGregor, J. C. D., Veenendaal, J., McLean, I., Mantler, T., and the Violence Against Women Services in a Pandemic Research Team. (2022). “We’re so limited with what we actually can do if we follow all the rules”: A qualitative study of the impact of COVID-19 public health protocols on violence against women services. BMC Public Health, 22, 1175.

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Nadine Wathen and Isobel McLean presented initial findings on the space analysis at the following venues:

Break the Silence on COVID-19: Artists and Artisans Development and Network (AADN) Virtual Seminar Series. Toronto, Ontario. (November 2020) [from ~ 0:17 to 1:00]

Ending Violence Association of Canada and Anova: Spotlight on GBV and Covid Research: Networking the Research Across the Country – (December 2020)

Project Background

As the current pandemic evolves, we see increasing evidence of, as the Secretary General of the United Nations called it on April 6, 2020, a “horrifying global surge in domestic violence”, and violence against women and girls generally.

While services for women experiencing violence are responding to the crisis, they are under greater pressure than ever. On the one hand, they are an essential service, often making the difference between safety and severe injury or death. On the other, they must now account for coronavirus-related health risks to women, their children, staff and volunteers. They are having to actively implement new protocols for physical distancing, knowing the toll this will take on women, children and staff in the context of their compassion-centric, high-touch work. 


We need data to understand these changes to services, and their impact, on the violence against women service ecosystem, both to feed data back into services, and also to support future planning for a stronger, more resilient sector.



In partnership with Anova, London’s women’s shelter and sexual assault service, and VAW services in Strathroy (Women’s Rural Resource Centre), Stratford (Optimism Place), Sarnia (Women’s Interval Home of Sarnia-Lambton) and Thunder Bay (Faye Peterson House) we are conducting a multi-component, mixed method study and integrated knowledge mobilization activities to examine:

  1. The direct impact on women using these services, and their children, and on staff, of physical distancing and other new technology-mediated service protocols.
  2. Existing and emerging physical space planning, service design and other structural factors that enable or impede new COVID-19 (and future) protocols.
  3. The evolving impact of rapid change and decision-making on service mandates, mission and consideration of these in light of the traditional values of women-serving organizations.


In addition to academic publications, this project has Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) funding to conduct knowledge mobilization activities. These include short-term, targeted activities to move knowledge from the project in all directions: to service, policy, media and advocacy actors regionally, provincially and nationally. We will undertake an integrated, two-phase approach, creating a knowledge-sharing strategy with our research partners and involving additional VAW stakeholders along the way. Knowledge mobilization will be done in two main phases:

  1. Research Results Event: With research partners and selected others, we will discuss study findings,  formulate key messages, and develop knowledge-sharing strategies (e.g., policy & practice briefs, evidence-based narratives, multimedia vehicles, etc.) for direct-service, policy, media and advocacy audiences. 
  2. National Knowledge Sharing Forum: Phase 2 will be the primary implementation event for the knowledge-sharing strategy developed in Phase 1. Led by sector partners, we will share findings in their various formats with a larger audience of national stakeholders.


Data Collection, Analysis & Synthesis: May 2020 – February 2021
Phase 1 – Research Results Event: Spring 2021
Phase 2 – National Knowledge Sharing Forum: Fall 2021
Reports and Publications: November 25 – December 10, 2021 (link to 16 Days of Activism)


The Violence Against Women Services in a Pandemic Research Team is led by Dr. Nadine Wathen, PhD, Professor and Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-Based Violence in the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University. Academic team members from Western University are: Drs. Eugenia Canas, PhD, Post-doctoral Associate; Jennifer MacGregor, PhD, Research Associate, Tara Mantler, PhD, Assistant Professor of Health Studies; Susan Rodger, PhD, Associate Professor of Education; Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, RN, PhD, Distinguished University Professor of Nursing and Chair in Rural Women’s Health; Vicki Smye, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of Nursing. Community partners are Jessie Rodger, MSW, Executive Director (ED), and AnnaLise Trudell, PhD, Manager of Education, Training & Research at Anova London. Corey Allison, ED, Women’s Rural Resource Centre (Strathroy); Jasmine Clarke, ED, Optimism Place (Stratford); Angie Marks, ED, Women’s Interval Home (Sarnia-Lambton); Debbie Zweep, ED, Faye Peterson House (Thunder Bay). A talented team of trainees supported this work: Jill Veenendaal and Caitlin Burd, PhD students from Western University and Isobel McLean, an Architecture student from the University of Toronto.

The project was funded by a Western University Catalyst Grant: Surviving Pandemics, Wathen’s SSHRC CRC, and for knowledge mobilization activities, a SSHRC Connection Grant.

Related Links:

Anova/EVA Canada Survey Report:  Pandemic meets pandemic: Understanding the impacts of covid-19 on gender-based violence services and survivors in Canada.

Women’s Shelters Canada Report: Shelter Voices 2020: The Impact of COVID-19 on VAW Shelters and Transition Houses.