Social Isolation and Sexual Violence

Social isolation has also been demonstrated to have a substantial impact on individuals experiencing sexual violence, particularly through intimate partner violence.

Illustration of standing person shouting at sitting personAdditional stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including mandatory stay-at-home and lockdown measures, have further heightened the intensity and frequency of episodes of sexual violence that these individuals are facing. Due to strict measures limiting social interactions during the pandemic, many individuals facing sexual violence have not had sufficient access to the existing infrastructure of support services, including intimate partner violence shelters and sexual violence campus services.

Furthermore, recent research has demonstrated that in many cases, individuals are not only fearful of being alone with abusive partners but are frequently subject to a strong degree of self-imposed social isolation. This form of social isolation, particularly with close family and friend networks, has been demonstrated to arise both out of fear and shame that their abusive partner will harm them or their vulnerable loved ones, and out of worry that disclosure will provoke a negative retaliation from said close family or friends. Even more concerning, one study found that loneliness was significantly connected with increased rates of suicidal ideation, and firmly demonstrated that social exclusion and disconnectedness negatively intensify both psychological distress and suicide risk in individuals who experienced intimate partner violence.

In terms of addressing the negative impacts caused by social isolation, one study demonstrated that access to both primary health care professional services and community support are two vital strategies that effectively support individuals facing sexual violence and experiencing social isolation. Furthermore, consistent and effective communication with family, neighbours, friends, social groups, and informal support networks were shown to be highly effective in reducing the impact of sexual violence.

It is essential for campus sexual violence response mechanisms to understand the social isolation and other barriers that sexual violence causes for individuals, and design these systems to positively address social isolation through harnessing professional resource services and building community support.

Community Support Diagram

Guide: PDF Version