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The Impact of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence

What Is Domestic Violence?

To get a full understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted domestic violence, we first need a clear domestic violence definition as a frame of reference. Domestic violence (DV) is an extremely broad concept that encompasses a wide variety of violence and abuse. The US Department of Justice defines it as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.” DV can include:

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Emotional abuse

  • Economic abuse

  • Psychological abuse

  • Technological abuse

Domestic violence statistics drive home the prevalence of DV and the urgency with which we must address it. Here are some eye-opening statistics on DV in the United States:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States.

  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 phone calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.

  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence.

  • The cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $8.3 billion per year.

Domestic Violence During the Pandemic

Has domestic violence increased?

Yes. DV has long been an urgent problem in the US, but in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, DV has only worsened. This is because of the harmful impacts of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders on instances of DV. Pandemic stressors and situational difficulties not only increased the occurrence of DV in households where it was already happening, but also gave rise to DV where it hadn’t developed before.

In a Blue Shield of California Foundation survey regarding experiences of domestic violence and COVID-19, 3 in 10 Californians said there has been more tension in their romantic relationships since the beginning of the pandemic. Of those, nearly half described tensions as becoming “unhealthy,” “potentially abusive,” or “unsafe.”

This uptick in violence was observed around the US as people were forced to isolate themselves to prevent the spread of disease. Following school closures and stay-at-home orders in Portland, Oregon, “the Portland Police Bureau recorded a 22% increase in arrests related to DV compared to prior weeks.” In Jefferson County Alabama, stay-at-home orders were followed by a 27% increase in DV calls compared to that time the previous year.

These increases came as the result of multiple factors that made domestic violence during COVID-19 more frequent. Some of the key contributing factors to this rise in prevalence were social isolation, increased stress levels, and strain on resources. Here’s how each of those pandemic consequences heightened the risk for DV.

Social Isolation

Social support is one of the most crucial factors in helping people suffering from DV. Friends, family, coworkers, and more can be essential links to the world outside of the abuser’s control. They can provide support, notice red flags, and connect their endangered loved ones or acquaintances with life-giving resources. During the pandemic, stay-at-home orders effectively cut off these support systems, leaving victims and abusers isolated in a fraught environment.

A study of the impact of COVID-19 on DV found that “extended stays” were one of the factors driving up the incidence rate, as long-term confinement with others has been shown to heighten stress and destabilize relationships.

The pandemic also affected individuals’ economic freedom. As people were laid off and lost not only income but accompanying insurance, this forced some people to be further dependent on their abusers. This lack of financial support and isolation from necessary resources created power imbalances within households and set the stage for increased DV during COVID.

Increased Stress Levels

Stress is undeniably one of the strongest risk factors for DV. The pandemic increased stress for everyone, in many different ways, therefore driving a higher rate of DV. Pandemic stressors resulted from things like medical concerns, grief, anxiety and depression, and economic strain.

A review of DV trends during COVID-19 found that “lockdowns and pandemic-related economic impacts likely exacerbated factors typically associated with domestic violence, such as increased male unemployment, stress associated with childcare and homeschooling, and increased financial insecurity.”

Strain on Resources

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the resources that are essential to addressing DV. Like the highly publicized and widely felt strain on the shipping industry and many others, support systems like government programs and nonprofit organizations faced extreme strain during the pandemic. A 2020 report on DV in the early stages of the pandemic summarized the problem as follows:

“Because of social distancing measures, shelters and other response services… are not operating in the same manner and, in some cases, are operating over capacity or not at all. This reduces access to DV resources at a time when individuals are already socially isolated, increasing functional isolation.”

In a world reeling from the impacts of COVID-19 and its lingering consequences, it is crucial that DV is highlighted and addressed moving forward. Now more than ever, it’s essential to support the systems preventing and responding to DV. Let’s work to reverse the impacts of COVID-19 and to promote happy and healthy households across the nation.

At Crisis House, we are here during these stressful times to support families with our services and resources. We provide crisis intervention; emergency, transitional, and permanent housing; and services for families and children fleeing domestic violence. We’re leaders in critical services in East County, San Diego, administering programs for individuals and families experiencing domestic violence and homelessness.

See our impact and help us reach those in need by donating or volunteering today! You can also sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop as we work to connect families, children, and individuals to crucial resources. Together, we can stop the cycle of domestic violence, child abuse, and homelessness and empower people to renew their lives!

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