Domestic Violence Increased During the Pandemic

The COVID-19 stay-at-home orders made life at home more dangerous for victims of domestic violence. It exposed them to more risk of physical violence and sexual violence.

In 2020, state and local governments ordered millions of Americans to stay home to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone feeling sick had to quarantine at home for up to two weeks. Even after public health stay-at-home orders ended, employers required some employees to work remotely. When employees returned to work, they often had new social distancing requirements.

Domestic Violence Calls and Abuse Increased during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Domestic violence is a historically under-reported offense. It is a serious healthcare crisis for Americans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says one in four women and one in 10 men in the U.S. will experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

The United Nations reports that more people called domestic violence helplines after the pandemic began and COVID-19 lockdowns took effect. A UN Women's report called the crisis for victims of domestic violence a "shadow pandemic." In some countries, calls to helplines increased by 500%.

U.S. social service agencies found that calls for service at first decreased at the beginning of the pandemic. Victims likely found it hard to call for help when an abuser was present during the lockdowns. But this decrease was temporary. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, victims' calls for help increased by almost 6% from March 2020 to March 2021.

Some victims claimed their abusers were using the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for abuse. An abuser might force a victim to wash her hands until they bled. An abuser might threaten to kick a victim out, exposing her to the pandemic.

The stay-at-home orders gave abusers more chances to control their victims. They would tell them they could not go out, go shopping alone, return to work, or have contact with family members.

In April 2020, University of California at Davis researchers took a survey of close to 400 adults. About 10% reported intimate partner violence over 10 weeks early in the pandemic. Of the 10% reporting violence, some 74% reported violence against women.

The National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice released a study in March 2021. They found that domestic violence incidents increased by 8.1% due to lockdown orders.

Human rights advocates and social service providers agree on the impact of COVID-19. They believe several pandemic risk factors caused increased domestic violence. Victims then made more calls to law enforcement.

Domestic Abuse Related to Stress and Financial Hardship

The CDC reported more mental health conditions associated with COVID-19. In June 2020, some 40% of Americans had at least one mental health or behavioral health condition. This was a large increase from the previous year.

The COVID-19 lockdown caused mental stress in different ways. Some people lost jobs and household income. Some people struggled over how to file for unemployment help. Couples argued over stimulus payments. There were fights over access to household funds.

Abusive partners often seek to control finances in the household. This tendency grew stronger during the pandemic. When an abusive partner monitors and restricts access to money, there is more risk of financial abuse. Without access to money, victims of domestic violence become isolated.

Housing Concerns for Domestic Violence Survivors

Victims of intimate partner violence need safe and affordable housing to leave an abuser. Without it, survivors of domestic violence often choose to stay at home with an abuser. Many shelters reduced their capacity for victims of domestic abuse and families during the pandemic. This was to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among people in the shelter.

The government ordered a pause on evictions during the pandemic. This provided temporary relief for the housing crisis. But the national eviction moratorium ended on Aug. 26, 2021. Some states and cities further extended eviction moratoriums to allow residents more time. You should check your local eviction laws to see whether housing relief or protection may still be available in your state.

Children at Home and Calls to Child Abuse Hotlines

Many states and communities ordered school children to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This placed many parents at home with their children in close quarters for long periods. In some homes, parents worked remotely while children engaged in online learning. This caused added stress and had mixed results.

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline states more people called for help in 2020. They saw a 13% rise in calls and texts for help from March to May 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. The rise in calls and texts did not necessarily prove an increase in child abuse or neglect. But it showed the stress of the "new normal" of families sheltering in place during the pandemic.

At the same time, parents who could continue to work outside the home saw a childcare crisis. Many childcare agencies closed early in the pandemic. As a result, families struggled to find caregivers.

Protection Orders during the Pandemic

The pandemic interrupted court services and processes. Courts struggled to get technology to move more proceedings online. This caused delays in the issuance of protection orders. This also caused the delay of ongoing domestic violence cases.

Although a protection order itself does not stop domestic violence, it can deter an abuser. An abuser who violates a protection order can face arrest for a new crime. A repeat arrest provides new exposure to the criminal justice system.

Any decrease in victims' access to court services is a risk factor for more family violence. Police and victim service advocates stepped up to address any confusion with court closures and delays. They made use of social media to inform victims of new procedures for protection orders.

Help Is Still Available for Victims

Pandemics and other national health crises put communities at risk for increases in family violence. Victim advocacy is still extremely important during such difficult times. In a crisis, victims need resources to help them. This includes access to health services, shelters, hotlines, and counseling services.

National Domestic Violence Hotline workers developed strategies to help victims during lockdowns. They began using chat services. Likewise, many legal aid clinics and family law attorneys began offering remote legal services. These new ways to access victim services will likely remain in place. These changes will improve the response to future pandemics or healthcare emergencies.

Related Resources:

For more COVID-19 resources for victims of domestic abuse, you can contact a family law attorney. You can visit the website of the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health.

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