Trigger warning: The following contains mention of domestic and intimate partner violence.
One in four women and one in ten men experience intimate partner violence (IPV). Although people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic class experience IVP, there is a disproportionate effect on marginalized groups, such as people of color. Economic instability, unsafe housing, neighborhood violence, and a lack of stable child care can worsen these shaky situations. Therefore, with the economic instability and social isolation caused by the pandemic, advocates expressed concern over a potential rise in cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence.
In March 2020, a report published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimated that there could be 31 million new cases of domestic violence globally if the lockdowns continued until August. Since then, activists have seen a pattern of increasing reports of domestic abuse in countries such as Greece, China, Italy, Spain, India, and more.
“The epidemic has had a huge impact on domestic violence,” Wan Fei, founder of an anti-domestic violence nonprofit in China’s Hubei Province, told Sixth Tone. As of April, domestic violence increased threefold in the province, which was the heart of the initial coronavirus outbreak.
In the United States, multiple cities’ law enforcement agencies are reporting jumps in domestic violence calls. For example, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, police received 517 additional calls of domestic violence in March, an 18% jump from the same time last year.
However, in some areas, calls to domestic violence services have decreased dramatically. Unfortunately, experts know that in reality, the number of cases has not gone down, but that victims were not able to safely connect with help.
“What we are concerned about in the community is that calls to our domestic violence hotline are down, calls to our intake are down, and we don’t think that that’s because less people need our help,” Susan Pearlstein, co-supervisor of the family law unit of Philadelphia Legal Assistance, told the Guardian.
Authorities are fearful that victims may also believe that there is nowhere to go for help, since a lot of the world was in quarantine and is likely going to be again. When states began issuing lockdown orders between March 12 and May 12, only 17 states explicitly stated that victims of DV were exempt from stay-at-home orders. COVID-19 has indeed made it more difficult for DV victims to seek help, as shelters and alternate housing for victims of violence at home have reduced their capacity or shut down. Additionally, travel restrictions have made it harder for people to find adequate safe-havens.
Spikes in gun sales are also of concern, given that the presence of a gun in a home with a history of DV makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.
Now, as lockdown restrictions come back across the globe, the rise in domestic violence calls and cases is expected to reflect or surpass the numbers that were recorded earlier this year.
Through Teen Lenses: Did you know that the increase of domestic violence during COVID-19 lockdown was an issue? What do you think can be done to fix this?
“No, I didn’t know this was an issue. I think that we need to address the mental issues that people have, and try to solve the problems that they had in their past. Homes and families with a history of domestic abuse should be monitored, and we need to make sure that options are available for victims to safely escape situations of violence.” Alishba Khan, Sophomore at Broad Run High School, Ashburn, Virginia
“To be honest, I did not know that domestic violence rates had increased after lockdown until after I read a news article explaining so. It’s really heartbreaking to think that people were taking refuge from the virus inside their homes, only to have to deal with another pre-existing threat already living with them. I think first and foremost, more awareness should be raised about the issue, and communities should come together to check up on their neighbors and create a safe space where people suffering from domestic abuse can get help.” Mariam Elhelaly, Senior at King Abdullah Academy, Herndon, Virginia
“I know a couple friends in emotionally abusive households. It’s a lot harder for them now when they can’t leave home. School and work were their safe places. I think people need to be made more aware of this. There is also a dire need for finding new ways to and providing resources for victims to safely escape abusive households. This is definitely a harder and bigger challenge during a global pandemic.” Arya Rajesh, Junior at Thomas A. Edison High School, Alexandria, Virginia
“To be honest, I hadn’t heard about rising domestic violence rates during lockdown, but now that I think about it, I believe I know why. People are spending more and more time with the same people at home, and due to the general negative mental and emotional impacts that lockdown has had on humans, many get angered more quickly and want to get out their anger, and they do so by getting it out on other human beings, which is not the right thing to do. I believe that because domestic violence is a human problem, there is a human solution. We can decrease domestic violence rates during lockdown by spending more time outside accompanied by family and friends on picnics, walks, and other safe, socially-distanced activities. Nature has proven to calm us down and destress us, so we can start there.” Carolyn Soltani, Senior at W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, Virginia