Intimate associate violence has elevated throughout pandemic, rising proof suggests

Intimate partner violence has increased during pandemic, emerging evidence suggests

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With increasing COVID infection rates, the possibility of additional quarantines increases. While staying at home orders can protect people from the virus, the home is not safe for everyone. Studies show that domestic violence calls to police and emergency shelters in the US have increased between 6% and 21% since the pandemic began (variation depending on data source), with the largest increase occurring in the first five weeks of quarantine is.

The number of calls to emergency shelters and hotlines has also increased. Google searches for information on domestic violence hotlines have also increased. There was an increase in April last year when most of the US was on "stay-at-home" contracts.

This is not surprising to those of us who deal with domestic violence. With COVID-19 came higher unemployment and financial pressures, both of which correlated with domestic violence. As quarantine and social distancing progress, isolation increases, social support decreases, mobility decreases, access to resources is strained, and the stress of routine changes such as work and school closings increases. Life is turned upside down.

As researchers studying intimate partner violence, we know that the pandemic has only exacerbated many of the risk factors for escalating violence. For example, if partners spend more time together than usual, for example on vacation, the risk of domestic violence increases.

Stress, economic difficulties, lack of social support, possession of weapons, lower educational status and drug or alcohol abuse are risk factors for intimate partner violence. All of these factors are exacerbated during a pandemic.

Get reliable data

All of these factors are red flags, indicating that victims may be at increased risk during these troubled times. However, getting data during a pandemic is especially difficult. In the best of circumstances, data must be collected, processed, and analyzed before numbers can be presented to the public. That always takes time. A pandemic makes things even more complicated. At this time, we have not updated national statistics on victim reports of domestic violence during the pandemic. Therefore, to get instant numbers, we rely largely on the police call or emergency call data.

But that 6% to 21% increase in calls likely underestimates the problem. Interactions with police officers are declining overall, in part due to social distancing policies and practices. However, domestic violence was an underreported crime even before the outbreak.

The increase in calls appears to be largely due to households where the police have not previously made contact and households in rental complexes. This may be due to the coverage of the neighbors as when they spend more time at home they are more likely to be Witnesses. In contrast, incidents in rural communities, where housing conditions are far apart, are likely underrepresented in our current data. Even before COVID-19, the severity of physical abuse at home was worse in rural areas compared to urban areas. The lack of public transport in rural areas adds to the problem as it is more difficult for victims to escape or reach shelters, which are often found in urban areas. These problems have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

What can help

One way to improve the response is to have victims report abuse in non-traditional spaces such as pharmacies. This approach has been used successfully in France and Spain. For example, in Spain, victims use a code word – "Mask 19" – when speaking to pharmacists to identify the need for help. Traditional sources like hotlines and 911 could also enable coded reports. With fewer accommodations available during the pandemic, victims were housed in hotels.

Social media could offer innovative ways to make reporting easier. For example, private functions such as hidden "customer service" chat rooms on platforms connected to the national hotline could benefit victims who attempt to contact them while their perpetrator is nearby. Shortening the hotline number to three digits – a more memorable and quicker dial – could also help. All of these changes, especially now, can help victims find the privacy they need so they can safely report the abuse.

For assistance with a domestic violence case, call the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Text LOVEIS at 22522; or visit this website.

Domestic Violence and COVID-19: When Being Stuck At Home Is Dangerous

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