Since lockdowns first began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, advocates for domestic abuse victims have sounded the alarm that calls to stay home could increase cases of intimate partner violence.
Now, those fears may be coming to fruition. Reports of domestic violence have spiked in many countries around the world.
Before the pandemic, according to Harvard, one in three women experienced intimate partner violence. But the Washington Post reported that 54% of women surveyed by CARE in Lebanon reported increased violence and harassment during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the Post says domestic violence reports more than tripled in China’s Hubei province during lockdown in February.
According to the Post, domestic violence reports rose by more than 30% in France. Spain’s Catalan regional government said they experienced a 20% increase in calls to its helpline at the beginning of Spain’s shutdown.
The domestic violence statistics are even bleaker in Latin America. Intrafamily violence against women ages 29-59 spiked 94% between March and May in Colombia, according to the Post. Paraguay saw a 35% increase in abuse reports in March. Buenos Aires saw a 48% increase in hotline calls, while the Venezuelan state of Táchira said it responded to 840 cases of abuse from March through May. In 2019, they responded to just 150 cases during the same period.
The United States is one country that has not seen an uptick in reports of domestic violence. The rates have actually fallen in some regions by more than 50% in 2020, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. But advocates say that’s just because victims aren’t reporting incidents or getting the help they need. For example, teachers and social workers can’t identify and report child abuse if schools and daycares are closed.
Hopkins Medicine says that while domestic violence statistics haven’t risen in the U.S., the rate of murder-suicide—where a male partner kills a female and then himself—has increased since the same time last year.
According to experts, the pandemic is a “perfect storm” for domestic violence. The NEJM argues that economic hardship, increased stress, and new barriers to reporting violence all point to a surge in future reports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in its guidelines that social distancing measures might increase the risk for abuse, including child abuse and neglect, intimate partner violence, and elder abuse.
The CDC says the COVID-19 pandemic may also impact those experiencing violence in the following ways:
- Abusers may further isolate and control victims of violence.
- Abusers may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten victims or prevent them from seeking medical treatment, if they need it.
- Programs that serve victims, such as shelters and counseling centers, may be full or unable to assist them. Victims may fear entering shelters for fear of being exposed to COVID-19.
- Travel restrictions may impact a victim’s escape or safety plan.
The NEJM notes it’s also harder to report violent incidents because many police precincts require an in-person visit to file a domestic violence report.
“Similarly, individual trial courts have discretion to determine filing procedures for restraining orders,” the NEJM says. “The lack of a coherent and consistent process for reporting abuse can be discouraging for people seeking help through the legal system.”
With another surge of COVID-19 cases on the rise this fall, experts say it’s essential to help victims of abuse learn how they can seek help.
The CDC recommends the following advice:
- Create a safety plan to outline ways to remain safe while you are in your current situation, planning to leave, or after you leave.
- Practice self-care as much as possible.
- If it is safe, reach out for help and try to maintain social connections through phone calls, texts, emails, and social media platforms.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233.