Shivam Gulati, M.D., Simrat Kaur Sarai, M.D., Steven Lippmann, M.D.
The coronavirus global pandemic has mandated public health measures including physical distancing and self-quarantining. To reduce the transmission of this disease, stay-at-home mandates have been implemented across the United States. Unfortunately, everyone is not finding safety in isolation (1,2). Reportedly, many domestic violence victims are trapped in their homes with a violent perpetrator. The term domestic violence (DV) is used interchangeably with intimate partner violence (IPV), which also includes emotional, physical, or sexual abuse by a current or former intimate partner (1,2). Women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence; however, domestic abuse affects men too, and same‐sex relationships (2-4).
Increasing rates of domestic violence are also documented around the world (1,3). After some initial lock-down orders, nine cities in the USA document a 20-30% increase in DV calls for help (2). Beyond cases of physical harm, victims are also at risk for emotional abuse. Domestic violence offenders sometimes use COVID-19 fears against their victims, threatening to forbid medical treatment if they contract the virus and preventing handwashing to increase the victim’s anxiety about disease contagion (1). Domestic violence abusers often isolate their victims as an act of control or to reduce abuse disclosure reporting; this pandemic augments these dangerous actions.
Abuser-imposed restrictions to social media and/or cell phone assess also limits the ability of victims to seek aid. Isolation from schools, work, social gatherings, libraries, and churches diminishes support systems; families victimized by domestic violence or abuse indicate that these institutions provide emotional support and opportunities for a reprieve from danger (1). This COVID-19 pandemic escalated the risk for at-home-violence through stress, unemployment, reduced income, limited resources, and compromised social connections. Abuse of alcohol and/or other drugs has long been a cause of DV, and it is worse now because isolation adds to distress and diminishes personal communication (1,5). The economic and joblessness crises linked to coronavirus has resulted in many victims having greater difficulty to leave abusive partners (5). DV and/or IPV increases the risk of mental health disorders, especially those of mood, anxiety, eating, and/or posttraumatic stress; substance abuses and physical health conditions are also exacerbated (4).
Children and adolescents witnessing or victimized by DV within the family, suffer harm to their emotional and physical health. Those in a home with violence-prone persons are more likely to be victims of bullyism and/or cyberbullyism and less likely seek professional assistance (4,5). With children currently spending more time at home, those living with an offender are more likely to be abused or neglected, as compared to the general population.
In contrast to the rising frequency of domestic violence, child welfare organizations document fewer reports of abuse or neglect. However, this decrease sadly appears be a result of fewer opportunities for detection as opposed to a decrease in incidence. Most substantiated child abuse or neglect reports had originated from schools or professionals at public sport or recreation facilities, libraries, summer camps, and youth clubs. Closures of schools and community organizations has limited their personnel’s ability to detect and report abuse (1).
Increasing firearm and ammunition sales during this crisis adds to the problem due to the link between weapon access and domestic violence (1). There has been a big increase at gun sales recently. The high number of firearms in circulation at a time of turmoil leads to dire consequences. The risk of death is five times more likely when a gun exists in a home (1,6). This is even more hazardous since coronavirus has escalated substance abuse severity.
Lawmakers should create more awareness about DV during pandemics. Society ought to emphasize the need for people to maintain socialization, while observing physical distance, and about the importance of reporting concerns of abuse. Maintaining social connectedness is an important strategy during times of isolation, especially when someone suspects possible violence.
Provide information about locally available services (e.g., hotlines, shelters, and rape crisis centers, etc.). These must be made known to the general public. Mental health professionals should provide psychological support – also with advice about safety, enquiry about concerns, connecting people to support services, and calling for legal assistance. Community officials must ensure that citizenry is aware of the increased risk of domestic violence; people should remain vigilant and to report concerns to proper authorities (1,4,5).
- Campbell AM. An increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaborations to save lives. Forensic Science International: Reports. 2020;2:1-3.
- Kofman YB, Garfin DR. Home is not always a haven: The domestic violence crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. 2020;12:S199-S201.
- Bradbury‐Jones C, Isham L. The pandemic paradox: The consequences of COVID‐19 on domestic violence. Journal of Clinical Nursing 2020;29(13-14):2047-2049.
- Mazza M, Marano G, Lai C, Janiri L, Sani G. Danger in danger: Interpersonal violence during COVID-19 quarantine. Psychiatry Research. 2020;289:1-3.
- Usher K, Bhullar N, Durkin J, Gyamfi N, Jackson D. Family violence and COVID‐19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support. International Journal Of Mental Health Nursing. 2020;29(4):549-552.
- Hatchimonji JS, Swendiman RA, Seamon MJ, Nance ML. Trauma does not quarantine: Violence during the Covid-19 pandemic. Annals of Surgery. 2020; doi: 1097/SLA.0000000000003996. Accessed October 3, 2020.