For those of you that don’t know, I am a violence epidemiologist. My research lab focuses on how violence is contagious (just like infectious diseases) and predictable. Because if it’s predictable, then it’s preventable.
We, violence epidemiologists, have been paying very close attention on how stay-at-home policies and isolation have impacted all types of victimization, including domestic violence.
We have consistently hypothesized that pandemic stressors (like job loss, mental health, and lack of social support) have exacerbated the risk of violence at home. Also, domestic violence hotlines have reported 25-50% increase in calls and 150% increase in website traffic.
However, no research has asked victims, themselves, how violence has changed during the pandemic (compared to before the pandemic). Well, the first study was published yesterday…
What was found?
• The majority of victims reported that there was NO CHANGE in victimization during the pandemic compared to prior to the pandemic.
• Among victims that did say victimization changed, more victims said it got BETTER compared to getting WORSE.
• Victimization that got WORSE during the pandemic was due to an increase in hitting, slapping (physical) and rape (sexual).
• Victimization that got BETTER during the pandemic was due to a decrease in physical violence.
These results are surprising and certainly not what the authors hypothesized.
What could explain this discrepancy?
• Pandemic or not, the majority of domestic violence is through controlling behavior. With stay-at-home policies implemented, we can imagine that perpetrators may have more control over victims and more knowledge about whereabouts, thus running into less conflict.
• This study sample was recruited through social media, and then by default, the participants must have had access to a computer or smartphone and internet. It is possible that the most severe of victims do not have these freedoms and so were systematically missed.
Nonetheless, the majority of victimization did NOT change=victims continue to be isolated with their perpetrators. The realities of this crisis are immediate and much more research, engaging victims themselves, is needed.
If you are in need of help, here are a few national resources for you. Emergency domestic violence shelters are STILL open and STILL helping women AND men that are victims of abuse.
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
National Domestic Abuse Chat (if you can’t talk on your phone): https://www.thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat/
Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center: 972-641-7273
Data Source: From the brilliant Jetelina KK, Knell G, Molsberry RJ. Changes in intimate partner violence during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA. Injury Prevention. https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/early/2020/09/01/injuryprev-2020-043831.full