New studies show domestic violence has spiked in US following stay-at-home orders during pandemic

As many experts predicted early last year, domestic violence has spiked in the U.S. following the imposition of stay-at-home orders during the pandemic.

In April 2020, the American Psychological Association published an article expressing concern among mental health professionals that the lockdown guidelines would lead to a rise in family violence as well as intimate partner violence. Their predictions have become a reality, as global statistics show a trend of increased domestic violence since the pandemic started about a year ago. According to the National Center of Biotechnical Information, in the past year numbers out of Australia, China, Brazil, and the United States all indicated family violence trending up since the onset of the lockdown and stay-at-home orders. 

According to a review of studies on violence by the Council on Criminal Justice, domestic violence has spiked by 8.1% since stay-at-home orders were imposed. The review also looked at international studies in six other countries and found that on average domestic violence increased 7.8% across those 7 countries. Overall, the study provided 37 estimates of domestic violence changes before and after lockdowns were implemented in the countries studied. Eight of those estimates reported a decrease in domestic violence whereas 29 reported an increase. Experts warn that one of the major factors in this uptick is abuse victims’ inability to reach out for help when they are confined to their homes with their abusers. In a pre-pandemic world, victims had opportunities to leave the home and seek help. During the COVID-19 lockdown most of the reasons to leave the house turned virtual, including work, schooling and medical appointments.

Typically, a medical examination is conducted in private, offering an opportunity for not only physical identification of signs of abuse, but also a chance for patients to inform their providers of abusive situations. Mental health providers have noticed a marked change in client self-reporting rates since more appointments have returned to in-person. Kelly Foy, a Clinical Social Worker Intern, MSW, who provides mental health services to primarily marginalized communities in Maryland told FBA that “during April – October of 2020, most of the client services we were providing were over telehealth rather than in person. Many clients are unable to share freely from their home, which may be shared by their abuser or others, as they would in the safety of our facility.”

As the vaccination rollout continues and more everyday tasks return to in-person, experts believe they will see some relief in the rates of abuse. Not only will abusers and their victims have less time together in the same physical space, but as the courts reopen and hearings begin taking place faster again, many victims may be able to get the legal help they need to escape their abusive situations. Foy explains that “the [court] system is exceptionally reactive to begin with, but when domestic cases and protective orders aren’t being seen in court for months on end- abusers feel emboldened by this.” Further, as hospitals and shelters reopen and state-to-state travel restrictions are lifted, victims will have more places to go than they have during the COVID-19 lockdown. Foy has already seen signs of improvement, as the facility where she works “noticed a significant improvement in relapse rates and abuse rates after clients were able to return to in person services, one that continues to trend in a positive direction as in person services stabilize and telehealth is reduced.”




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