Does the Coronavirus Outbreak Increase the Likelihood of Domestic Abuse?
Wed, April 21, 2021

Does the Coronavirus Outbreak Increase the Likelihood of Domestic Abuse?


Everyone is instructed to self-isolate, with our homes safeguarding us from the spread of the coronavirus, stated Nicole Westmarland and Rosanna Bellini of The Conversation, a research and news website. But is it really safe to stay at home? For others, yes. However, we should also be concerned about the disturbing impact of the outbreak, particularly the rise of domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse Statistics

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales: Year Ending March 2018, it is estimated that 6.1% of adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the past year, representing two million victims, via Office for National Statistics, an independent producer of official statistics. The most common type of abuse was non-sexual domestic abuse (physical, emotional and financial abuse, including threats), with 4% of adults aged 16 to 59 years experiencing it by a partner and 1.8% by a family member.

For non-sexual abuse, non-physical abuse (4.1%) was more prevalent than threats and force (3%). 1.2% of adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic stalking, with 0.9% done by a partner and 0.5% by a family member. Individuals with a long-term illness or disability were more likely to be vulnerable to domestic abuse in the last year than those without, which was true for men (9.8% versus 3.5%) and women (16.8% versus 6.3%).

Cynthia Hess, Ph.D., Alona Del Rosario, M.A. of Institute for Women’s Policy Research, an organization founded by Heidi Hartmann, surveyed 164 survivors to analyze the educational, career, and economic effects of intimate partner violence. The survey revealed that 83% of respondents said their abusive partners disrupted their ability to work.



Among the survivors who experienced one or more disruptions, 70% said they were unable to have a job when they wanted or needed one. 53% reported losing a job due to the abuse. 49% said they missed one or more days of work, 18% lost an opportunity to be promoted or have a raise, and 38% said they lost other work opportunities.

Sarah Clarke of Home Care Insight, a provider of news, trends, and market intelligence, wrote that almost 2,500 people in the UK painted a “disturbing” picture of their perceptions towards the elderly. The survey found that 34% of respondents do not believe that acts of domestic violence towards an older person count as abuse. 49% believed that “not attending to an older person’s needs in a timely fashion” did not constitute abuse.

“The lockdown measures – necessary as they are for tackling coronavirus – will create a pressure cooker environment for abuse, with vulnerable older people at particular risk,” explained Richard Robinson, Hourglass chief executive.



Domestic Abuse Is the Worst-Case Scenario

A 38-year-old woman was in the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital, as she was beaten by her boyfriend, wrote Laura Newberry and Nicole Santa Cruz of Los Angeles Times, a daily newspaper in Los Angeles. Normally, the hospital would contact a domestic abuse advocate, who would meet the 38-year-old and assist her in finding shelter and other services.

An advocate had to contact her through a phone call due to limitations on visitors and health guidelines. Fortunately, the woman was placed in a shelter after making a dozen calls. Yvette Lozano, the chief program and operating officer for Los Angeles-based non-profit Peace Over Violence, said they got lucky as it is challenging to find shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

Combined with limited access to services, domestic abuse is the worst-case scenario for individuals in abusive relationships, said Alyson Messenger, a managing staff attorney with the Jenesse Center, a domestic violence organization based in South Los Angeles.



Isolation: The Abuser’s Deadliest Weapon

Abusers may deal with extra stress and anxiety by imposing stricter and more unrealistic regimes on their family member’s activities and behaviors. Westmarland and Bellini said “social distancing” and “isolation” are the main tactics used by a controlling partner.

“People are already physically isolated with no escape from perpetrators and any contact they may have had with family or friends has been severely restricted,” explained Dr. Hannah Bows, deputy director of the Center for Research into Violence and Abuse (CRiVA) at Durham University, as quoted by Charlotte Carter of Community Care, the heart of one’s social care career.

Refuge chief executive Sandra Horley agreed that women and children are more likely to spend the lockdown with perpetrators, which may escalate the risk of domestic abuse and further restrict their freedom. In fact, Horley added that it is more challenging for women as lines of communication could be severely limited if they were unable to leave their homes.

The Outbreak Could Mean Fewer Opportunities to Determine the Signs of Abuse

Experts warned that the COVID-19 pandemic reduces social workers’ ability to address domestic abuse. Bows said the outbreak reduced the chance of another person or agency identifying the signs of abuse. She stated, “It can be as simple as a teacher asking a question when someone takes the kids to school, a teacher will ask questions or another parent might pick up on something at the school gate.”

But without these daily interactions, the chances of someone triggering a safeguarding concern is lower. In Los Angeles, for instance, officials have been bracing for increased cases of abuse, reported The Associated Press via MPR News, a news and information network. Before the statewide lockdown, Peace Over Violence prepared online counseling sessions and spoke to clients to recommend ways to keep in touch, either through phone calls from a restroom or during a walk if an abuser is at home.

Due to the virus, advocates can’t come to the police station or the hospital, concluded Patti Giggans, executive director of the nonprofit Peace Over Violence. She stated that her staff was told that shelters are checking individuals’ temperatures when they show up. The shelters are also formulating plans to limit the proximity of people to maintain social distancing.  

Bows, who is also the associate editor of the British Journal of Social Work, argued that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will likely force social workers into “quite silo working.” Social workers do not operate in isolation as they depend on referrals between agencies. Because of the pandemic, social workers will miss out on the potential to notice the signs of abuse and care visits will most likely be reduced, Bows stated.

Home is not a safe place for everyone, especially those who are suffering from domestic violence. Isolation restricts survivors to reach out to shelters or social workers; In fact, professionals themselves are also having difficulty noticing the red flags of abuse. Abusers will use whatever they can to subdue their victims— and one of them is isolation.