By Nikki Navarro

During the pandemic, we’ve all been asked to stay home to keep ourselves safe. Offices were closed, stay-at-home orders were enforced, and personal liberties were limited. To protect ourselves from the virus, we were told to seek safety in our home. For some people, home is far from safe. Those who suffer at the hands of intimate partner violence (IPV) have found themselves trapped in a prison. Instead of being safe at home, IPV victims have found themselves trapped indoors with their abuser. It’s been a concern voiced by professionals, politicians, and advocates since the beginning of the pandemic. In this article, we’re looking at the realities of domestic violence during pandemic times.

It’s difficult to judge the impact that the pandemic has had on levels of domestic violence. It’s easy to identify why. While the number of calls to domestic violence hotlines has dropped by more than 50% in some areas, we know this is due to limited opportunities for victims to safely connect with these services. 

This trend isn’t universal, and we’ve seen a rise in instances of domestic abuse and violence against women and children across the world. The first two weeks of the pandemic saw an 18% rise in calls to domestic violence hotlines in Spain than the month before. In France, police have reported a 30% increase in domestic violence during pandemic times, with officers being asked to stay vigilant for signs of IPV.

Keeping people inside their homes has led to more dangerous situations where cases of IPV have skyrocketed. We know the number of IPV victims has increased as a result of the pandemic, but it’s almost impossible to narrow this down to a statistic. Violence against women and children can take several forms, including emotional, physical, psychological, or sexual. One in four women and one in ten men suffer from violence at the hands of intimate partners. 

COVID-19 has created what’s been described as a “perfect storm”. Research carried out by the charity Women’s Aid has found that 91% of victims of domestic abuse have said that the pandemic has negatively impacted them in at least one way. 61% said abuse by intimate partners worsened during the pandemic. For these victims, it’s the lack of access to refugee spaces and support services that has led to them feeling trapped. This research also found that 67% of women experiencing abuse by intimate partners said the pandemic had been used as part of the abuse. 

Intimate partner violence is a public health crisis that is spiking as a result of the pandemic. This fact isn’t shocking. Research has shown that cases of domestic violence increase when families are spending more time at home together, such as during the Christmas holidays. At the start of the pandemic, the United Nations called on governments to “put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic”. 

The pandemic has exasperated social inequalities and deprivation, which often correlates in higher instances of IPV. While it’s true that IPV does not discriminate across socio-economic and cultural divides, it disproportionally affects marginalized and minority communities. These groups suffer from economic instability, lack of childcare, and unstable housing situations. These social factors can make tensions run high and create situations where IPV can occur. The pandemic has aggravated these issues and increased the risk of instances of IPV.

One form of abuse by intimate partners comes from financial coercion. Victims of IPV often find themselves financially entangled with their intimate partner and put in a position where they don’t have financial independence. The pandemic has led to job losses in almost every industry. Women minorities and those without a college education are the most impacted by rising unemployment per statistics.

IPV also encompasses violence against women and children, who find themselves in the firing line with at-home schooling becoming the norm during the pandemic. COVID-19 has seen a rise in cases of child abuse as virtual learning and child care problems drive up tensions at home. One consequence of at-home learning is that it prevents fewer opportunities for intervention or others to recognize the warning signs of abuse. 

This reality exists for all victims of IPV, with the pandemic limiting the contact they have with people who could report the behaviour on their behave. IPV screenings can be carried out on patients who arrive at a health facility presenting signs of abuse. The pandemic has shifted in-person medical appointments to telemedicine platforms and skype calls. These appointments no longer offer an opportunity for victims to report their abuse, as their intimate partners are often in the room with them. 

The realities of the pandemic have also made it harder for victims to seek out support. Women’s shelters are operating with limited capacity, and some hotels are only open for emergency services. Limits on travel have made it almost impossible for victims to travel across the country or state to seek safety with friends or family.

Domestic violence during pandemic times has put a spotlight on the social and economic factors that lead to violence against women and children by intimate partners. As the world begins to open up again because of the vaccine rollout, public health agencies and domestic violence organizations will see a spike in victims accessing services. On the other of this pandemic, we have an opportunity to address these social and public health issues that so often exacerbate the circumstances that lead to IPV. 

What the pandemic has shown is the need to promote and highlight continued access to services and support. Both from charities and medical professionals, for victims of violence by intimate partners. 

If you find yourself in a situation like this, there is support out there to help you. Charities are still working, medical professionals are there to help, and hotlines are open. You’re not alone – there will always be people there to help. Our website includes community resources that you can avail. Help is out there. No one will judge you. Speak out and seek out help please stay safe.