The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound and lasting impact on almost every aspect of our lives. While the initial lockdowns and response to the pandemic may have saved many lives, it’s been well-documented that domestic violence rates spiked significantly during the weeks and months of quarantines and lockdowns. The number of domestic violence 911 calls went up in many cities, but experts believe there were many more victims who never made a call. The reasons behind these increases ranged from increased financial pressure to depression to being forced to stay in close quarters with abusers.
But what about now? Two years into the pandemic, quarantines and even mask mandates have been lifted. Business as we know it is returning to normal, even as we continue to encounter spikes in infection rates. Now that we’re no longer stuck in close quarters and many/most of us are back to work…are domestic violence rates now dropping? Or are they still on the rise?
There is unfortunately no definitive answer. Most of the reports and studies available have been focused on the early days of the pandemic when the risk factors were highest, so current data is inconclusive at best. However, while the immediate quarantines are over, the long-term effects of the pandemic are still very much with us–as are the “ripple effects” it has had on so many other parts of our lives. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that many households are still at elevated risk for domestic violence, and will likely continue to be so for some time to come. Let’s look at some of the likely contributing factors to this risk.
At the height of the initial waves of the pandemic, when so many were isolated, unemployed, and/or fearful of getting sick, as many as 50 percent of Americans reported that they were unwell mentally and emotionally. Mental illness continues to be a major problem in the wake of the pandemic, with the WHO recently reporting a 25 percent increase in depression and anxiety worldwide. It’s common knowledge that mental illness is a significant risk factor for both perpetrating and experiencing domestic violence, whether it’s exhibited as depression, PTSD, or some other mental disorder.
The increase in mental health issues isn’t surprising, considering that the effects of trauma can linger long after the initial crisis ends. Not only did COVID create a worldwide crisis, but it also left many of us feeling more vulnerable, fragile, and generally unsafe. Many also continue to suffer the grief of losing loved ones to the disease. All of these factors are very much active in our world, which may easily increase the risk of domestic violence erupting–especially in homes that were already at risk.
When the initial lockdowns occurred, liquor sales skyrocketed. Recent reports have confirmed that alcohol consumption rose sharply during the early days of lockdown, and even 18 months into the pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 Americans self-reported “heavy drinking” within the past 30 days. This data doesn’t include other forms of substance abuse, but it’s reasonable to assume drug use has spiked as well–especially considering a recent report that a record 1 million Americans died of overdoses in 2021 (more than died of COVID during that time!).
Since substance abuse is also a known risk factor for domestic violence, the fact that so many more people are struggling with substance abuse in the wake of the pandemic means that there are likely more homes at risk for domestic violence than ever before.
The initial lockdowns prompted an instant economic recession and widespread job loss, causing financial stress for many households–a common stressor that can trigger domestic violence. Despite the fact that unemployment has since dropped to very low levels as the economy has bounced back, the pandemic has caused lingering supply chain issues and shortages that have fueled rampant inflation–causing financial concerns of a different kind. In short, the economic pressures first prompted by the pandemic have continued, albeit in different forms–so those ever-present stressors are likely making domestic violence more likely in many homes.
Changing Lifestyle Patterns
One of the long-term effects of the pandemic includes a “new normal” in the workforce, with many people continuing to work from home after the quarantines ended, and with many employers allowing and even encouraging remote work. Additionally, even as tourism and travel have slowly opened up, a lot of Americans are simply spending more time at home than they did before COVID, opting to venture out less even when they’re not working. As a result, potential abusers and victims are still spending more time in closer proximity to one another, and many continue to feel more isolated than they were before. In high-stress situations, we believe this continues to be a breeding ground for domestic violence.
Reducing the Risk
There’s no easy answer for addressing the long-term effects of COVID on domestic violence rates. The fact is that life has changed for most of us, and not always for the better–and while we can reduce some of the stressors, we may not be able to get rid of them entirely. However, we believe there are a few key things that can help reduce the risk:
- Providing mental health support for those struggling with mental illness, whether it’s through therapy, medication, or other means.
- Supporting those struggling with substance abuse through treatment and recovery programs.
- Helping families and individuals experiencing financial insecurity by providing resources, information, and assistance.
- Encouraging healthy lifestyle choices and maintaining positive social interactions through online and in-person activities and events.
- Learning to identify the danger signs of escalating tensions in your own home, and what to do to diffuse those tensions before violence breaks out.
If the worst-case scenario happens and you find yourself under arrest on suspicion of domestic violence in Los Angeles, it’s critical to have compassionate legal counsel in your corner to help you navigate the best path forward. We can help ensure your rights are protected and will work to obtain the best possible outcome for you and your family. Call to schedule an appointment today.