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School Closures and COVID Isolation: A Recipe for Domestic Violence?

school-closures-domestic-violence-240x300As we come upon the one-year mark of the beginning of the COVID pandemic, we can see some disturbing trends among families trying to cope. While quarantines, school closures, and social distancing have been necessary to protect the public at large, social workers and domestic violence advocates have long been warning of another danger lurking within at-risk families living in forced isolation: a significant increase in domestic violence. In other words, our attempts to mitigate the COVID health crisis may be creating a health crisis of a completely different kind—one that is just as harmful and even deadly. As a result, an increased number of people, some of whom have no history of domestic violence, have found themselves arrested and facing charges.

This issue has become such a point of concern that some are referring to it as a “pandemic within the pandemic.” Even with vaccinations underway and hope on the horizon, the pandemic, along with its on-again, off-again lockdowns, have changed our living patterns and created “pressure-cooker” situations for many households with fewer options for releasing the pressure or getting help. Let’s take a closer look at this issue—not just the pandemic itself, but how the safety measures put in place are creating new risks for many households.

Increased Risks from School Closures

Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen schools attempt to minimize the health risks to students in numerous ways, starting with shuttering schools, then integrating remote learning, then attempting various hybrid models of blended remote and in-person learning. But aside from the long-term psychological effects this isolation may be having on millions of students, experts believe the school closures are putting many children and families at higher risk for incidents of violence and abuse—both among intimate partners and from parents towards their children. The dangers come from multiple sides:

  • Increased pressure on the parents to become educators, which adds to any existing underlying tension in the home.
  • Increased financial pressures and hunger. Many low-income families rely on school lunch programs as a food source for their children. When kids can’t go to school, it increases the financial pressure and the risk of hunger and neglect.
  • Reduced resources for help and/or escape. With no school to attend, children have nowhere to go for relief from abusive situations at home. Additionally, schools and pediatrician’s offices often serve as places where abusive instances can be reported or discovered—and both are inaccessible during school closures and lockdowns.

What Is Driving the Increase in DV Incidents?

Why are school closures and lockdowns resulting in more incidents of domestic violence? Experts may identify numerous extenuating circumstances, including close quarters, substance abuse, mental illness, etc. However, many of these cases can be traced to a common factor: an increase in stress. While crisis can’t be identified as a direct cause of DV, it’s well-documented that violence is exacerbated by crisis—in other words, it adds fuel to the fire. Between the fear of illness outside and the lack of personal space inside—not to mention the ramped-up stress due to parental worries and financial woes—many households have become prime breeding grounds for altercations and infighting, which may lead to more domestic violence. As a result, families who are already prone to DV may be seeing increased incidents of it, and even families with no prior history now lack their usual pressure release valves, increasing the risk for violence to erupt.

A Bad Situation Made Worse

Not only are domestic violence incidents on the rise during the pandemic, but many of those incidents are becoming more severe in scope because the added stress of the public health crisis is creating optimal conditions for it. In homes where domestic violence is either common or likely, the incidents of violence are resulting in more frequent and more serious injury, both psychological and physical. The reasons include:

  • More opportunities for triggering incidents. Living in close quarters with no separation increases the opportunities for tensions to boil over, as well as other triggers like substance abuse and exacerbated mental illness.
  • Limited opportunities to disrupt the cycle of abuse. Living in constant close quarters means victims have fewer opportunities to reach out to helplines and authorities, both of which can disrupt and create needed separation.
  • Increased isolation. Domestic violence is fueled by isolation, and quarantined homes provide more opportunity for it to occur undetected.

Will Easing the Restrictions Result in Reduced Domestic Violence?

If closing the schools and invoking lockdowns have created more opportunities for domestic violence to thrive, it stands to reason that the reopening of schools and the easing of lockdowns will likely result in a decrease in domestic violence. However, this logic comes with two important caveats:

  1. Domestic violence can be more difficult to stop once it starts. Families who have experienced first-time incidents of violence during the pandemic may have opened a gate that may not be closed without additional support. For at-risk families where DV has become more habitual, the need for disrupting the cycle has never been greater.
  2. The damage caused by DV far outlasts the violence itself. For instance, if you were arrested on domestic violence charges during the pandemic and now those restrictions are eased, you must still deal with ongoing consequences, including a possible trial and conviction, separation from your loved ones, psychological impacts, etc.

School closures and quarantines may increase the risk for domestic violence, but they don’t change the consequences of domestic violence when it happens. If an altercation during lockdown got out of hand and you were arrested on DV charges, the law won’t be more lenient because of the “extraordinary circumstances” of the pandemic. You still need compassionate legal counsel to help you navigate the road ahead and help you pick up the pieces. If you are facing domestic violence charges in southern California, we can help. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.


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