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The “Shadow Pandemic”: Domestic Violence in a COVID World

pexels-anna-shvets-4167544-200x300In the months and years since COVID-19 became a global health crisis, word has spread rapidly about the “shadow pandemic,”–referring to the worldwide spike in domestic violence (and violence against women in general) in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Many concerns were raised during the initial lockdowns and quarantines (and rightly so) that potentially millions of victims of domestic violence were “locked in” with their abusers and had even less access to relief services or the ability to obtain protective orders.

Now that there is enough data to be processed, the UN has released a comprehensive report entitled Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women During COVID-19. Not only does it confirm that violence against women has increased substantially during COVID, but the numbers themselves are quite alarming in some cases. According to another report by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, cases of domestic violence have increased by 25-33 percent worldwide. Let’s take a closer look at this “shadow pandemic” to see what we can learn.

An Overview of the Numbers

To start, let’s look at the UN report itself and how it was created. To compile the report, researchers gathered data from a cross-section of women aged 18 and over in 13 countries, with priority given to lower- to middle-income nations. The data was gathered in two phases: between April-June 2021 (Phase I) and between August-September 2021 (Phase 2). Here are a few of the more startling statistics shared within the UN report:

  • Forty-five percent of women (nearly 1 in 2) report either experiencing violence during the pandemic or knowing a woman who has. This speaks to a remarkable increase in violence.
  • One in two women with children also report being a victim of violence or knowing someone who was a victim. This is likely due to the fact that women are more likely to be primary caregivers and therefore spend more time at home–and also because abusers may see children as a way to control their victims.
  • An estimated 245 million women and girls worldwide (age 15 and up) have experienced intimate partner violence (physical or sexual) in the past 12 months.
  • Four in 10 women feel unsafe in public places since the pandemic began. This coincides with an increase in the number of women who feel public sexual harassment against women has also worsened since the pandemic began.
  • One in four women report that household conflicts have increased in their homes since the pandemic began.

Why Domestic Violence Rates Have Likely Increased

The pandemic certainly brought on a wide range of socioeconomic stressors in households worldwide. Examples include:

  • Financial stresses (e.g., loss of income)
  • Increase in substance abuse
  • Increase in anxiety and depression
  • Stresses due to illness
  • Stresses due to childcare (i.e., learning from home)

However, one factor that seems to stand out from the others, at least at the beginning of the pandemic, is the lockdowns themselves. Harvard Law professor Marianna Yang elaborates on this idea in a recent interview:

“There are good reasons for lockdowns to protect public health,” she says, “but we have to recognize the collateral and unintended impacts as well…When people are working outside the home, interactions with their partner are limited to certain hours of the day, and the potential time for conflict is also limited. In a lockdown, not only do you take away those breathing spaces, but you also increase the dynamics where domestic violence can occur. Also, beyond that, during a lockdown, the ability to get help is limited because you don’t have the private space to call somebody; you’re isolated from your support system as a victim/survivor, and you can’t access your family and friends, the people that you rely on. In all those facets and all those ways, the risk goes up for violence.”

Although lockdowns have ended in most places across the globe, the pandemic has still had a lasting impact on our work patterns, with people spending more time at home generally, and many workers continuing to work from home or adopting a hybrid work model. This means many couples still have less “breathing space” than they did prior to the pandemic, and with new stressors in the mix, such as inflation, product shortages, and threats of recession, the pressure triggers are still in place to increase the risk of violence.

Addressing the Problem

The UN report offers a number of recommendations on how to mitigate the problem of the “shadow pandemic” of domestic violence, both in the short- and long-term. A few key takeaways include:

Governments need to increase investment in services for survivors of violence, such as shelters, hotlines, and counseling. Specific attention needs to be given to places where COVID-19 has increased vulnerability among women.

  • There needs to be an enhanced focus on prevention and education, including addressing harmful gender norms.
  • Women need to have a stronger voice in the conversation, especially among organizations and efforts seeking to curb the violence.
  • Data collection and analysis need to be improved in order to better understand the problem and design targeted solutions.

What It Means for You

Looking at all the data above, it may be easy to be complacent, lulled into thinking that domestic violence is someone else’s problem. However, the triggering factors that can cause domestic violence are present in almost every household in America, and in fact, many people have experienced domestic violence in their homes during the pandemic who have never experienced it before. It’s not an unusual story for someone to get in a seemingly innocent heated debate with their loved one and suddenly find themselves under arrest. How can you reduce the risk to yourself and those you love in a time when stressors are still so prevalent?

  • Be self-aware. If you are experiencing increased stress or notice an increase in the number of conflicts with your spouse, take note and start looking for ways to diffuse the tension. Don’t assume “it can’t happen to me.”
  • Be proactive in prevention. When tensions arise, create space between you to “cool off” before things overheat. You may have to do this more intentionally and more often if you have more time at home with your spouse or partner.
  • Get help when necessary. The pandemic has taken a huge emotional toll on virtually everyone. If social or economic pressures seem too much to handle; if you’re experiencing anger or depression; or if you are engaging in substance abuse; don’t be afraid to get professional help before things get out of hand.

Domestic violence can hit any household and any family. If you have already crossed a line and find yourself facing domestic violence charges in Los Angeles, you need help from a compassionate attorney who can assist you in navigating the road ahead. Call our offices for a consultation.

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