How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse (2023)

National crises ramp up stress among couples and families. Psychologists identify the risks and point to resources that can help.

By Ashley Abramson Date created: April 8, 2020 6 min read

  • Physical Abuse and Violence

Cite this

Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse


How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse (1)

As the nation grapples with the spread of COVID-19, Americans are being told to go home and stay there, for their safety and everyone else’s. But for victims and survivors of domestic violence, including children exposed to it, being home may not be a safe option — and the unprecedented stress of the pandemic could breed unsafety in homes where violence may not have been an issue before.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime— and the risks to victims are severe. CDC data link intimate partner violence with an increased risk of injury and death. About 41% of female intimate partner violence survivors and 14% of male intimate partner violence survivors sustain a physical injury from their abusers, and about 1 in 6 homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners.

Violence in the home can also lead to adverse health and mental health outcomes, including a higher risk of chronic disease, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and risky sexual and substance use behaviors.

Now, experts worry that all these numbers could increase dramatically during this period of social distancing and quarantine. Psychologist Josie Serrata, PhD, a research and evaluation consultant and co-owner of Prickly Pear Therapy and Training, has found in her research that stress and social isolation can raise the risk of domestic violence.

(Video) COVID-19 may increase Domestic Violence and child abuse

Increased risk

In her 2019 study(PDF, 1,56MB) on how Hurricane Harvey affected families that had already experienced domestic violence, Serrata found the stress associated with the disaster led to higher rates of both domestic violence and child abuse during and after the hurricane.

“We found social factors that put people more at risk for violence are reduced access to resources, increased stress due to job loss or strained finances, and disconnection from social support systems,” Serrata says. “With this pandemic, we’re seeing similar things happen, which unfortunately leads to circumstances that can foster violence.”

(Video) COVID-19 pandemic causes an increase in child abuse cases in Idaho

Psychologist Nadine Kaslow, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, says other factors may also contribute to the uptick in intimate partner violence — among them fewer options to find safety or help. Before the pandemic, a survivor or victim could flee a violent situation by staying with a family member, going to a shelter or filing a protective order with the police. For many, such options aren’t easily available right now.

At the same time, shelters are closing or under-resourced, emergency rooms are full and people don’t want to go out in public and risk getting COVID-19. “The things people use in their safety plan are no longer available, which leaves survivors trapped in an escalating cycle of tension, power and control,” Kaslow says.

Some groups are at a higher risk for domestic violence. Research shows race and age play a role in a person’s likelihood to experience abuse from an intimate partner, with minorities and older women at particular risk. Women with disabilities are more vulnerable to rape and sexual coercion, along with several forms of intimate partner violence. And a longitudinal study found that intimate partner violence rates are highest in the poorest neighborhoods.

Psychologist Carrie Lippy, PhD, director of the National LGBTQ Institute on IPV, says sexual and gender minorities are also at an increased risk for domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, partly because of the stressors they already experience as marginalized members of society.

“Being on lockdown, having fewer choices, having other people make large life choices for you, like when you can leave the house — these things replicate the trauma that some LGBTQ people have experienced both in their relationships and as members of oppressed and marginalized groups,” Lippy says.

Those in sexual and gender minority communities, and especially sexual and gender minorities of color, are disproportionately more likely to be homeless or unstably housed, have disabilities and be un- or underemployed. These stressors, Lippy says, compounded with the stress of the pandemic, could increase the risk of partner violence.

Many organizations that serve sexual and gender minority survivors of domestic violence may also struggle to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“From an organizational standpoint, it’s hard to stay on top of all the changing services and resources available during COVID-19, especially ones appropriate for LGBTQ communities,” Lippy says. “Many culturally specific organizations have been historically underfunded, so it has been harder for us to quickly transition to providing remote services and programs for survivors.”

Risks for children

Children are also especially vulnerable to abuse during the pandemic, says child psychologist Yo Jackson, PhD, associate director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents is often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children, she says.

And the resources many at-risk parents rely on — extended family, child care and schools, religious groups and other community organizations — are no longer available in many areas. Many child-protective organizations are experiencing strain with fewer workers available, so they may be unable to conduct home visits in areas with stay-at-home orders. While such operational changes may lead to inaccurate reporting of child abuse and neglect, Jackson says she and her colleagues are expecting a surge in abuse cases all over the country.

“Even parents who have great child management skills and great bonds with their kids are going to be tested,” says Jackson. “There’s a perfect storm happening in millions of homes for kids to be at greater risk for these negative interactions. “

The financial strain many Americans are experiencing due to business and other closures will also put children in many homes at a greater risk of abuse and neglect, says Amy Damashek, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Western Michigan University who studies child maltreatment. Many of these families may also not have access to the technology needed for children to stay connected with friends and extended family, which Damashek presents as another risk factor.

To add to the tension, children are also experiencing their own stress and uncertainty about the pandemic. Stressed parents may be more likely to respond to their children’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive or abusive ways.

All parents should be focusing on keeping their stress as low as possible right now, such as by talking walks or limiting their media exposure, say Jackson and Damashek. “Anything that reduces stress can reduce the risk for abuse and neglect,” Damashek says.

Jackson recommends prioritizing self-care and taking a break from parenting duties whenever possible to lessen the risk of lashing out at a child. While it’s important for parents to attune to their children’s needs, they need to attune to their own needs as well.

“The only way for you to reduce the risk of violence against children is to take care of yourself,” says Jackson. “There are no super parents; only parents who are more tuned in and connected to themselves.”

(Video) Risk of domestic violence during the covid-19 pandemic.

Resources

To help these vulnerable populations during the pandemic, psychologists and social service organizations are banding together to provide emergency domestic violence and child abuse resources in response to the expected rise in cases. Psychologist J. Gayle Beck, PhD, director of The Athena Project, a research clinic at the University of Memphis that provides free mental health services to domestic violence survivors, says organizations in her area are continually communicating about which shelters are open or closed, who has room for more women, and providing resources to organizations that may be understaffed or underfunded.

“Every abuse victim’s situation is slightly different, so finding resources for people that match their needs and situations is taking a lot of communication between organizations,” says Beck. “It’s all getting us ready for when things become a bit more complicated.”

Beck also encourages clinicians to adopt a long-term view and be prepared for an uptick in demand for care and social services related to domestic violence and child abuse. The country may not feel the full weight of the ramifications of the pandemic for months or years to come. “We all need to be vigilant and mindful that our clientele may have increased mental health issues as a result of domestic violence,” she says.

Other health-care providers should also be on the lookout for patients potentially in crisis. In several European countries, those in abusive situations are being told by the government to report the abuse to their local pharmacist, using the code word “mask 19” if they can’t speak openly.

If you or a loved one needs help for a domestic abuse situation, consider these resources:

(Video) COVID-19: Increasing cases of domestic violence as cities go into lockdown

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Abramson, A. (2020, April 8). How COVID-19 may increase domestic violence and child abuse. https://www.apa.org/topics/covid-19/domestic-violence-child-abuse

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(Video) COVID-19 stay-at-home orders may put domestic violence and child abuse victims at risk

FAQs

Why has domestic violence increased? ›

Domestic violence is prevalent everywhere. According to all statistics I have seen from 2020-2021, domestic violence and intimate partner violence during the pandemic has increased because the risk factors have increased with lockdowns and pandemic restrictions.

How has the Covid pandemic affected the perpetration of domestic violence in the UK? ›

Emerging evidence shows a change in those who perpetrate abuse. Between April and June 2020, there was an 8.1% increase in abuse from current partners, a 17.1% increase from family members and a decline of 11.4% in abuse experienced by former partners, according to a study by LSE and the Metropolitan Police.

How are people affected by domestic abuse? ›

Domestic abuse has a considerable impact on your health and well-being, and that of your children. The direct and immediate physical effects of domestic violence include injuries such as bruises, cuts, broken bones, lost teeth and hair, miscarriage, stillbirth and other complications of pregnancy.

Who is most likely to be affected by domestic abuse? ›

Women are most likely to be victims of abuse and perpetrators are most likely to be men. Children are often the hidden victims of domestic violence and abuse. Estimates suggest one million children and young people in the United Kingdom are affected by domestic abuse.

What are the causes of violence? ›

Other factors which can be causes of violence include:
  • The influence of one's peers.
  • Having a lack of attention or respect.
  • Having low self-worth.
  • Experiencing abuse or neglect.
  • Witnessing violence in the home, community, or medias.
  • Access to weapons.
3 Nov 2022

What are the effects caused by domestic violence in society? ›

They suffer from loneliness, depression, hopelessness, fear from their perpetrators, weird behavior, incessant anger, etc. Some of these effects further incite violence upon the women. This may also harm the children and other family members. All the forms of violence can lead to different reproductive health problems.

What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on mental health? ›

Information overload, rumors and misinformation can make your life feel out of control and make it unclear what to do. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you may experience stress, anxiety, fear, sadness and loneliness. And mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, can worsen.

Why does COVID-19 increase in GBV? ›

COVID-19 related lockdowns and layoffs can increase risk of GBV by simultaneously isolating people with their violent partners during times of economic and social stress and cutting them off from available resources.

What are the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic to you and the society? ›

From school closures to devastated industries and millions of jobs lost – the social and economic costs of the pandemic are many and varied. Covid-19 is threatening to widen inequalities everywhere, undermine progress on global poverty and clean energy, and more.

What are 5 effects of abuse? ›

Effects of child abuse
  • low self esteem.
  • increased fear, guilt and self-blame.
  • distrust of adults or difficulty forming relationships with others.
  • disrupted attachments with those who are meant to keep them safe.
  • mental health disorders such as anxiety, attachment, post-traumatic stress and depression disorders.
20 Mar 2018

Where is domestic violence the most common? ›

1. Oklahoma. About 49.1% of Oklahoma women and 40.7% of Oklahoma men experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, including intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner rape, or intimate partner stalking. This is the highest in the United States.

What are 2 effects of domestic violence on victims? ›

ongoing anxiety and depression. emotional distress. eating and sleeping disturbances. physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

Did you know facts about domestic violence? ›

Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women – more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Every 9 seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten. Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner.

Which of the following is a factor that increases the risk for abuse? ›

Additional risk factors include a history of abuse or neglect as a child, physical or mental illness, family crisis or stress, unemployment, family isolation, and inadequate parenting skills.

What are the consequences of abuse? ›

Over the long term, children who are abused or neglected are also at increased risk for experiencing future violence victimization and perpetration, substance abuse, sexually transmitted infections, delayed brain development, lower educational attainment, and limited employment opportunities.

What causes child violence? ›

Factors Which Increase Risk of Violent Behavior

Being the victim of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse. Exposure to violence in the home and/or community. Being the victim of bullying. Genetic (family heredity) factors.

What are 10 causes of violence? ›

10 Most Common Causes of Domestic Violence in Relationship
  • Mental problems.
  • Poverty and unemployment.
  • Education.
  • Young parents.
  • Relationship Retention Behavior.
  • Historical Factors.
  • Cultural Factors.
  • Self Defence.
13 Sept 2022

What are the 5 main types of violence? ›

Using these as a basis, we shall distinguish five inter-related types of violence:
  • physical violence.
  • verbal violence (including hate speech)
  • psychological violence.
  • sexual violence.
  • socio-economic violence.

What type of issue is domestic violence? ›

Domestic violence refers to acts of violence that occur within intimate relationships and take place in domestic settings. It includes physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. Family violence is a broader term that refers to violence between family members, as well as violence between intimate partners.

What are the causes and effects of violence? ›

Those who experience or witness violence may develop a variety of problems, including anxiety, depression, insecurity, anger, poor anger management, poor social skills, pathological lying, manipulative behaviour, impulsiveness, and lack of empathy.

What is known about domestic violence? ›

Domestic violence — also known as intimate partner violence — occurs between people who are or have been in a close relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse, stalking and threats of abuse. It can happen in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.

Does Covid cause behavior problems? ›

General fatigue, exhaustion, and feeling overwhelmed are common experiences, as are sleep problems, diminished cognitive and high‐level thinking, memory challenges, and increased impacts of existing behavioral health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or trauma.

What are negative impact of COVID-19? ›

In addition, lockdown or home confinement measures make people feel bored and isolated, negatively affecting their psychological health (10, 11). These adverse impacts on mental health can cause harmful lifestyle changes such as increasing unhealthy eating habits (12–15), sedentary behavior, or sleeping disorders (16).

How did Covid affect the mental health of students? ›

20% of college students say their mental health has worsened…” Read more. “Nearly three in 10 (29%) say their child is “already experiencing harm” to their emotional or mental health because of social distancing and closures.

What are the causes of gender-based violence during lockdown? ›

Circumstances under lockdown increase the risk factors for gender-based violence (GBV) at the individual and social level due to isolation and barriers to victims in seeking help and reporting their situation.

What are the 5 causes of gender-based violence? ›

What causes gender-based violence?
  • Cultural factors.
  • Legal factors.
  • Economic factors.
  • Political factors.

What are major causes of gender-based violence? ›

1.2 What are the main causes of GBV? Gender-based violence is deeply rooted in discriminatory cultural beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate inequality and powerlessness, in particular of women and girls.

What is the biggest impact of COVID-19 in our society? ›

The pandemic impacts all aspects of society

Millions of girls might not be going back – putting them at risk of adolescent pregnancy, child marriage and violence. Businesses closed too, leading to the equivalent of 400 million full-time jobs lost in terms of working hours.

Who does Covid affect the most? ›

Older age. People of any age can catch COVID-19 . But it most commonly affects middle-aged and older adults. The risk of developing dangerous symptoms increases with age, with those who are age 85 and older are at the highest risk of serious symptoms.

How can we prevent abuse? ›

Ten Things You Can Do to Prevent Child Abuse
  1. Volunteer your time. Get involved with other parents in your community. ...
  2. Discipline your children thoughtfully. ...
  3. Examine your behavior. ...
  4. Educate yourself and others. ...
  5. Teach children their rights. ...
  6. Support prevention programs. ...
  7. Know what child abuse is. ...
  8. Know the signs.

How can we stop child violence? ›

Promotion of personal safety among children, child protection policies in schools and increased awareness of parents are essential to prevent sexual abuse of children. Younger children tend to be more vulnerable and specific approaches aimed at strengthen the protective role of families and education environments.

What are the effects of violence abuse to a person? ›

Consequences include increased incidences of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and suicide; increased risk of cardiovascular disease; and premature mortality. The health consequences of violence vary with the age and sex of the victim as well as the form of violence.

What is the most common form of violence? ›

Domestic violence

It encompasses all physical, sexual, emotional, economic and psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This is one of the most common forms of violence experienced by women globally.

How many cases of domestic violence are there in 2022? ›

As NCW Registers 17,348 Complaints In 2022, Increasing One Stop Centres For Women Is Need Of The Hour. Out of all the states and union territories, Uttar Pradesh has the greatest number of OSCs with 75 whereas West Bengal which has a high number of crimes against women with 36,439 from 2020, has zero centres.

What is the most common form of violence within families? ›

Sibling abuse is the most common form of family violence, according to your text. In approximately 90% of elder cases, the perpetrators are are family members.

How can violence affect a child? ›

[1] Exposure to violence can harm a child's emotional, psychological and even physical development. Children exposed to violence are more likely to have difficulty in school, abuse drugs or alcohol, act aggressively, suffer from depression or other mental health problems and engage in criminal behavior as adults.

What are three effects of violence? ›

Harmful Effects of Violence. Why Women Stay with Men Who Hurt Them.
...
Children
  • angry or aggressive behavior— copying the violence. ...
  • nightmares and other fears. ...
  • injury and death if the violence is turned on them.

What are three negative effects of violence? ›

Conclusion. Violence against children is a significant cause of physical problems, psychological distress, permanent physical disability and long-term physical or mental ill-health.

How does domestic violence affect a person mentally? ›

These include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts. One study shows that the likelihood of abused women experiencing PTSD is seven times higher than for those who have not been abused. The risk of abused women developing depression and anxiety is also high.

Who are the main victims of domestic? ›

Domestic abuse is widespread and can affect anyone. However, some groups are more likely to be victims. Women are most likely to be victims of abuse and perpetrators are most likely to be men. Children are often the hidden victims of domestic violence and abuse.

When did domestic violence become a thing? ›

The first known use of the expression "domestic violence" in a modern context, meaning "spouse abuse, violence in the home" was in 1973. With the rise of the men's movement of the 1990s, the problem of domestic violence against men has also gained significant attention.

What are two factors that contribute to violence? ›

Contributing Factors
  • A perpetrator's sense of power, control, and entitlement: Use of violent behavior and power to control the victim. ...
  • Gender-based stereotypes reinforce the inequality between genders: ...
  • Contributing factors such as alcohol and other drugs: ...
  • Victim-blaming ideas:

What is an example of abuse? ›

Some examples include slapping, pinching, choking, kicking, shoving, or inappropriately using drugs or physical restraints.

What are the 7 abuses? ›

The 7 most common types of elderly abuse include physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, self-neglect, and abandonment.

What causes domestic violence in America? ›

There is no one cause of domestic violence. Abuse is a choice, and domestic violence stems from a partner's need to gain power and control. These behaviors may be rooted in: childhood experiences.

How has domestic violence changed over the years? ›

In the beginning, it only referred to the violence against women in marriage (wife beatings). However, it has expanded to cover all forms of abuse against spouses or intimate partners, such as sexual violence, financial abuse, and emotional abuse. Furthermore, it has expanded to include men and children.

What gender has the highest rate of domestic violence? ›

More women (23%) than men (19.3%) have been assaulted at least once in their lifetime. Rates of female-perpetrated violence are higher than male-perpetrated (28.3% vs. 21.6%).

Where Is domestic violence more common? ›

1. Oklahoma. About 49.1% of Oklahoma women and 40.7% of Oklahoma men experience domestic violence in their lifetimes, including intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner rape, or intimate partner stalking. This is the highest in the United States.

How does domestic violence impact child development? ›

Domestic violence and abuse hurts children's self-esteem. They may not participate in school activities or get good grades, have fewer friends than others, and get into trouble more often. They also may have a lot of headaches and stomachaches.

What is violence in your own words? ›

“The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.”

What are the 5 causes of gender based violence? ›

What causes gender-based violence?
  • Cultural factors.
  • Legal factors.
  • Economic factors.
  • Political factors.

How many people are abused? ›

Every year, more than 10 million men and women in the U.S. are subjected to Domestic Violence. Its impact can be felt far and wide: More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the U.S. will experience rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

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