Domestic Violence Rates Up 6% During COVD-19: Study

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While the dozens of stay-at-home orders and social distancing mandates in America have helped curb the spread of the coronavirus, they’ve led to an increase in reported domestic violence, according to a report from Howard University.

The report’s authors, Lin-chi Hsu and Alexander Henke, both of the Howard University Department of Economics, found that just as the coronavirus cases increased in March and April of this year, so did reported intimate partner violence (IPV) cases.

The catalyst was linked exclusively to the timing of implemented stay-at-home orders and social distancing mandates.

Warnings of a rise in domestic abuse began soon after the pandemic outbreak. In May, A Texas study found a “short-term spike” in domestic violence in Dallas in the immediate weeks following the city’s shelter-in-place order, but only limited evidence linking the increase specifically to the pandemic-caused lockdown.

But the Howard University study was among the first to provide supporting data.

To reach their conclusions, the authors analyzed the timing of local and state government social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders in America and cross-referenced it with police department dispatch and crime data from 28 police departments across 18 states.

The authors found that social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders increased domestic violence cases across the U.S. from March 16 – April 30th by six percent.

Put in another perspective, the authors estimate that this six percent increase amounts to more than 24,000 individual cases in the U.S. over just seven weeks, illuminating the gravity of this worsening problem.

Moreover, the authors acknowledge that their numbers don’t provide the full picture, writing that they were limited to incidents that involved the police and a tangible record.

Therefore, the true rate of domestic violence increasing is much, much higher, the authors write.

Is History Repeating Itself?

While the data is alarming, the authors write that the results are consistent with the multiple domestic violence sociological theories.

Research shows that an increase in sexual, gender-based, and intimate partner violence was observed during the 2013-2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa — which sociologists and criminologists attribute to the tension and isolation in households during a stressful time, like a pandemic.

Current research with the coronavirus pandemic corroborates that there have been significant increases in domestic violence also in the U.K., Kenya, and China.

In previous times of crisis, the World Health Organization has estimated that gender-based violence has increased up to 70 percent, alarming advocates that the same could occur on American soil during this health crisis.

These findings also corroborate existing sociological theories.

In terms of the exposure reduction theory of domestic violence, the theory states that IPV increases concurrently when the amount of time a victim and abuser spend together also increases.

“Hence, the theory predicts that social distancing increases domestic violence,” the authors conclude because partners who live together are forced to see more of each other.

Conversely, as some cities have been able to slowly relax some of the stricter social distancing rules, reports of domestic violence also declined in those areas, the authors report.

Other stressors that the authors note that compound the negative intersection of stay-at-home orders and domestic violence is a lack of employment, which creates tension around finances and decision making.

This kind of tension at home can further stoke the fires of an already tumultuous relationship, leading to an increase in domestic violence cases, the authors report.


Despite the clear link between stay-at-home orders and an increase in domestic violence, the authors note that solving the problem is not as easy as lifting the orders during a global health crisis.

Instead, the authors suggest other methods to stop the violence, mainly by addressing the root of some of the “stressors” like unemployment and economic insecurity to quell tempers at home.

Other advocates have noted that protective services for women and girls must be classified as “essential” while working to expand domestic violence hotlines, just as New York City has done with their textable Domestic Violence hotline. 

Overall, the authors note that there must be more services for victims stuck at home during this pandemic, as well as better data and incident tracking for crime reports to better assess the situation.

Lin-chi Hsu is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Howard University, where she researches the intersection of economics, public policy, and crime. Alexander Henke is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Howard University, where he researches contract theory and household economics.

The full paper can be accessed here.

For more information, check out The Crime Report’s Domestic Violence Resource page here. 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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