Researchers Link 8% Increase in U.S. Domestic Violence to Pandemic

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Stay-at-home orders imposed as a result of the Coronavirus contributed to an increase in cases of domestic violence in the United States, according to a new report by the Council on Criminal Justice.

“Lockdowns and pandemic-related economic impacts may have exacerbated factors typically associated with domestic violence, such as increased unemployment, stress associated with childcare and homeschooling, and increased financial insecurity,” the authors of the report said in their summary.

The link between stay-at-home orders and domestic violence was discovered through a “meta-analysis” of 18 different studies concerning domestic violence cases before and after the rise of the pandemic.

The studies drew data from police crime reports, health records, domestic abuse hotlines, and calls-for-service data. Twelve studies were conducted in the U.S. and the other six were conducted in other countries.

A review of all 18 reports found that domestic violence increased by 7.9 percent after stay-at-home orders were implemented. A review of only the reports from the U.S. found an 8.1 percent increase.

The report also included that the overall mean effect size, or number representing the strength between two claims, was .66, considered a “medium effect.”  Comparatively, the data drawn from U.S. studies had an effect size of .87.

This means that there was at least a medium correlation between the implementation of lockdowns and the rise of domestic violence, and that same correlation became stronger when looking at the U.S. data alone in comparison to the other countries included in the report.

Although not explicitly stated, the report suggests that the increase in cases of domestic violence was likely due to factors heightened from the pandemic, such as financial instability, loss of jobs, problems with childcare and more stress. The pandemic also separated victims from friends, extended family, and others who could have identified an issue and helped survivors get the help that they need.

While the report shows an increase in cases since the lockdown, the authors note that selection bias within police and the healthcare system indicate that a large number of cases still go unreported.

Simply speaking, selection bias refers to the fact that the data collected largely exists for survivors of domestic abuse that volunteered to reach out for help. This neglects the population of victims of sexual assault who aren’t able to safely get help, or have other complicating factors like children involved.

According to the report another necessary step is an investigation into how the increase of domestic violence impacts the lives of children, and to identify short-term and long-term effects that the lockdown has caused in this area.

“Without ongoing data collection and surveillance, it will not be possible to estimate the total burden of domestic violence both during and after the pandemic,” said the report.

The connection between domestic violence and the pandemic has been noted in several other studies this year.

‘Hidden Crisis’

In April, a letter was released by the World Health Organization and over a dozen other organizations calling increased violence against children a “hidden crisis” of the pandemic.

“We must plan ahead together, so that once the immediate health crisis is over, we can get back on track towards the goal of ending all forms of violence, abuse and neglect of children,” said the April letter.

In August, two researchers from the Howard University Department of Economics found a six percent increase in domestic violence cases, signaling to “more than 24,000 individual cases in the U.S. over just seven weeks.”

Then, later in the month, a new report signaled a 7.5 percent increase in cases of domestic violence reported to the police.

Now, months later with an increase of over eight percent in the United States and little end in sight to the coronavirus, the increase in domestic violence cases is unlikely to stop increasing due to continued stress, hardship and close quarters as a result of the pandemic.

In order to slow the increase of situations of domestic violence, more research needs to be done as well as directing “resources to historically marginalized groups and those likely to be disproportionately isolated during the pandemic, including older adults, women, and children with past experiences with violence and abuse, as well as those with ongoing mental illness and chronic health conditions,” said the report.

The report was prepared by Alex R. Piquero, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of the Department of Sociology and Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami and Professor of Criminology at Monash University in Melbourne Australia;  Wesley G. Jennings, Ph.D., Gillespie Distinguished Scholar, Chair, and Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi; Erin Jemison, manager at the Crime and Justice Institute; Catherine Kaukinen, Ph.D., Chair and Professor of the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Central Florida; and Felicia Marie Knaul, Ph.D., Professor at the Miller School of Medicine and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas at the University of Miami.

The Council on Criminal Justice is nonpartisan criminal justice think tank which works to help understand policy choices and possible solutions to existing criminal justice issues.

Those in a situation of domestic abuse are encouraged to call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Read the full report here.

Emily Riley is a TCR justice reporting intern.

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