Intimate Partner Violence and COVID19

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

Is the COVID-19 pandemic brewing an intimate partner violence (IPV) crisis?

IPV is defined as any physical or sexual violence, emotional abuse, and stalking (Mazza, M., Marano, G., Lai, C., Janiri, L., & Sani, G., 2020). It includes social and functional isolation, surveillance, and control of one’s daily activities (Mazza et al., 2020).

As COVID-19 spread rapidly throughout public spaces, authorities administered isolation orders so individuals could stay inside and be protected from COVID-19. However, not all have been able to find safety in their homes; many women are facing their worst case scenario, trapped indoors with a violent partner amidst a time when there is limited contact with anyone outside the home (Campbell, A. M., 2020).

In 2018, there were 99, 000 victims of IPV in Canada, which represented one third of all police-reported violence cases (Section 2: Police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, 2018., 2019). One woman is killed every six days by a partner, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (Hassan, F., 2020). Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been a rise in domestic violence cases, with increasing numbers of women in Ontario seeking emergency assistance (Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19, 2020; Sharp, A. & Rochelle Baker, 2020). In some areas of Toronto, IPV cases have tripled and calls for help have increased by 400% (Sharp, A. & Rochelle Baker, 2020; Patel, R., 2020). In remote communities, calls for help have been fewer than usual; this is likely because women are under constant surveillance by their perpetrators (Patel, R., 2020).

Increased rates of IPV have not been limited to Canada; Spain, France, and China, among other countries, have also reported heightened numbers of calls for help and rates of domestic violence (Taub, A., 2020). To put into perspective what victims of IPV go through, consider Lele’s story.

Lele is a 26-year-old woman living in China. As the lockdown started in China, Lele found herself in more arguments with her husband, who she lived with (Taub, A., 2020). One day, while Lele was holding her 11-month old daughter, her husband began beating her with a chair. Lele is unsure of how many times she was hit, but eventually lost sensation in her legs and fell to the ground, still holding her baby (Taub, A., 2020). She suffered a hematoma and bruises covered the entirety of her lower legs (Taub, A., 2020).

There are several factors contributing to the increased rates of IPV during the COVID-19 crisis. First, there are limited services and resources available. For example, the Red Door Family Shelter, based in Toronto, is not able to shelter as many women due to public health concerns (Sharp, A. & Rochelle Baker, 2020). Access to hotlines, crisis centers, shelters, legal aid, and protection might also be reduced due to quarantine orders, creating a barrier to resources that are usually available (Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19, 2020).

Furthermore, many stressors are putting strains on families. The combination of stress, disruption of social networks, loss of income, and decreased access to service creates a climate of hostility and tension, which may increase the risk of IPV (Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19, 2020). Due to the stress of COVID-19, lack of social support, and bars being shut down, some perpetrators may be abusing alcohol in their homes, which is a commonly reported risk factor for family violence (Campbell, A. M., 2020). Communities that have released prisoners to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities may be at risk for victims and households if violent offenders were released (Campbell, A. M., 2020). This risk of freed prisoners goes beyond the confinements of the home; 20% of homicides due to domestic violence are committed by a neighbor, family member, friend, or bystander as opposed to the intimate partner (Campbell, A. M., 2020).

Finally, victims of IPV are unable to seek help when they are trapped with abusive perpetrators. This is evidenced by reports that show reductions in victims of IPV seeking support services (Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19, 2020). Victims usually wait for perpetrators to leave before they can safely call for help, but this is difficult when in isolation (Campbell, A. M., 2020). Additionally, for women who rely on social connections with family, friends, neighbors, or colleagues for support, limited contact provides fewer opportunities for others to notice and respond to violent behaviors (Campbell, A. M., 2020; Mazza et al., 2020).

Moving forward, steps should be taken to ensure that Canada does not enter a pandemic of IPV after recovering from COVID-19. Greater awareness and education is needed as IPV is often a taboo topic that women do not openly talk about. Public campaigns should be created to inform and sensitize the general population about IPV (Campbell, A. M., 2020). Additionally, frontline workers should be trained to recognize signs of violence and comply with best practises to protect the safety, privacy, and autonomy of victims (Campbell, A. M., 2020). As the topic becomes less stigmatized, women can be empowered to create safety plans for themselves and speak up if they are being harmed (Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19, 2020).

Furthermore, additional resources should be made accessible to women facing IPV. Currently, to house victims of IPV, some hotels have been temporarily opened due to limited capacity at shelters; however, little thought has been given to long-term solutions (Sharp, A. & Rochelle Baker, 2020). These are conversations that leaders and policymakers must have to ensure that a solid, proactive plan of action is established, rather than a reactive plan that struggles to meet needs after the damage has been done. Since it may be difficult for women to call crisis workers, more online/SMS channels are needed for safe communication while at home with a perpetrator (Campbell, A. M., 2020). These channels should have safety mechanisms that allow for quickly exiting the webpage and automatic clearance of browsing history, as these are often monitored by perpetrators (Campbell, A. M., 2020). Fortunately, Ontario is making an emergency payment of $2.7 million to support services for victims of domestic violence, and $30 million is being allocated across Canada to address the needs of shelters and sexual assault centers (Sharp, A. & Rochelle Baker, 2020).

It is hard to imagine that while some of us are safe and sound in the comfort of our homes, others are living through their worst nightmares. As long as we allow IPV to remain in the shadows, it will do just that - remain (Campbell, A. M., 2020). Now, more than ever, we need to take a stand. It’s time for vigilance. If you experience, see, or hear something concerning, please report it. You may very well be saving a life (Campbell, A. M., 2020).

Please visit https://www.ontario.ca/page/get-help-if-you-are-experiencing-violence to find resources for you or anyone facing IPV.

Resources

Campbell, A. M. (2020). An increasing risk of family violence during the Covid-19 pandemic: Strengthening community collaborations to save lives. Forensic Science International: Reports, 100089.

Hassan, F. (2020, April 30). HASSAN: Don't ignore domestic abuse during COVID-19. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/hassan-dont-ignore-domestic-abuse-during-covid-19

Ingram, K. M., Espelage, D. L., Davis, J. P., & Merrin, G. J. (2020). Family violence, sibling, and peer aggression during adolescence: associations with behavioral health outcomes. Frontiers in psychiatry, 11, 26.

Mazza, M., Marano, G., Lai, C., Janiri, L., & Sani, G. (2020). Danger in danger: Interpersonal violence during COVID-19 quarantine. Psychiatry Research, 113046.

Patel, R. (2020, April 27). Minister says COVID-19 is empowering domestic violence abusers as rates rise in parts of Canada | CBC News. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/domestic-violence-rates-rising-due-to-covid19-1.5545851

Q&A: Violence against women during COVID-19. (2020, April 15). Retrieved May 18, 2020, From https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/violence-against-women-during-covid-19?gclid=CjwKCAjw5Ij2BRBdEiwA0Frc9V6kK1P6UZV9lGJyCSfZYyPM8Meqwex9UbV2RUCedfuTWqXHWJ2TBoCasYQAvD_BwE

Section 2: Police-reported intimate partner violence in Canada, 2018. (2019, December 12). Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2019001/article/00018/02-eng.htm

Sharp, A. & Rochelle Baker. (2020, April 28). A spike in domestic violence happening in Toronto due to COVID-19 experts say. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.nationalobserver.com/2020/04/28/news/spike-domestic-violence-happening-toronto-due-covid-19-experts-say

Taub, A. (2020, April 6). A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html