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Covid-19 and Domestic Abuse

4 Min Read
Covid-19 and Domestic Abuse

What happens behind closed doors is a personal issue, right? But what happens when personal issues are both widespread, and extremely dangerous?

Domestic abuse is not a new problem. However, the rates in which this abuse is occurring are unprecedented. When social distancing and stay-at-home orders first swept the world in March 2020, the guidelines were meant as an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. Many people were urged or mandated to stay inside — in other words, to “stay safe, stay healthy, and stay home.” What these messages fail to account for is how truly unsafe many people feel inside their own homes, Time Magazine noted.

This problem is happening globally.. A multitude of countries, from Brazil to Germany to China and Greece, showed an increase in domestic violence rates, some as much as three times the rate since before lockdown.

And while many countries have since eased up on their stay-at-home guidances, it's important to understand the heightened challenges of domestic abuse and learn what measures you can take to help someone in need.

Here are the trends we are seeing: 

  • Calls to hotlines in most countries are decreasing, since it can often be difficult for someone who is being targeted by abuse to speak while they’re being monitored by their abuser. However, there has been a sharp increase in the usage of text messages, emails, and Facebook messages, according to The Guardian.
  • Abuse is about power, and abusers are often looking for control under new stressful circumstances. Therefore, as Axios reported, some victims not only were subjected to heightened violence but to new types of violence as well.
    • After violence has occurred, victims often didn’t feel as safe to go to the hospital for fear of contracting the virus — meaning that experts estimated that plenty of abuse victims went without medical treatment that they seriously needed.
    • Other domestic violence victims — and especially those who have underlying health concerns — may have avoided going to shelters even if they were available to them, as going to a shelter may have posed a unique medical risk than staying with an abuser, according to the Washington Post.
    • And even if abuse victims were able to escape their abusers, few of them were able to go to a loved one’s home as they didn’t want to risk exposure to COVID-19. 




    Perhaps one of the most obvious solutions for addressing nationwide problems is the implementation of new laws — and while these take time, advocating to your lawmaker can keep issues front and center.

    Other laws can be made with safety in mind. For example, the government in Spain, which implemented some of the strictest lockdown laws, allowed women to leave their house in order to report abuse without receiving a fine. In the UK, the government is working to allow “special police powers” for police officers to enter homes and evict abusers. In Trento, Italy, there is now a law in Trento, Italy, stating that abusers are the ones who will be removed from their homes after a report of domestic violence, rather than the victim. In Germany, many activists are calling for the government to invest in safe houses for victims.  

    A Note On Alcohol

    Some governments have decided to control the availability of alcohol, as it can often serve as the trigger for abuse (3). South Africa, France, and several states in the U.S. are among the many who closed down liquor stores during quarantine. Lawmakers in South Africa justified their decision as one that seeks to protect victims: “If cabin fever sets in, alcohol has the potential to fuel and escalate these unfortunate situations” (6). Furthermore, alcohol also reduces the effectiveness of the immune system and could make a person more susceptible to COVID-19 (6).

    While this strategy could have benefitted many people, it also may have hurt others given that alcohol withdrawal could actually increase domestic violence. In the UK, alcohol stores have been included as essential businesses “to protect those who are physically dependent on alcohol from going into dangerous withdrawal,” The Independent reported. Consequently, detoxification — and especially detox without medical supervision— actually can increase violence and mood swings.

    Overall, however, the most effective way to protect domestic abuse victims is to address the root causes of the abuse — which is to say, their abusers themselves. Outlawing alcohol didn’t stop people from drinking during prohibition, and limiting access to it won’t necessarily stop larger societal problems.


    While many domestic violence and women and childrens’ shelters operated throughout the worst of the pandemic, many of them took precautionary measures against the virus. They adopted new policies such as more space per person in each room, therefore decreasing overall availability. Some shelters outsourced their beds to RVs or even used rooms in vacant hotels to isolate those who are sick. However, these solutions proved too limited to meet the growing demand of domestic violence victims seeking safety. 

    What Can You Do? 

    If you are concerned for a friend or family member’s living situation, it’s important to offer help in a way that keeps them safe. Openly suggesting they leave their abuser can put them in a vulnerable position. There are many online services that offer hotlines, give advice, and provide victims with resources in a safe and affirming way. The COVID-19/DV task force was founded by Ashri Anurudran, and outlines these options and more. Even sharing these resources with friends who aren’t experiencing domestic violence can help increase awareness, and exposure is key to giving people the tools they need to get through difficult times.

    While it may be hard not to be discouraged by the drastic surge in domestic abuse cases and the complexity of the problem, it is important to not let that stop you from doing whatever you can to support victims. Individual actions may seem small at times, but collectively, we can make a large difference.