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When lockdown is not actually safer: Intimate partner violence during COVID-19

The first thing that came to mind when I heard about COVID restrictions and mitigation strategies was how exceptionally dangerous this time could be for women living with abusive partners. “Self-isolate,” “stay at home,” “practice social distancing,” and “recession” are all words likely to be terrifying to many women who are living with intimate partner violence (IPV). The lives of these women are often filled with fear and danger under normal circumstances, but during this new normal of the global pandemic, the lives of these very often “invisible victims” are at an increased risk for more violence — and even murder.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, epidemiological estimates showed that nearly one in three women experience IPV, and approximately one in four women experience severe IPV. Other data show that nearly half of all female homicides are from a current or past male intimate partner. Although these numbers are already unacceptably high, historical data show increases in rates of IPV during pandemics and times of economic crisis. Other data show that domestic violence tends to increase when families spend more time together, such as over the holidays.

COVID restrictions have caused a spike in IPV

Unfortunately, the realities of COVID-19 and its restrictions have indeed caused a perfect storm for women experiencing IPV. First, there have been numerous media reports indicating huge spikes in calls to IPV hotlines, sometimes doubling and tripling the typical number of requests for help, after stay-in-place orders were mandated.

Second, reports have indicated frightening increases in femicide from IPV. The UK has reported femicide rates higher than they have been in the past 11 years, double the average for a 21-day period. Mexico has reported an 8% increase in femicides, with nearly 1,000 women murdered in the first three months of the year. These data clearly indicate an escalation of more severe forms of violence, likely leading to an increase in the number of IPV-related traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Repetitive TBIs are some of the most underappreciated dangers of IPV, and have been associated with a range of negative cognitive, psychological, and neural outcomes — which many believe may make escape from an abusive situation even more difficult.

Third, women’s ability to escape abusive situations has been reduced during this time. In many situations, COVID-19 mandates require that women remain locked down with their abuser. Friends who women may have previously been able to turn to may no longer be in a position to help, due to social distancing regulations. Women may also be justifiably afraid to leave for fear of exposing themselves and their

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Written by Shobha


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