Domestic Violence and COVID-19: What You Need To Know

Domestic abuse has increased due to stay-at-home orders from the COVID-19 pandemic. Physical, psychological, and financial abuse can be identified and avoided.

It’s been known as the pandemic inside the pandemic. With lockdowns, curfews and working from home, many are confined to their home. With everyone inside, the risk of domestic violence increases, while the ability for victims to seek the help they need decreases. Here’s what you need to know about domestic violence and the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic or intimate partner violence (IPV) is defined as “a willful intimidation, assault, battery, or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control, perpetrated by one intimate partner (or family member) against another.” Domestic violence often stems from a person’s need for control and is not limited to physical violence. Mental and financial violence are other forms of domestic violence.

Domestic violence tends to increase when substances like illicit drugs or alcohol are involved because they alter thought patterns. This creates a distorted idea of the need for control. Additionally, stressful events can alter thought patterns, creating distorted psychological distress. These events include losing a loved one, losing a job, or feeling trapped with nowhere to go. All of these events were elevated during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an increase in domestic violence.

Isolation and Surveillance Create Control

Control is the driving force for many perpetrators, so it is important to understand how they are able to get control over their victims. Many do this through isolation and surveillance. By isolating them from the victim’s family, friends and the outside world, they are able to become that person’s whole world. This means the victim will create a dependence on their attacker. This dependence is based on social interaction.

Due to COVID-19, creating this type of isolation has been made easier. With stay-at-home orders and curfews, perpetrators have been given an excuse to not let their victims go and see their friends and family or even go to the store. This creates a trapped feeling for victims.

COVID-19 has also given perpetrators the ability to keep surveillance on their victims more easily. When partners are in the same physical space, it’s harder for the victim to seek out help. Calling or texting a family or friend about the situation is impossible when their attacker is right over their shoulder. Calling a helpline is also more difficult since privacy is low. During COVID-19, the number of helpline calls in some regions dropped by more than 50%.

Although this number sounds large, experts in the field knew it wasn’t because less intimate partner violence was happening. Instead, victims were unable to safely connect with services.

It’s Not Just Physical

One common stigma of domestic violence is that it is all physical. However, domestic violence is more about control, which doesn’t have to be physical. Emotional and financial control are also areas of concern. Perpetrators will gain control over their victims by manipulating their emotions. By telling them they need more attention and affection, victims will be forced to cut out friends and family, which leads to their own mental health crisis.

In fact, people with past-year physical dating violence are more likely to have mental health and substance use disorders within six months of the abuse. The longer the abuse continues, the more severe the mental health crisis. Aside from emotional health, financial well-being is another source of manipulation by perpetrators. Some partners have shared bank accounts, making financial independence difficult since all transactions and cash withdrawals can be monitored.

One hundred and fourteen million people lost their jobs during COVID-19. Many of these people then had to turn to their partners for financial stability. This now serves as another form of control over their victims, forcing them into a situation where they cannot leave.

Signs of Abuse

It’s important for all individuals to know and understand the signs of abuse. The truth is, many will miss the signs that their loved one is being abused. The most common signs of physical abuse are bruises and scratches on the body, but domestic violence can go unseen and not be physical.

Some other signs of domestic violence include:

  • Avoiding activities they used to enjoy
  • Checking their phone more often when they’re away from their partner
  • Leaving suddenly after a call or message

During the pandemic, signs have been harder to read. One sign to look for during COVID-19 involves the victim not wanting to get on a Zoom call to see family and friends.

If the victim is on a Zoom call, their body language is a good indicator. Ask yourself, are they calm and relaxed, or uptight and stiff? Are they looking at the screen or constantly looking away like someone is hovering over them? These could be signs of control. Other signs include the perpetrator using COVID-19 as a scare tactic or spreading lies and misinformation to get the victim to refuse to see people. Make sure your friends and family are correctly informed with CDC guidelines and receive the vaccine.

Getting Help

Getting help and leaving a relationship isn’t always easy; in fact, more times than not, it is very complicated. Not only do victims need a safe place to go, but they also need to move their belongings, and they need money to support themselves and any dependents. Additionally, the victim might need mental health support. This can range from support groups to one-on-one therapy.

Research and preparation need to be done in order to get a victim to a safe place. When under constant control, finding a shelter can become impossible for the victim. Help them with the process by giving them exactly where and when they can go to be safe, so they’re ready to act when the time comes. Other ways you can help a victim include:

  • Helping them look for a new job
  • Securing a new cell phone
  • Keeping any valuables in a secure place
  • Connecting them to protection and mental health services

Since COVID-19, domestic violence has risen and has left many trapped with their abuser. By understanding what domestic violence is and how abusers are able to establish control, you can look for the signs and help those in need.

Help Resources:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 24/7 hotline for all survivors at 800-799-7233 and 800-787-3224
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 24/7 hotline for all survivors of sexual assault at 800-656-4673
  • Office on Women’s Health: Resources by state 9 AM–6 PM EST Monday–Friday at 800-994-9662
  • Crisis Text Line: 24/7 text chat line for individuals in crisis in the U.S. and Canada; text HOME to 741741

Evans, Megan; Lindauer, Margo; Farrell, Maureen. “A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimat[…]nce during COVID-19.” The New England Journal of Medicine, December 10, 2020. Accessed May 13, 2021.

Gov-1 by Lexipol. “The link between domestic violence and substance abuse.” January 16, 2019. Accessed May 13, 2021.

Wallace, Alicia. “11 Things to Know About Domestic Violenc[…]COVID-19 and Beyond.” Healthline, November 4, 2020. Accessed May 13, 2021.

Richter, Felix. “COVID-19 has caused a huge amount of lost working hours.” World Economic Forum, Statista. Accessed May 13, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer