The pandemic we currently face has brought with it an employment crisis, social unrest, political instability and a shaky economy. But the current chaos has exposed another issue of public health like a raw nerve.
In her article for the Star Tribune, journalist Salma Loum asks the question, “Has the pandemic led to more domestic violence in Minnesota?” Based on her investigation, it appears the answer is an unequivocal yes.
Lockdown orders in municipalities have literally trapped women and children with their abusers. The increased pressure and instability brought about by the conditions of the pandemic have led to sharp spikes in the levels of violence being reported in domestic incidents. But while the article focuses on the statistics from a single state, this is the dismal case all over the nation and beyond.
“Just like in Minnesota,” says Dr. Shila Hawk, a researcher at Applied Research Services in Atlanta, “concerns around this as a ‘shadow pandemic’ have been expressed across the nation, and the world, since the shelter-in-place order started.”
But these are only the incidences that are reported. What is even more concerning is the violence that is carried out under the radar.
“The article notes that domestic violence is underreported,” says Dr. Hawk. “We actually know from the National Crime Victimization Survey that about half of victimizations go unreported to the police.”
Hawk notes that this lack of reporting makes it difficult to identify victims and secure help for them, which can result in further isolation and create greater trauma. “Not only do we need to find ways to decrease opportunities for violence, but also encourage reporting and have the resources ready to match.”
From a larger perspective, researchers are hardly surprised by the data. Natural events have historically resulted in increased domestic violence. Violence against women tripled in Louisiana in the days following Hurricane Katrina. In fact, history is ripe with examples of increased intimate partner violence during times of isolation, such as has been experienced in Alaska and in Africa during the Ebola quarantines.
“We know from research that nearly 20 people every minute are abused by their partner and that emergency contexts exacerbate the likelihood of violence,” says Dr. Hawk.
However, this is more than just numbers on a spreadsheet. Each number represents an individual in need of help, safety, and stability. Addressing this will need to be made a public health priority.
“Policymakers are being challenged to address health and safety concerns related to both the pandemic and the shadow pandemics,” says Dr. Hawk.