Rise of Abuse and Violence Against Women During COVID-19 Lockdown


Rise of  Abuse and Violence Against Women During COVID-19 Lockdown

Shulie Madnick
November 25, 2022


In a preliminary analysis of 38-articles published in September 2020 in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, just six months after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic, there was evidence of an escalation in domestic abuse and violence reports against women during the COVID-19 lockdown. My research topic examines the causes of the rise of abuse and violence against women during the COVID-19 lockdown, the emerging studies on the topic throughout the Pandemic, and the reformulated coping and combatting strategies for women who face abuse during this period. A multi-disciplinary synthesis of how a global health crisis, the Pandemic, exacerbated an already existing, destructive sociological pattern of violence against women and the appropriate, time-sensitive conflict resolution strategies to alleviate the physical and psychological harm women face during this period. During that lockdown period, there was a spike in calls reporting domestic violence (dubbed by the U.N. as a "Shadow Pandemic") to emergency and helplines across all socioeconomic backgrounds in regions where the stay-at-home directive was issued. The keywords searched for the analysis of the 38 articles were "domestic violence" OR "intimate partner violence" OR "gender-based violence" in three languages, English, Spanish, and Portuguese (Sanches et al, 2020). The purpose of the 38-papers analysis, among other papers, was to reformulate strategies during the lockdown, the prevention and confrontation of violence, and the protection of reproductive rights, due to sexual assault, against women during these restrictive social distancing times. In households where violence and domestic abuse against women is prevalent, the isolation from family, and friends, during the COVID-19 lockdown intensified the cyclical level of psychological, sexual, and physical abuse and violence towards women compared with the previous, pre-COVID year. Reduced operation and elimination of “non-essential” faith and school-based programs and mental health and other institutional programs further trapped women in domestic violence cycle.


Domestic Violence: The American Journal of Emergency Medicine's definition of partner's domestic violence is: "DV usually occurs in a domestic space when one individual holds power over another. DV is a broad term and typically includes intimate partner violence (IPV) (e.g., usually occurs between current or former intimate partners and includes stalking, psychological, sexual and physical violence)." The Journal further states,

Stay-at-home Directive, lockdown, and shelter-in-place are used interchangeably, describing the lockdown period during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak from March 2020 until the restrictions were lifted. The restrictions were lifted on various dates domestically and globally. 

Introduction, Statistics, Issues, and Resolutions

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men report experiencing some form of IPV (intimate partner violence) each year." According to the reports, these ratios increased to varying degrees during the Pandemic. The reporting on violence was intergenerational, but Sanchez, Vale, Rodrigues, and Surita's analysis is focused on the first two search terms, "domestic violence" OR "intimate partner violence." The United Nations General Assembly already recognized violence against women as a "global pandemic" (Sanches et al, 2020). In U.N. literature, the violence against women during lockdown was dubbed "shadow pandemic."

Police reports from Hubei province, China, show calls tripled in February 2020 compared with February 2019. Calls to police centers in France, Argentina, Singapore, and Cyprus were up 25 % - 33% in March 2020, compared with the same time frame in 2019. Preliminary figures provided by several U.S. police departments in March 2020 show a 22% increase in arrests due to domestic violence in Portland. In NYC, San Antonio, and Jefferson County, Alabama, there was an increase between 10% - 27% in domestic violence reports. And "the largest domestic violence charity in the United Kingdom reported a single-day 700% increase in DV-related calls following the COVID-19 physical distancing lockdown" (Viveiros and Bonomi, 2020). In Philadelphia, there was an increase of 7% in shooting incidents during the first half of April 2020 (Boserup et al, 2020).

A COVID-19 response by U.N. Women, a United Nations' division dedicated to women's equality and empowerment, provides a background to the causes of violence against women and how these causes were exacerbated during the lockdown. According to the brief, the historical inequalities between men and women codified a power imbalance between the genders in a patriarchal society. Therefore, the violence against women is not anecdotal, an outliner, but systemic and widespread across society, globally. The power over and the domination of women is about control. Some factors can lessen the risk of violence through equal rights legislation, women empowerment, education, relationship counseling, reduction of poverty, and societal and institutional support system. 

With the shelter-in-place mandates, women were more vulnerable, especially in households with a history of violence against women. Combined with higher alcohol consumption, substance abuse, loss of job and financial security, and the 24/7 proximity to each other and firearms, the built-up pressure manifested in heightened violence against women during COVID-19 confinement. 

Many early 2020 country-specific and global pandemic studies examined the psychosocial impact of the lockdown and domestic violence against women. Women experienced mental illness symptoms, depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, grief, and panic, with the escalation of violence during the lockdown. That is in addition to the psychological impact on women due to "gendered impact involving the extra burdens it bears for women, including; caring for family members, childcare and home schooling (Viveiros and Bonomi, 2020)," during the COVID-19 lockdown. Women were also more susceptible to mental (and physical) stresses since they embody 73% of the health and social services workforce. Temporary shutdown or reduction of mental health services and helplines, mitigating mental health risks, further eroded women’s state of mental health.

A particular concern was the reproductive healthcare of women during the shelter-in-place directive affecting 214 million women worldwide (Viveiros and Bonomi, 2020). The grim reality behind the predicted baby boom running joke was that some of these pregnancies resulted from heightened sexual violence against women and girls. Women were also reluctant to seek reproductive healthcare, where available (even if reduced), for fear of contracting COVID. In Kenya, for example, "women within certain tribes, in rural areas and with low educational and socioeconomic status…already face disproportionately increased maternal mortality due to unsafe abortion, infection, postpartum hemorrhage, heart disease, and more. These disparities will be further magnified by the rapidly evolving limits on access to health care during the Pandemic” (Thorne et al, 2020). Globally, in rural areas and areas with already limited access to comprehensive reproductive health care, some report that during the COVID-19 lockdown, it was non-existent. In India and Nepal the largest family planning clinics shut down during shelter-in-place directive.

Higher unemployment rates in the U.S. during the Pandemic directly affected health insurance coverage and reproductive health care. Either loss of health coverage and/or costly healthcare coverage option, which spiked the price of contraceptives and abortions, when and where available. Furthermore, certain states further promoted the conservative agenda to restrict access to abortions during this period. "In early March 2020, the governors of Alabama, Ohio and Texas enacted legislation to suspend women's access to abortion services. Iowa, Mississippi and Oklahoma followed suit, arguing the need to preserve essential medical supplies and reduce "elective" medical procedures" (Viveiros and Bonomi, 2020). The setbacks affected rural areas, low-income, people of color, and the LGBTQ communities. On a federal level, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act relief program had stipulations, making it extremely challenging, if not impossible, for Planned Parenthood to apply for funds. Lastly, the contraceptive limited supply chain issues further exacerbated the stresses of women's reproductive healthcare, which resulted in forced and unwanted pregnancies.

Viveiro and Bonomi further share that "In the United States, African American and Native American women have among the highest rates of homicide, with more than half being DV-related." Domestic violence related homicide rates during the shelter-in-place directive are yet to emerge, as stated in conclusion below. 

According to "PREVENTION: Violence against women and girls & COVID-19," a U.N. Women report, with internet use up between 50 % - 70% during the Pandemic, telemedicine services were set up, in addition to the continuation of traditional (police, shelter, etc.) services. Websites, hotlines, and apps were set up to help report the physical and mental violations women were experiencing during the lockdown, including “virtual legal and advocacy support” (Viveiros and Bonomi, 2020). There was a particular emphasis on calling on psychiatrists, radiologists, dentists, and maxillofacial surgery teams. Some online precautions were taken for identity verification, a recommendation to clear caches, and color codes to signal the health professional when a patient is in danger. Telemedicine was also a quick way for a patient to reach out for help when the aggressor is out of the house momentarily or in a different room. Several public campaigns were launched through several media formats to reach women who felt in a complete state of isolation and desperation; to deconstruct "the idea of the aggressor's impunity" (Sanches et al, 2020). Codes were also established in pharmacies and public spaces to signal distress. 


Subsequent articles written in 2021 and 2022 on escalated violence against women during the lockdown support the preliminary articles written in 2020. Many of the 2021 and 2022 studies were country-specific (Brazil, Italy, Nigeria, ETC.) studies on the rise of violence against women during the lockdown. The country-specific article examined and shed light on the violence against women during the lockdown from an important local cultural and societal sense. While in the country-specific and global articles written between 21'- 22', the percentages of women reporting violence during the pandemic lockdown were up, the papers re-hashed, for the most part, the causes, effects, and resolutions cited from the 2020 studies.

However, since it's only been less than three years and the research is still evolving, many of the articles to date note that underreporting might be an issue. Since many surveys and reporting happened online, the underreporting issue is more prevalent in poor or/and rural areas where there is no internet access, nor can the population afford the devices, smartphones, and computers to connect to the internet. 
 Another research gap was the lack of data on domestic violence homicide rates during the lockdown and whether or not the violence against women subsided post-lockdown. Not to say that it didn't, but there is no evidence or documented research that I came across claiming either way. If anything, the progression of studies implies that the spike in violence was consistent throughout the Pandemic. I gather that the triggers for the rise of violence during the lockdown (job insecurity and financial instability) persisted from March 2020 into 2022, and the spike in violence continued. It's an aspect and a hypothesis to explore, prove or disprove further in another study.

It is also yet to be determined how the resolutions to reduced or non-existent access to reproductive healthcare were addressed by federal and local governments, health ministries, healthcare providers, and reproductive healthcare facilities. Data on the contraception supply chain, abortions, and safe delivery are yet to emerge fully.

It seems that much of the telemedicine and online infrastructure put in place for lockdown emergencies stayed in place post-lockdown. Telemedicine now enhances the traditional infrastructure to assist women facing abuse, violence, and aggression toward their fundamental human rights.


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