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Domestic Violence and COVID-19: What the Data Shows

On March 30th, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a ‘Stay-at-Home’ orders across the Commonwealth in an effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19 (coronavirus). As explained by the Virginia Department of Health, limiting person-to-person contact is one of the keys to stopping the spread of respiratory disease.

With so many people being largely confined to their own homes, there have been serious concerns about a possible increase in the prevalence and severity of domestic violence. In this article, our Virginia domestic violence lawyers provide an overview of the data, research, and evidence from public health officials.

The Data is Mixed: The Story of COVID-19 and Domestic Violence is Complicated

Global Research Suggests Possible Rise in Domestic Abuse

In April, The New York Times published an important story highlighting global worries over an impending spike in domestic violence cases. In the early stages of the global COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations (UN) called for immediate action by governments to fight domestic violence. Some of the first countries to lockdown for COVID-19, including China, South Korea, Spain, and Italy, published preliminary evidence that indicated domestic violence was going up.

As a sociologist noted in the report, public health experts were immediately concerned that home confinement would lead to a spike in domestic violence. Each year, domestic violence reports rise during Christmas, summer vacations, and other times when families spend a lot of time together. COVID-19 presented an unprecedented challenge—with more people being confined for a longer period of time than ever before.

Domestic Violence Calls are Actually Down in Many Major U.S. Cities

Despite the worries, the link between COVID-19 and domestic violence is not so clear cut in the data. The story is mixed. According to ABC News, domestic violence calls to law enforcement are actually down in many major U.S. cities. Indeed, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, and Chicago all saw fewer reports of domestic abuse in the late March and early April—the first few weeks that those cities were placed under a ‘Stay-at-Home’ or ‘Shelter-in-Place’ order. As an example, the Chicago Police Department reported that domestic violence calls decreased by 23 percent in the early stage of the lockdown.

Domestic Violence is Underreported—Lack of Calls May Be Misleading

Unfortunately, the drop in domestic violence reports may not be a good sign. Public health officials are warning that domestic abuse is chronically underreported in normal times and that the effect (the underreporting) may be even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are two primary issues that worry public health officials.

First, they worry that the virus itself is dissuading victims from getting help. People may not want to burden authorities or they may be worried that they will be exposed to COVID-19 if they interact with police. Many vulnerable people are trying to limit their social contact as much as possible.

Even more alarming, public officials are also worried that domestic violence victims may not have a free moment to safely seek help. Some evidence for this comes from Arizona, where domestic hotline workers report that they are receiving more “whispered” calls than before.

Contact Our Northern Virginia Domestic Violence Attorneys for Help

At Contact Family Law Group, our domestic violence lawyers are compassionate, diligent advocates for our clients. We have experience handling both family law issues and criminal cases.

To request strictly confidential, no-commitment legal guidance, please do not hesitate to contact our law firm today. From our offices in Manassas and Fairfax, we serve communities in Northern Virginia, including Prince William County, Fairfax County, and Stafford County.