Intimate Partner Violence during the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Kristy Miller, LCSW-S, Clinic Social Worker Manager

We have all heard the statistics, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States will experience Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) within their lifetime. However, when natural disasters, crises, epidemics, and now pandemics increase the very factors that lead to IPV, what does that mean for those experiencing violence in their relationships?

New estimates from the United Nations Population Fund predict IPV incidences will increase by about 20% worldwide during the pandemic. That means, for every three months of quarantine, at least 15 million additional cases of IPV will occur. With the pandemic now spanning many months, that could equate to as many as 61 million additional cases of IPV over the course of the year.

Factors like isolation, increased stress, anxiety, financial instability, joblessness, increased alcohol usage, and lack of access to resources (i.e. legal services, closing of courts and limits to incarceration, healthcare, and limited community resources such as shelters) are contributing to this significant increase in IPV and family violence. COVID-19 itself can also be used to exert control and escalate violence.

There have been stories shared of a husband threatening to throw his wife out if she coughed, partners hiding cleaning supplies or hand sanitizer, and victims experiencing physical abuse but refusing hospital care out of fear from the virus.

Some common signs of IPV include:

  • Anger/jealousy about time spent away at work, school, and medical appointments or with friends and family.
  • Physical intimidation by throwing or punching objects (such as walls), slamming doors, yelling, or threats with a weapon.
  • Physical assault
  • Sexual intimidation and assault
  • Threats regarding child custody, deportation, harm towards you, self, and/or others (including pets, children, family members, friends).
  • Isolation by moving away from resources and/or support, discouraging contact with family, friends, and/or spiritual supports, restricting access to financial resources, social media/internet, or work/school.
  • Gaslighting, which is emotional abuse that causes a person to question their own feelings, instincts, and/or sanity.

If you, or someone you know, are experiencing intimate partner violence please contact any of the resources below for assistance:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
  • Houston Area Women’s Center: (713) 528-2121 / 1-800-256-0551
  • #NoCOVIDAbuse: A social media and awareness campaign to let survivors know they need not suffer in silence and will have access to temporary hotel lodging and domestic violence services through program partners.

When home is no longer a safe place to quarantine, it is more important than ever that we, as a community, are able to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse, respond by believing and validating experiences, and refer to community resources to aid in getting IPV survivors to the safety they need.