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Efforts Against Surge in Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Amid Isolation

Written by Emily Han and Beneeta Varghese, Edited by Kathleen Navas


For people living with abusive partners, the COVID lockdown has presented a series of unprecedented challenges by increasing the likelihood and degree of danger victims face. Even without considering the context of a global pandemic, research suggests that abusers use social isolation to draw their victims away from their supportive networks and social circles. In lockdown, this distancing tactic has become much more effective than before. Even in families with no history of domestic violence, the heightened tensions of the pandemic are leading to heightened danger of violence at home. As experts anticipated, domestic violence cases across the United States have increased significantly in the past several months. As the pandemic worsens, abusers have even begun using the pandemic to manipulate their victims.

This increase in domestic violence is attributed to a direct relationship identified by sociology and gender literature: “when families spend more time together, violence may occur without any specific reason—a dynamic that can be attributed to human psychology” (Borah and Sharma). There are, however, specific reasons related to the pandemic as to why a family member might experience domestic violence. For example, the financial hardships caused by lockdown procedures and business restrictions imposed by governments of countries fighting the novel coronavirus (like the United States) tangibly lead to higher stress levels and thus conflict. This is supported by research that shows that “high-stress levels among couples increase the rate of violence 3.5 times more than among those with low-stress levels” (Borah and Sharma). Evidently, the lack of social support is kindling to the fire, with individuals already in abusive situations experiencing heightened danger, and individuals in previously safe environments becoming victims of domestic violence.

For students, the Title IX amendment set forth by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Resources, effective May 6, 2020, created additional reporting process barriers. Revisions to the amendment increased rights for individuals accused of sexual misconduct. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the purpose of the changes was to better protect those accused of sexual abuse and harassment. Specifically, the policy better ensures due process for the accused through the implementation of equal rights of appeal for both parties of Title IX hearings. On August 14, the University of California (UC) released an interim Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Policy in alignment with the new amendment. This policy outlines live hearing procedures, during which both parties must be present—although not necessarily face-to-face—thereby allowing for cross-examination of misconduct details. Across the UC institutions, students have voiced concerns on the disproportionate challenges victims/survivors face being subjected to live questioning. Fewer individuals are expected to report misconduct as they may be concerned about the safety of the new reporting environment. UC students seeking guidance on reporting can contact their CARE: Advocate Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Misconduct location on campus. Although CARE cannot conduct investigations, UC affiliated parties can take comfort in the confidentiality of the information they share, which is not guaranteed under Title IX.

In light of increased risk, this topic is becoming increasingly important as typical resources have diminished during lockdown. Across the nation, domestic violence shelters have been forced into operating at reduced capacity, meaning some options, like walk-in services, are no longer available. In Los Angeles County, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Glendale Outreach and Education Specialist, Ariana Chavez, reported on the difficulties of finding open shelters in the county. YWCA is a non-profit dedicated to empowering domestic violence survivors and their children through the re-establishment of healthy relationships and independence. Because of insufficient domestic violence funding, shelters are facing bed shortages as people struggle to find shelter for themselves and their children, usually while juggling financial struggles to make ends meet due to lost jobs. On the other hand, some individuals feel unsafe utilizing in-person services, such as living in one of the few shelters still operating, due to fear of contracting the virus. These concerns are further compounded among individuals who report their partners will refuse to pay for treatment if they become sick. Furthermore, those who usually prefer to meet with trusted individuals, such as teachers and health care providers, are now unable to do so. Thus, it is unsurprising that remote hotline services have received increasingly distressed calls as cases of violence, including threats, have exacerbated.

Despite facing the loss of many resources because of lockdown restrictions, survivors of sexual and domestic abuse still have people they can contact and places they can go to seek closure and shelter. As aforementioned, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available at all times and can provide survivors with the emotional support they need to heal. The website for this hotline gives users an option to exit the site safely and quickly, in case their internet usage is being monitored. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is also confidential and available at any time. The California Partnership to End Domestic Violence can connect survivors to crisis lines and local shelters that provide in-person services. The website has a Domestic Violence Shelter Search Tool that can allow anyone living in the U.S. or Canada to find a local shelter for domestic abuse survivors. Through offering this spectrum of resources, we can better ensure that individuals, each facing unique challenges, can feel as safe as possible despite the dangerous situation incurred by the pandemic.


This post contains information that was last updated on January 30, 2021.


For additional information on abuse and the pandemic, please read SvP's blog on sexual assault prevention here.

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