The Cost of Domestic Violence During Pandemic
Domestic violence rates and intimate partner homicides were already bad before COVID. We need to consider what that's been like during COVID.
Isis Edwards | CLMI Fellow - Learn4Life
Before there was a COVID-19 pandemic domestic violence has long existed as a rampant issue for women and men alike. Now factor in pandemic - aggravated by two years of shutdown, work from home and isolation - and it gets worse.
According to the CDC, 1 in 4 women have experienced severe physical violence from a partner in their lifetime prior to COVID-19. At least 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by a partner and half of female homicide victims are killed by a current or past partner.
Since the outbreak of COVID, domestic violence hotlines have shown an increase in calls, with cases rising by 8.1 percent after lockdowns were put into place in the U.S. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, cases have risen a total of 25-33 percent globally in 2020. We are seeing an increase in incidence and severity of violence committed by intimate partners. Why is this?
How Did COVID Affect the Victims?
In abusive relationships, according to experts, an abuser enjoys having power and control over their victim. When you combine that with the helplessness individuals will feel due to the pandemic and other crises, you’re left with a person who has little to no control over the situation at hand and, therefore, resorts to a number of unhealthy coping mechanisms. Communities and policymakers didn’t seem to factor this in much as response strategies were being created.
When an abuser feels powerless, it creates a much more dangerous environment for a victim. They’re forced to spend more time with their abuser in an isolated space due to restrictions. They lose the safe spaces they’ve created outside of the home, the very strategies they put into place to survive. Women typically seek outside help when their abusers are not around and these aggressors have easy proximity to the victims and a new tool to use: the virus itself.
In addition to all of this, there is a high level of financial distress and lack of access to resources to address as well. With the loss of jobs and COVID safety measures that restricted travel for months, many saw their finances dwindle. This left women with fewer escape funds and more stress piled on. With this added stress comes more intensified abuse of which many women can’t escape.
Support systems, such as shelters and other protective destinations, were also closed and limited during pandemic. Women were placed in the difficult position of nowhere to go and nothing to do but survive. Shelters faced lack of funding, support, limited staff and the tough decision about whether or not they would be able to to remain open.
Why does this issue seem so wildly ignored? Even before this pandemic, abuse at the hands of intimate partners was not taken seriously enough by media, policymakers and community discussions. Too many abusers operate with impunity, particularly in child custody cases, and the repercussions for such crimes were hardly harsh enough. Studies show that a woman is five times more likely to be murdered if her abuser owns a gun and nearly half of all femicide vitims in the United States are killed by a current or past partner and half of those are killed by a firearm. The proliferation of guns makes that violence much more pronounced.
The Violence Against Women Act
Although the Violence Against Women Act was designed for reauthorization every five years, it wasn’t reauthorized since 2013 and finally passed for such as of March 17th. Indecision and gridlock on VAWA among federal lawmakers not only holds up resources, but it communicates to society that the topic is not important enough to legislate - despite the high number of women impacted by domestic violence. Women are left feeling alone and blamed for something they can’t control.]
Yet, the benefits of the VAWA, as research shows, far outweigh any political or budgetary costs to implement it: the law actually saved nearly $13 billion in estimated social costs since its implementation, or the combined cost of lost economic productivity, workplace absences, law enforcement response and medical emergencies. Because of the VAWA, there has been a 51 percent increase in domestic violence reporting. Domestic violence events have also been on the downswing, with a nearly 70 percent reduction in intimate partner violence rates and an average 40 percent decline in intimate partner homicides.
There is also the issue of the “Boyfriend Loophole” which has yet to be solved. The “Lautenberg Amendment” prevents people who’ve been convicted of specific domestic violence crimes from owning a gun - yet, as the Giffords Center points out, the offenders must …
This emphasis on current partners, spouses and co-parents leaves a huge loophole of which dating partners are not included. They are free to own a gun, a deadly oversight as dating partners are now just as likely to commit homicide as spouses after three decades of resurgent domestic violence rates. Women are left vulnerable to both current and past partners. While reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act is a great start, that loophole issue must be addressed. As the times change, there is a greater rate of divorce and others wait to marry much later in life. Considering this, fewer types or categories of couples apply to the VAWA and known abusers are allowed to own firearms. The few who are protected do not outweigh those who are left to vulnerability. Rob Wilcox of Everytown for Gun Safety argues …
We know how vitally important this type of clarity is because dating partners are just as likely to kill their partner as a spouse is.
The Economic Cost of Domestic Violence
IPV assault, rape and psychological abuse lead to a multitude of issues including but not limited to requirement of physical and mental health help, a higher risk of health issues which then leads to high medical bills and debt, and a lack of educational attainment and job instability.
Women who live in an abusive environment are shown to work less hours and be less productive in the workplace. The drain on the economy is substantial, particularly considering they are half the population. That leaves the national economy with a decrease of women in the workforce, a lack of skills and education. More public resources are also spent on emergency response, law enforcement, court services and healthcare.
An upwards of 50 percent of survivors of intimate partner violence are harassed at work by their partners. As a result, $8 million dollars worth of paid work hours are lost each year in the U.S. The annual domestic cost of domestic violence is $8.3 billion while $4.4 trillion is the annual cost of domestic violence worldwide. More than 32,000 full-time jobs are lost each year in the U.S. (a data point that’s not refelcted in federal jobs reports numbers each month). The statistics above are actually pre-COVID - so it’s only logical to think of how these numbers have surged in recent times, and more than likely to unprecedented amounts. Domestic violences extends far beyond our homes or the homes of our neighbors. Considering the strain on community economies and services, it is a critical issue to address and can no longer be ignored. Changes must be made to make women feel safe permanently.
If you or someone you know is facing abuse and is in need of a way out please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522. You are not alone.