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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Raphael

What we don't know about Domestic Violence and Covid-19

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

Warning: This content is graphic in nature and could be disturbing- please seek support if required


An Exposé - What we don't know about Domestic Violence and Covid-19


Did you know that the UN has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse due to Covid lockdowns, as a “shadow pandemic”(5). According to an article in The New York Times, “mounting data suggests that domestic abuse is acting like an opportunistic infection, flourishing in the conditions created by the pandemic” (2).


In Australia:


Since the start of Covid lock downs Domestic Violence has, according to the Australian Government Institute of Criminology, increased in both severity and number of incidents by more than 53% (1). I have heard police say - they have never seen anything like it. And it was bad before!


Other countries are reporting similar statistics.


In France in 2020;

  • cases of Domestic Violence during lockdown had jumped by more than 30% (3)

  • in Paris the rise is reported to be up by more than 36%. (3)

  • the reality… 1 woman is killed by a partner every 3 days (3). Yes, every 3 days, that is someone’s mother, sister, daughter, friend, colleague, neighbour… all who become known as ‘secondary victims’ who will be impacted significantly from the murder.


In China, reports from police near the epicentre of the China outbreak, indicate that Domestic violence tripled in February 2020 compared to February of 2019 (6).


In Argentina rates have increased by 25% since their March 2020 lockdown (6).


In America researchers are stating the real effect of the lockdowns are only just emerging – data coming in is showing between 18 to 27% increases across America. (6).


Rates in America, similar to Australia, have already been extreme for some time, previous research stating that;

  • On average, more than 1 in 3 women and 1 and 4 men will experience rape, physical violence, and or stalking by an intimate partner. This equates to an average of 24 people per minute being raped, physically abused and or stalked by an “intimate” partner (4)

  • Almost half of all women and men in the US have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4 and 48.8% respectively) (4)

  • More than half (51.1%) of female’s reporting rape, reported being raped by an intimate partner (4)

  • 52.4% of male victims of rape, report being raped by an acquaintance (4)

  • 30 to 60% of intimate partner violence perpetrators also abuse children in the household (4)

  • One study has found that children exposed to violence in the home are 15 times more likely to be physically and or sexually assaulted than the national average (4).


All these statistics are based on what is reported; it is a well-known fact, many incidents of violence in our homes go unreported. And not just unreported to authorities, in many instances, unreported to friends, colleagues, medical professionals and family members, the statistics that we currently have are just the “tip of the iceberg”.


When Covid is a distant memory, the ongoing impact of the social, financial, physical, and psychological destruction caused by Covid restrictions and lock downs is going to be huge.

The above is already bad, these rates of incidents are now set to increase by at best 18% to at worst 50+%. What is even more concerning is that our systems have not been able to keep up with demand on services so how are they going to cope now?


As a health professional I hear and read about Domestic and Family violence all the time. It is part of my job to keep up to date with what is going on in the world so that I am prepared to support. So, unfortunately, these numbers have somewhat ceased to shock me as much as they should. I understand what is going on and I get that Covid is and was always going to be an extra load that was going to push people over the edge. Janet Williams, a UK health professional has stated, “The deprivation of social interaction has encouraged people to go into further levels of withdrawal which is having a huge impact on mental health across the board, including increased stress and anxiety, all of which are significant contributors to increased domestic violence”.


Due to Covid restrictions, lock downs and quarantines, movement restrictions imposed by countries around the world have forced people to be imprisoned in homes where abuse exists with little if no avenues of recourse. Violence in homes has now become “more frequent, more severe and more dangerous leading to a surge in domestic abuse cases” (2).


What I do question is, why don't our governing bodies take this into account when they make the decisions that they do and why is this not making front page news!

It is a well-known fact that when families are forced to spend more time together, such as during Christmas and other holiday periods, domestic violence rates increase (18). A university sociologist, who studies abusive relationships, has stated, there was every reason to believe that the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus would have a direct impact on the increases in domestic violence world-wide” (2). Now with are left with a pandemic of multiple issues that experts state the governments around the world should have seen coming (2). For more on the multiple issues see Part Two of this article – The Impact of Covid - the Tsunami of “shadow” Pandemics.


In 2020 I wrote to my Federal Government, spelling out step by step the impact that Covid restrictions were having on our communities. The report was so comprehensive, it was sent to the Australian National Cabinet for review. As of June 2021, I have not heard how the report was received.


In the report, I stated that I was not sure which of the following two scenarios disturbed me more:


1. That the government did know of the harm lockdowns and restrictions were going to cause, or

2. That they didn’t know, when it is their job to know


Neither scenario is a positive one.


INTIMATE TERRORISM

As restrictions and quarantines continue around the world, domestic violence or what is now being referred to as “intimate terrorism” is being permitted to flourish (2). A trauma expert at Harvard University has found that coercive methods used to control partners and children, “bear an uncanny resemblance” to those kidnappers used to control hostages and repressive regimes use to break the will of political prisoners” (2). This is scary that acts of terrorism are occurring in our own homes, the place we are told we should be safe, by the people we are told love us.


Let's, for a moment, take the gloves off and take these disturbing statistics of intimate terrorism to the disturbing realities that women, men and children are facing daily, at an escalating rate. Did you know intimate terrorism, aka, domestic violence, means but not limited to:

  • Being forced to have sex against your will (in other words rape) - including being forced to have sex with others, and things such as objects and animals.

  • Being forced to watch pornography or other sexual acts against your will.

  • Being hit with a closed fist, kicked, stabbed with a knife, or shot with a gun, being burnt, or poisoned - scenes that we see in fight movies that make us cringe, are occurring daily in our homes, perpetrated by intimate partners.

  • Violence or threatening violence towards children and or pets as a form of control and manipulation – it is one thing to be hurt, but it is another to watch those you love being hurt and tortured as a form of punishment against you.

  • Being called all kinds of names, belittled, and degraded - often in front of kids, other family members, friends, colleagues and on social media, leading to a sense of de-moralisation, lack of self-worth, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidality, etc.

  • It is important to note, many people in Domestic terrorism situations report to experiencing multiples of the above scenarios (15).


Real life examples of Intimate Terrorism …

Real Life Story 1: A little girl had a rabbit that had 5 babies. She was asked by her mother’s partner, which of the babies she loved the most. The little girl told him. He then proceeded to pick up that baby rabbit, cut of its foot, whilst alive, and then handed the rabbit foot to the little girl and said, “Here you go. You have your lucky rabbit foot.”


Real Life Story 2: A young girl of 3, was burnt repeatedly over a significant period of time with cigarettes, by her mother’s then partner, “just for fun”.


Real Life Story 3: A woman was held hostage for 6 months by an abusive partner. He took her phone and sent texts to all her friends and family, abusing them, and telling them that she wanted nothing to do with any of them. In effect cutting of any avenues of support or care. He told her that if she told them it was not her sending those texts, that he would have a crime gang he was associated with have her children killed. In those 6 months he spent all her money, leaving her broke and in debt and subjected her to violent sex acts daily. She states she was never allowed to shut any doors, even when going to the toilet. This is not an isolated story, it is very very common.


Shattered Support Networks – Held hostage in our own homes and subjected to intimate terrorism due to enforced Covid Isolation

Isolation, enforced because of lockdowns and restrictions has shattered support networks, making it far more difficult for subjects of intimate terrorism to get help or escape (2). Women and men, who are being abused are unable to access support because they are held hostage and trapped in their homes due to current restrictions.


Organisations set up to support domestic violent situations pre Covid were already straining to keep up with demand. These essential services, no longer have the capacity to keep up with this demand, therefore, for those in need, there is simply nowhere to go. It has been reported that shortly after Italy went into lockdown, domestic violence shelters began to fill up, leaving many with no avenue of escape. This has become consistent across other countries. To cope, some countries have turned vacant hotel rooms into shelters (2).


During the initial stages of Covid lockdowns mental health and emergency call lines reported that the number of incidents of Domestic Violence had dropped. Later, it was found this was not due to a decrease in Domestic Violence but due to individuals being imprisoned by their abusers making it difficult for them to make their one phone call or get out to seek support (1). Equally, as previously mentioned, there was nowhere for them to go, many organizations had been shut down or became full during the height of the Covid panic. As one health professional, Janet Williams in the UK has said, “the services simply were not there, what were people supposed to do?”


Equally individuals are remaining trapped in domestic violent situations because they are unable to initiate divorce proceedings. Across the globe access to justice systems have been seriously impacted. The courts simply have not been able to keep up with the increased demand. A British law firm has stated that they have had a 122% increase in enquires between July and October 2020, compared to the same time the previous year. Many countries report similar statistics (16).


Increased demand and court closures during Covid lockdowns and restrictions, has caused people to be confined in their homes whilst they wait their turn for divorce proceedings to commence (16). In many instances, individuals are unable to express their wish for a divorce, because they are scared to make this apparent when they are essentially trapped and have nowhere else to go (18). For some this is unfortunate but not life threatening, for others as the stressors increase and emotions become more volatile, the risk of harm intensifies.


What is worse, it has been said that in some places, police have not been able to respond to calls for help, due to being overstretched. In America there is a massive exodus from the police force. In Portland, officers are leaving in droves, citing being “overworked, overwhelmed and burned out” as contributing factors. One retiring officer wrote, “budget cuts, unit cuts that put the community at risk made working for Portlanders feel like a waste of effort” (17). In Australia, I have personally heard stories where individuals who are being abused are unable to get an ADVO (Apprehended Domestic Violence Order) as a means of protection because the courts are back logged and or poor decisions are being made due to the demands on the magistrates. This really is a major recipe for disaster, people, are slipping through the cracks with little if any avenues of recourse.


As the unpredictability of lockdowns and restrictions continue and the confinements drag on, the dangers in our homes intensify.

Studies show that abusers are more likely to murder their partners and others in the wake of personal crises, including lost jobs or major financial setbacks (2). It has also been found that domestic violence is likely to triple in number when couples are experiencing financial stressors. Increased stress makes it difficult for individuals to control their emotions and contain their anger (20). With Covid-19 ravaging the economy, causing job loses, business closures, increased evictions, such crises are set to become much more frequent.


One study, found between March and April 2020 of the 5800 American businesses surveyed 43% had temporally closed, which included massive layoffs. They also found that during that period unemployment rates were up by 47%. The study also looked at the impact of Covid-19 on small business and stated that “The fate of the 48% of American workers who work in small businesses is closely tied to the resilience of the small business ecosystem to the massive economic disruption caused by the pandemic” (21).


It is hard to fathom the pressure on a family trying to raise their children and support their family when such financial pressures are occurring. When for example, a person’s whole identity is about being a successful father and provider, what happens when he can no longer fulfil his role, when everything is taken from him, what happens when he can no longer provide food, shelter, or necessary medical care? Especially when the reasons he can’t provide and care for his family are out of his control and by no fault of his own? All of this causing disempowerment, learnt helplessness, resentment and anger towards a system that is failing him and harming his family. This undealt with stress can become mis-directed and focussed on “loved ones”, causing often irreparable damage. Who is ultimately responsible for this?


When we hear of the next round of lock downs, let’s consider those who become imprisoned in abusive homes. It may be fun for some to stay home but it is definitely not for all.


As the American Journal of Emergency Medicine states “Stay-at-home orders may cause catastrophic milieu for individuals whose lives are plagued by domestic violence” (6).

SO, WHERE TO FROM HERE?


Covid on some level has exposed the true state of humanity and made it public. By trapping individuals in their homes and denying them their usual releases, the true state of many relationships and families has been exposed. We can no longer deny that we have a problem. It was once believed that the dark alleyways were where most of the danger laid, but the truth is, it is much more likely to be within the hallways of our own homes.


The fact that we now have a term “intimate terrorism” should be enough to stop us in our tracks. How does it get to this point? No war starts from nowhere, and nothing comes from nothing. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are raising “intimate” terrorists and we are all touched by it in some way. When 911 struck, America and its allies launched a War on Terror that cost billions of dollars and amassed a global military effort, yet when acts of terrorism are occurring in our own homes – on our own soil – it is all but ignored.



We cannot turn a blind eye to this because, like the saying goes, it takes a community to raise a child, and if this is the case, then we have to ask, what kind of communities are we, when we are producing 'intimate' terrorists.


A terrorist is not born they are bred.

Research on what makes a terrorist, has found a number of key factors. Namely, that those that become terrorists feel resentment toward society due to perceived or real injustices they have witnessed or experienced, and often feel frustrated because they are unable to seek or obtain justice. How they determine how to seek justice or even whether they have a right to, is determined by those around them. Research states that terrorists spend time with like-minded individuals, and that our social circles have a strong influence on our beliefs and behaviours. In effect our social circles, our communities and families are who we learn from (23).


So what are we learning? To be loving, caring, decent and respectful or that we can take our frustrations and anger out on those “we love”. Family comes with a kind of indemnity policy, a 'right to abuse' because “we are family” and it gives our communities the right to ignore what is going on because “it is not my family, not for me to interfere, it is a family matter”. Read the blog, Family - War in Our Homes, to get the extent of the abuse that is occurring in our homes and how family indemnity excuses it.


The level of abuse this article is speaking of does not come from nowhere it is a slide, that starts from an unkind word or action not addressed, to the escalation that leads to horrific acts of violence and terrorism. We all have a responsibility to consider how our actions feed this cycle of abuse.


Just from this paper alone we need to start asking questions

What is going on that when we are forced into lock down together that, we simply do not cope? That for many we cannot live with our "loved ones" without needing a break. So much so, that when that break does not occur mental health, substance abuse, pornography, gaming and violence escalates.


Why when families are forced or socially expected to spend time together, such as during Christmas and holiday times, does violence escalate at the rate that it does? What is going on, simmering below the surface that this is even possible?


How are our systems contributing towards the increase in intimate terrorists? As the research states, terrorists are born out of feelings of resentment toward society due to perceived or real injustices they have witnessed or experienced. These include our legal, religious, cultural, educational, social, and political systems. What are the pressures that are coming from outside the home that are contributing to the violence within it.


But most importantly, how does the slide start? And how do we personally stop it?


While the extreme violence outlined in this article is obvious for us to call out as the violence it is, there is the factor of the incremental nature of violence that we tend to gloss over. All extremes start with the subtle deviation away from a standard of true care and love.


It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the level of intensity that we see all around us but in the simplicity of responding rather than reacting there is the option of leading the change in our own relationships. What are our standards? How are we with those we say we love? Is it truly loving or are we in the function (or dysfunction) of life?


If we are all in the mud, or even if we are simply in reaction to the mud we see, who is going to be the point of clarity to inspire another way? In our own lives and actions there is the very powerful potential for us to bring and offer a different reflection, one that says this is not okay. One that is prepared to challenge the status quo and challenge "are we really intelligent" when we act as we do? For change to occur we need to be prepared to question all that does not make sense! I often wonder what aliens would say about us should they come to earth and observe all the ways we harm ourselves and each other - from those fresh eyes, those that are un-used to the "normality" of what we have accepted life to be ... they would have to ask "what is going on?".




References:


(1) Australian Institute of Criminology. The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/sb/sb28

(2) NYTimes. (2020, April 06). A New Covid-19 Crisis: Domestic Abuse Rises Worldwide. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html

(3) Euronews. (2020, March 28). Domestic Violence cases jump 30% during lockdown in France. Retrieved from: https://www.euronews.com/2020/03/28/domestic-violence-cases-jump-30-during-lockdown-in-france


(4) National Domestic Violence Hotline. Domestic Violence Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.thehotline.org/stakeholders/domestic-violence-statistics/


(5) BBC News. (2020, June 12). Coronavirus: Domestic Violence ‘increases globally during lockdown’. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-53014211


(6) Boserup, B., McKenney, M., & Elkbuli, A. (2020). Alarming trends in US domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. The American journal of emergency medicine, 38(12), 2753–2755. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajem.2020.04.077


(7) Centre for suicide prevention. How many people are affected by one suicide? Retrieved from https://www.suicideinfo.ca/how-many-people-are-affected-by-one-suicide/


(8) The Recovery Village. (2021, April 14). Self-harm Statistics and Facts. Retrieved from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/self-harm/self-harm-statistics/


(9) Shrestha R, Siwakoti S, Singh S, Shrestha AP (2021) Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on suicide and self-harm among patients presenting to the emergency department of a teaching hospital in Nepal. PLoS ONE 16(4): e0250706. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0250706


(10) The Carter Center. (2018, November 16). Mental illness will cost the world $16 USD trillion by 2030. Retrieved from https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/mental-illness-will-cost-world-16-usd-trillion-2030



(12) Beyond Blue. Problem gambling during the coronavirus pandemic and how to seek support. Retrieved from https://coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au/managing-my-daily-life/coping-with-isolation-and-being-at-home/problem-gambling-during-the-coronavirus.html


(13) Frontiers in Psychiatry. Internet and Pornography Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Presumed Impact and What Can Be Done. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.623508/full

(14) NCBI. Is pornography use a risk for adolescent well-being? An examination of temporal relationships in two independent panel samples. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6088458/


(15) ManKind Initiate. Types of Domestic abuse. Retrieved from https://www.mankind.org.uk/help-for-victims/types-of-domestic-abuse/


(16) BBC News. (2020, December 7). Why the pandemic is causing spikes in break-ups and divorces Retrieved from


(17) Oregon live. (2021, April 5). Overworked, overwhelmed and burned out’: Why Portland cops say they’re leaving in droves. Retrieved from https://www.oregonlive.com/crime/2021/04/overworked-overwhelmed-and-burned-out-why-portland-cops-say-theyre-leaving-in-droves.html


(18) BBC News. (2020, December 7). Why the pandemic is causing spikes in break-ups and divorces. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201203-why-the-pandemic-is-causing-spikes-in-break-ups-and-divorces


(19) Fox News. (2021, April 1). Police defunded: Major cities feeling the loss of police funding as murders, other crimes soar Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/us/police-defunded-cities-murders-crime-budget


(20) Timothy Dimoff. (2020, September 16). Is there a link between domestic violence and financial stress? Retrieved from https://timothydimoff.com/2020/09/16/link-domestic-violence-financial-stress/


(21) PNAS. (2020, July 28). The impact of COVID-19 on small business outcomes and expectations. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/117/30/17656


(22) University Police. UT Health Science Centre. You can take action against domestic violence.


(23) Santa Fe Institute. (2018, April 6). Why people become terrorists. Retrieved from https://sfiscience.medium.com/why-people-become-terrorists-bff32eed5213










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