Intimate partner violence has increased during the pandemic. Clinicians must ask patients about their safety and know where to refer.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) can happen to all genders, and includes psychological and physical abuse, sexual abuse and coercion, and stalking. Some types of abuse unique to the pandemic include eliminating phone and internet service, refusing to let their partner work outside home, threatening to expose them to COVID, and stealing their emergency assistance. Women of color, women in rural locations, LGBTQ+ persons, and less advantaged groups are more likely to experience IPV than others. While pre-pandemic rates of IPV were about one in every four women and one in every 10 men, pandemic rates appear to be much higher, and this increase is expected long after the pandemic ends.
Why did IPV rise during COVID-19?
We know that natural disasters increase violence at home, and this is also true for the pandemic. Many families are experiencing more stress, economic uncertainty, and disruptions to support. Some are using more alcohol to cope. Parents were tasked with supervising remote learning for their children while working from home. Less advantaged persons often couldn’t work from home and worried about how to supervise their children when schools shut down. Pandemic related stressors created more anxiety and depression in families. Researchers predict the rise in IPV will be the new reality well after COVID-19 is controlled.
IPV and shelters
While many trying to leave unsafe situations at home turn to shelters, this may be challenging right now. Some shelters were strained pre-pandemic, and while others have the space, social distancing requirements have reduced their capacity. Some shelters report more calls since March 2020, and others report fewer calls. Some in the field speculate that those quarantining with a partner using violence may not be able to reach out for help. Fortunately, clinicians can help.
Here’s what you can do to help:
1. Ask patients about relationship health and safety.
Pay special attention to your more vulnerable patients, including women of color, LGBTQ+ clients, rural clients, and those from less advantaged backgrounds.
2. When referring patients to community programs, ask, “What will get in your way of using this?”
Assume there are barriers, including lack of privacy for telehealth appointments, transportation or other financial related issues, lack of adequate childcare to use the services, or fear of not getting culturally competent care.
3. Be a trauma informed problem solver.
Ask permission to talk through some of your patients’ concerns and collaborate to create a plan together.
4. Be proactive when referring to a shelter.
Set the expectations with patients that there may be issues with capacity or fewer longer-term options. Come up with a plan B and a plan C.
5. Be informed.
Research shelters in your area. Introduce yourself to community partners and stay in touch so you have current information. Use domesticshelters.org to find shelter nationwide.
For more information, check out:
The Nation’s Leading Grassroots Voice on Domestic Violence (ncadv.org). This allows you to find resources available in your state.
Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Program (IPVAP) – VHA Social Work. This is a resource from Veterans Affairs, so can help with that specific population, but also provides general information.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.