ORLANDO, Fla. – In a recent story, the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice reviewed 12 nationwide studies, most of which included data from multiple cities. Their findings revealed domestic violence incidents increased 8.1% after jurisdictions imposed pandemic-related lockdown orders.
“If we look at different data sources over the last 20 years or so, we had seen declines actually in domestic violence so what I’ll say is the pandemic has set us back in terms of our ability to address domestic violence,” University of Central Florida professor and chair with the department of criminal justice, Catherine Kaukinen, said.
She is one of the authors of the new study that focused on the impacts the pandemic had during 2020 on domestic abuse.
“It has shown that the rates of domestic violence during the pandemic, particularly after the lockdowns, rose about 7 to 8%,” Kaukinen said. “We estimate or we would guess that this is sort of a tip of the iceberg, that this is the floor of what we’re experiencing, that many women might have been experiencing domestic violence and not sought help during the pandemic.”
The report states it’s unclear what the exact dynamics are that caused the increase, but lockdowns and pandemic-related economic impacts likely magnified the factors typically associated with domestic violence, such as increased male unemployment, the stress associated with child care and homeschooling and increased financial insecurity.
Michele Sperzel, the CEO of Harbor House of Central Florida, a shelter and resource center for abused women, said the severity of violence used in domestic situations also appeared to get worse.
“Even though we’re seeing an increase and it’s been slow, the numbers still don’t reflect what’s happening in our community. Domestic violence is still completely underreported,” Sperzel said. “We saw an increase in the lethality indicators within a domestic violence situation, so for instance we saw an increase of weapons being used when it comes to domestic violence, strangulation, assault on someone who’s pregnant, actually people being held against their will.”
Harbor House said the organization saw a greater need during the summer of 2020.
“Where we’re seeing the biggest need in people in our local community is that we saw a big increase with the number of people who are living with the abuser who needed access to services and they didn’t need housing,” Sperzel said. “We really saw an increase in the number of people seeking out our outreach services and our community services and also our legal program. We have four attorneys that will help someone file an injunction; we saw a huge increase there.”
Another factor detailed in the study is how economics plays a major factor in a person’s decision to leave their abuser and the pandemic seems to have made it more difficult.
“There’s some estimates that the economic impact is gonna last upwards of a decade and so things like chronic unemployment, lack of access to education because of income deficits are going to continue for many women and that’s gonna have long-term effects for women and children who are attempting to leave and end violent relationships,” Kaukinen said. “For a woman to pack up and have the emotional resources to leave and the financial is incredibly difficult and so I would challenge anyone who questions why does a woman stay and instead flip that on his head and go: What would it take to rescue her and her children?”