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COVID-19 and Intimate-Partner Violence (IPV): The Shadow Pandemic

By Dr. Stephen Fleming, PhD, C. Psych.

During a pandemic, lockdown, social isolation, and quarantine are all positive measures for the health of our communities, unfortunately, these measures also mean that abusers and those they harm are confined together in spaces around the clock. Furthermore, without the ability to safely make a telephone call or send email, fear and isolation are only heightened.

UN Women, the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, labels violence against women and girls and COVID-19 the “shadow pandemic.” In their report dated April 6, 2020, they contend that “in times of crisis, violence against women and girls is likely to increase as security, health, and money worries heighten tensions and strains are accentuated by cramped and confined living conditions.” (UNWomen.org)

As further indicated in the UN Women report, global reporting over the past 12 months indicates that 243 million women and girls between the ages of 15-49 have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, violence against women and girls has intensified.

Closer to home, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), whose vision is “a Canada where gender equity is realized for all women and girls,” a woman in Canada is killed every six days by her intimate partner. Furthermore, while the CWF reports an increase in calls to shelters, domestic violence organizations are concerned that many women are not able to call for help because the pandemic is creating barriers to access. When examining the impact of COVID-19, Stats Can reports that 1 in 10 women is very or extremely concerned about the possibility of violence in the home and, in York Region, domestic violence increased 22 percent in March compared to the same month a year ago. 

Pandemic- Related Stressors

During this lockdown, many individuals experience multiple stressors but that does not mean all individuals respond by abusing those around them. There are a number of factors, however, that increase the risk of IPV: 

  • Individual characteristics–– (low self-esteem, substance abuse, anger and hostility), 
  • Relational factors–– (jealousy, possessiveness, social isolation/lack of social support, marital conflict), 
  • Community demographics––(poverty, high unemployment rates, poor neighbourhood support and cohesion), and,
  •  Societal factors–– (inadequate hweak health, educational, economic, and social policies/laws, cultural norms that support/encourage aggression toward others).. 

Understanding the varied myriad factors that increase the risk of IPV can help inform efforts to prevent and intervene with this shadow pandemic. FVB’s next blog will explore various efforts directed at reducing the risk of IPV and, when it occurs, exploring evidence-based treatment approaches to mitigate the often-traumatic consequences.