Pandemics, economic recessions, natural disasters, and other crises can lead to increases in intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence for a variety of reasons.

Women and children are particularly vulnerable when disasters such as COVID-19 strike. These are some reasons why this occurs:

• More time spent at home. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a worldwide shutdown of businesses and activities. The United States and other countries asked people to stay home whenever possible. This shutdown slowed the spread of COVID-19, but also made life more dangerous for women who are abused by their intimate partners.

Women were in their homes with partners who might be abusive for longer periods and who now had more opportunities for violence, says Jhumka Gupta, ScD, associate professor in the department of global and community health at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.

• Family financial stress. The pandemic resulted in millions of lost jobs in the first half of 2020. Although some government programs helped beleaguered families, many people lost income. Also, the imbalance of wage-earning could cause stress and violence among intimate partners. “There might be economic abuse against women,” Gupta says. “If a woman still has an income, while the man does not, then that can also increase vulnerability to violence.”

• Increased isolation. “There’s also the idea that more isolation occurs during the pandemic,” Gupta says. “Isolation is something that an abusive partner uses as an effective tool to keep women away from family and friends.”

During the pandemic, the partner does not have to work as hard to keep the abused woman from meeting with family members or friends who might notice bruises or hear about the abuse, she adds.

• Scaled-back support services. “At the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of services for domestic violence had to pivot, so there might be a lag,” Gupta notes.

Even family planning clinics and other healthcare providers reduced or stopped in-person visits. Clinicians’ eyes were not on women who might be experiencing domestic violence.

“So often, the healthcare provider might be the only person out there who has access to the woman. With the pandemic, there was a scaling back of resources in the healthcare setting,” Gupta explains. “They were overwhelmed.”