October 2020




  • 15.5 million children in the U.S. live in a household where domestic violence (DV) occurs at least once per year
  • 90% of children in these households are witnesses to DV
  • 24 people per minute are victims of domestic violence

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Domestic Violence During the Covid-19 Pandemic

 Written by: Melissa Donadio, MA

Domestic violence (DV) is the violent or aggressive behaviors seen within the home that usually involves the abuse of a spouse or partner (Huecker & Smok, 2020). DV can be in the form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, which can severely affect the mental well-being of victims, including children who witness these incidents (Huecker & Smok, 2020). Thus, DV is considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), or a traumatic event that occurs before the age of 18-years-old (Felitti et al., 1998). Research shows that the more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they are to develop chronic health conditions (i.e. heart disease, obesity) and to face negative outcomes later in life, including decreased educational and occupational achievement (Bradford, 2020). Experiencing ACE’s can also lead to increased rates of depression, substance use, and suicide (Bradford, 2020).

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    An estimated 15.5 million children in the United States live in a household where DV occurs at least once a year (McDonald, Jouriles, Remisetty-Mikler, Caetano, & Green, 2006). However, with more individuals spending time at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, this number is expected to increase. Studies across the globe have found this to be true. For instance, 54% of women in Lebanon have reported increased violence and harassment during the pandemic (Faiola. 2020). Likewise, DV reports in France rose by over 30%, and the government of Catalonia, Spain reported a 20% increase of DV hotline calls. Similarly, DV against women increased 94% between March and May in Columbia and Beunos Aires described a 48% increase in DV hotline calls (Faiola, 2020). Surprisingly, the U.S. has not seen such dramatic reports, with some states showing a decrease in DV calls (Evans, Lindauer, & Farrell, 2020). Researchers and advocates surmise that this is solely because victims are not reporting DV.

    Reporting DV can be risky for victims as many do not have safe places to go, and abuse may become more severe if an abuser finds out about a report. These risks are even greater during the pandemic as safe places, such as shelters and religious organizations, are limited in space and other resources. Additionally, individuals who usually report DV, such as teachers and social workers, have restricted contact with potential victims. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2020), the pandemic may also cause abusers to further isolate and control victims, and they may share inaccurate information related to covid-19 to frighten or control victims. If you know of children witnessing DV at home, you can do the following to best assist them:

    • Listen to them.
    • Check in regularly.
    • Link children with friends.
    • Build calm and stable environments.
    • Account for cultural expectations- some children may be hesitant to speak negatively about their families.
    • Help children manage their emotions by building coping skills and identifying feelings.
    • Let them know help is available.
    • Manage challenging behaviors in healthy ways assist youth in identifying safe places and people they can connect with during an emergency.
    • Provide psychoeducation, let them know that the abuse is not their fault or responsibility to correct, there are adults in their life who intend to protect them.
    • Consider creating a code word to communicate that they feel unsafe when the abuser is nearby.
    • Follow local mandated reporting laws.



    Bradford, K. (2020, August 4). Reducing the Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. National Conference of State Legislatures. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/reducing-the-effects-of-adverse-childhood-experiences.aspx

    Center for Disease Control. (2020, June 11). Support for People Experiencing Abuse. Center for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/stress-coping/abuse.html

    Evans, M.L., Lindauer, M., & Farrell, M. (2020, September 6). A Pandemic within a Pandemic — Intimate Partner Violence during Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine. doi: 10.1056/NEJMp2024046

    Faiola, Anthony. (2020, September 6). For women and children around the world, a double plague: Coronavirus and domestic violence. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-domestic-violence/2020/09/06/78c134de-ec7f-11ea-b4bc-3a2098fc73d4_story.html

    Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0749-3797(98)00017-8

    Huecker MR, Smock W. Domestic Violence. [Updated 2020 Oct 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499891/

    McDonald, R., Jouriles, E.N., Remisetty-Mikler, S., Caetano, R., & Green, C.E. (2006). Estimating the Number of American Children Living in Partner-Violent Families. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 137-142. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.20.1.137