The Shadow Pandemic

May 3, 2021 | Uncategorized

The Shadow Pandemic

Domestic Violence in the Time of COVID

Jane is an introverted woman—she doesn’t like to make a fuss about herself or be in the limelight. She is a mother. A writer. A musician. She was engaged to marry to a man who is a respected businessman. He had given her his mother’s wedding gown to wear for their nuptials. She was looking forward to sharing her life with this man, looking forward to bringing a stepdad into her family for her young children.

One evening last spring, Jane was violently attacked by this man she trusted. She sustained serious bodily injuries. He hit her so hard and so many times that he broke her nose and injured her brain, spine and cranial nerves. She lost consciousness and awoke covered in blood. She still cannot work or drive, sees double, and is traumatized both physically and emotionally.


1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner, but our culture is geared to believe the strong, confident abuser.

Very few abusers, in fact, ever face punishment. Very few. In a recent study of 517 domestic violence cases, Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at Sewanee University, found:

1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner, but our culture is geared to believe the strong, confident abuser.

Very few abusers, in fact, ever face punishment. Very few. In a recent study of 517 domestic violence cases, Sherry Hamby, a professor of psychology at Sewanee University, found:

  • Only 130 of those were called in to police because victims often decide not to call or are pressured not to report.
  • Of those cases, police didn’t even show up 27 times.
  • The 103 cases that were investigated resulted in 61 arrests.
  • Those arrests resulted in 43 people charged.

How many of those 43 people received jail time?

Just 10.

In a recent Facebook comment about Jane’s case, one woman wrote, “If there were truly that much evidence, and if it were reliable and able to be proven, it would go to court. The courts can’t simply take someone at their word. There has to be solid evidence. Once there is enough evidence, it goes to court. A petition is not going to bring her case before the DA.”

This is a problem. This is not exactly the way things actually work in real life. Due process doesn’t really seem to work out very well for women, does it?

Domestic Violence victims want to know:

Why don't people believe?

Despite the fact that there is an average of three killings a day and over 20,000 daily calls to domestic violence hotlines in this county, people just don’t seem to want to believe, . There can be videos, photographs, visits to the hospital, reams of evidence, and still we hear things like, “she did that to herself to get attention.” “We don’t know it for a fact—it was behind closed doors.” We see cases of public figures (Rhianna and Chris Brown, NFL star Ray Rice and his fiancée, Johnny Depp and actress Amber Heard) where people are happy to float rumors suggeting that it’s all a big attention getting ruse.

So, what do we tell our friends who are victims? What do well tell our daughters? Yeah, sure, call the cops, if you feel brave enough. Yeah, I know he threatened to beat you again if you call them, but go ahead. Maybe yours will be in the tiny fraction of the cases that go to trial. Maybe the justice system will work in your favor, maybe you'll get the support you need, and maybe he will face justice.

Maybe people will believe you.

Yeah, it’s a crapshoot. And yeah, maybe your name will be dragged through the mud, and this whole experience will retraumatize you for years to come. But sure—have a go.

A recent study by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ) found that domestic violence has risen by 8.1% in the US since the beginning of the pandemic. The study relied on police call records, as well as “crime reports, emergency hotline registries, hospital and other health records, and additional administrative documents.” The analysis is based on a review of 18 US and international studies that compared domestic violence incidents before and after lockdown orders rolled out in March 2020.

Alex Piquero, chair of the University of Miami Department of Sociology and lead author of the NCCCJ analysis, said of the study: “It was a very striking result […] In my mind, I think that 8% is a floor and not a ceiling. I think the problem is actually worse than we actually know right now.”

A separate study found an increase in domestic violence of 9.7% across a broad swathe of socioeconomic backgrounds. Police departments are reporting increases in cities around the country: 18% in San Francisco, 22% in Portland, 10% in NYC.

This problem isn’t unique to the United States. According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine and the United Nations group U.N. Women, when the pandemic began, incidents of domestic violence increased 300% in Hubei, China, 25% in Argentina, 30% in Cyprus, 33% in Singapore, and 50% in Brazil.

There are many factors contributing to the rise, including unemployment and financial insecurity, the stress of childcare and homeschooling, increased isolation from friends and family, movement restriction, and lack of privacy at home. Physical distancing has also reduced access to support networks, making it more difficult for victims to get help.

The increase in domestic abuse is not confined to opposite-sex couples, either. In fact, domestic violence is found to occur at equal or even higher rates in same-sex couples. Communities of color are also affected more severely. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that systemic inequities often mean lower income and less access to care and private services.

This increase across the board of domestic violence is being called the “shadow pandemic” by the United Nations. They have, in fact, launched a Shadow Pandemic public awareness campaign, focusing on the global increase in domestic violence amid the COVID-19 health crisis.

What can be done to address this shadow pandemic? Increased awareness, for starters. Make yourself, your friends, and your community aware of resources and services. If you have a friend who is a victim, help them learn how to make a safety plan and an exit strategy.

Donate, if you have the resources to organizations like the UN, the ACLU, or Futures Without Violence.

Jane told me recently: “If this was only about me, my introverted self would be offline in the comforting safety of my home. Instead, I have been humbled and moved by stories of how domestic violence has impacted people. If my story has triggered anyone’s trauma and pain, and I am here standing strong as their rock and their voice.”

Take action:

Urge Congress to address the needs of survivors during the COVID-19 Crisis. Urge your legislator to pass a COVID-19 relief package that addresses the housing, economic, and physical and mental health needs of survivors of domestic and sexual violence and the advocates that serve them.


Spread the word on Social Media


Support the #WIthHer movement


Donate to your local DV survivor support services


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