Why Domestic Violence Is on the Rise During the Pandemic

Here’s how victims of intimate partner violence can reach out for help.

Updated April 20, 2020; 6:00pm EST

Hundreds of millions of people around the world are living under stay-at-home orders because of COVID-19. But for some victims of domestic abuse, home is not the safe haven it should be during this time of crisis. In fact, the pandemic has spawned a dangerous wave of intimate partner violence behind closed doors.

“We know lockdowns and quarantines are essential to suppressing COVID-19,” United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General António Guterres said in an April 2020 statement. “But they can trap women with abusive partners. Over the past weeks, as economic and social pressures and fear have grown, we have seen a horrifying global surge in domestic violence.”

Reports of domestic violence in France have increased 30 percent since the country went on lockdown in March, according to the U.N. They’ve also spiked in Argentina, Singapore and many other countries around the globe—including the United States.

Intimate partner violence in America
Cities across the U.S. are reporting more domestic violence calls to police, and many departments are expecting a surge in cases as stay-at-home orders drag on.

In New York City, the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak, domestic violence officers have been conducting phone calls with abused partners, sharing safety plans and cell phone access with them, and carefully setting “code words” for them to signal abuse in close quarters.

In hard-hit Chicago, domestic violence calls reportedly rose more than 14 percent in the week ending April 5, compared to the same week in 2019. In response, ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have stepped in by donating free rides to Chicagoans fleeing abuse. The program will be coordinated through the state’s domestic violence hotline.

Domestic and family violence is on the radar of Congress, too. Lawmakers set aside $45 million for domestic violence prevention programs as part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act package signed into law in March 2020.  

How advocates are handling the influx
Workers at domestic violence hotlines are often the first to hear of an abusive home situation. Calls, chats and texts to the National Domestic Violence Hotline are currently averaging 1,800 to 2,000 per day during the COVID-19 crisis, says Chief Executive Officer Katie Ray-Jones. While that volume is typical, she notes that there’s been an increase in the number of people who are concerned their abusive partner is using the pandemic to further isolate, coerce or increase fear in the relationship.

This abuse could manifest in different ways, according to a March 2020 Hotline report. Some abusers may use fear of the virus to keep people away from their children or extended family. They could prevent their partners from receiving medical help. Or, they may withhold items like hand sanitizer, disinfectants and insurance cards. One Hotline caller even reported they were abused after their partner “was sure” they were trying to infect them with the virus.

Help may be limited, too. Partners may not be able to reach out for help if their abusers are watching their every move during isolation, Ray-Jones says. The usual resources, like court action on protection orders and access to medical clinics, may not be available. There are reports that some shelters are full or have stopped taking new people to keep current residents healthy, as well.

When you need help
If you’re concerned about or have already experienced intimate partner violence during the pandemic, it’s important to have a strategy to remain safe while you’re at home or, if necessary, to leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Path to Safety can help you create a plan to protect yourself.

Ray-Jones encourages vulnerable people to call the Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, privately chat through the website or text “loveis” to 22522. Hotline advocates can help abuse victims come up with ways to stay safe in their unique situation and locate resources available in the community. If you feel like you’re in immediate danger, call 911.

Unfortunately, the true extent of COVID-19’s impact on domestic violence probably won’t be known for some time. “We suspect that we may not see a surge in individuals reaching out until shelter-in-place protocols are lifted and as people start returning to work or school and are apart from their abusive partners,” Ray-Jones says.

Medically reviewed in April 2020

United Nations. “Amid Global Surge in Domestic Violence, Secretary-General Urges Governments to Make Prevention, Redress Part of National COVID-19 Response Plans.” April 5, 2020.
United Nations. “The Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women and Girls and COVID-19.” April 6, 2020.
NBC News. “Police See Rise in Domestic Violence Calls Amid Coronavirus Lockdown.” April 5, 2020.
New York Police Department. “NYPD Announces Citywide Crime Statistics for March 2020.” April 2, 2020.
ABC News. “Dramatic increase in domestic violence calls to Chicago police over the last 3 weeks.” April 6, 2020.
Office of the Mayor of Chicago. “City of Chicago Partners with Lyft and Uber to Address an Increase in Victims Needing to Flee Violence.” April 9, 2020.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Intimate Partner Violence.”
National Domestic Violence Hotline. “The Hotline Commends Passage of the CARES Act.”
National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Staying Safe During COVID-19,” “Path to Safety.”

More On

Young Adults Facing Unique Mental Health Challenges


Young Adults Facing Unique Mental Health Challenges
While COVID’s toll on people’s physical health is often clear, what may be less obvious is the far-reaching effects the pandemic has had on mental hea...
How Georgians Can Best Cope with Mental Illness During COVID-19


How Georgians Can Best Cope with Mental Illness During COVID-19
Updated May 5, 2020; 12:00pm Almost everyone is on edge right now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but feelings of panic, worry and stress can b...
6 Ways to Boost Your Mental Well-Being While Working From Home


6 Ways to Boost Your Mental Well-Being While Working From Home
Additional reporting by Jenny Blair, MD Updated on April 2, 2020 at 5pm ET An abrupt, nationwide pivot to working from home would be jarring under a...
Coping With Mental Illness During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Coping With Mental Illness During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated April 10, 2020; 4:15pm EST Almost everyone is on edge right now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but feelings of panic, worry and stress...
Millions of Americans Now Living With Long COVID


Millions of Americans Now Living With Long COVID
Before Russell Frisby, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C. area, contracted COVID-19, he was healthy except for mild, well-controlled asthma, with an act...