Covids effects on Intimate Terrorism

Confinement is a breeding ground for domestic abuse

Reports of increasing rates of domestic violence are beginning to surface around the world. In China, domestic violence is reported to have tripled during their shelter in-place mandate. Additionally, France has indicated a 30 % increase in domestic violence reports, Brazil estimates domestic violence reports have jumped 40–50 %, and Italy has also indicated reports of domestic violence are on the rise. In Spain, reports have surfaced of a horrific domestic violence-related homicide – a trend that is unfortunately likely to continue around the globe as stress continues to build and shelter in-place measures extend into the future. The growing global trend of increasing reports of domestic violence cases is likely to continue throughout the pandemic and may only represent a “tip of the iceberg” as many victims still find themselves trapped with the perpetrator and unable to report the abuse.

In the United States, agencies from across the country are also reporting an increase in domestic violence. In addition to risk of physical harm, victims are also at great risk of emotional harm and abuse. U.S. reports have surfaced of domestic violence perpetrators using Covid-19 as a weapon against their victims, forbidding handwashing in an attempt to increase the victim’s fear of contracting the virus and threatening to forbid medical treatment if the victim does contract the virus.

In contrast to increasing reports of domestic violence, many child welfare organizations are noting a significant drop in reports of child abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, this decrease may be a result of fewer opportunities for detection as opposed to an actual decrease in incidence. The closures of schools and other critical community organizations has limited key community partners in their ability to detect and report abuse. In the United States, 67 % of substantiated child abuse or neglect reports come from victim-serving professionals and 19 % of these reports come from education personnel.

There is growing concern that we may see an overwhelming number of reports of child abuse or neglect when children do return to schools. If children do not return to the classroom until after the summer, the concerns should be even greater given an even further extended period of time out of the school system. When Covid-19 related measures are lifted and society returns to “normal”, child abuse victim-serving professionals may find themselves completely buried in reports and unable to meet the needs of an overwhelming number of victims.


Farber, Harlow, and West (1957) classified strategies used on POW’s as the 3 D’s of conversion under coercion: Debilitation, Dread and Dependency.

Debilitation: various physical and mental tactics used to weaken the body and mind. Isolation was a major feature of this stage along with interrogation, sleep deprivation, rationing of water and food, forcing them to do things against their will

Dread: accomplished through humiliation and degradation and/or threats of torture and death. Victims were encouraged to doubt that they would ever regain their freedom and that their fate was determined by the whim of the captor.

Dependency:  tactics that proved the captive was dependent for their basic needs like sleep and food. An important aspect in increasing dependency involves sudden brief displays of kindness and friendliness that also include apologetic gestures.  Their actions suggest that the acceptance of the captors viewpoints would help change their relationship (Schein, 1996).  A majority strategy was to attack the victims beliefs, attitudes and values. Support systems were weakened by physical separation,  isolation and undermining relationships, emotional bonds, and group activities. A general feeling of distrust is created, eliminating opportunities for consensual validation of the individuals belief system through control of information also.

“Situational Couple Violence” in a relationship is a big factor in which serious and very violent “intimate terrorism” occurs.  Situational Couple Violence” is defined as “intermittent response to the occasional conflicts of everyday life, motivated by a need to control specific situation but not a more general need to be in charge of the relationship (Johnson 1995).  Men are more likely to be perpetrators and the women and children are their victims. However we do know that women are also capable of abusive behavior but research shows only 2-5% of women arrested for being perpetrators are “true” perpetrators and the others arrested are victims who were protecting themselves from the male abuser and left marks on that perpetrator, or the perpetrator lied to law enforcement and the victim was arrested as “dominent aggressor.”

Psychological aggression has been defined as “a communication, either verbal or non-verbal, intended to cause psychological pain to another person, or perceived as having that intent” (Straus & Sweet, 1992), and as behavior that is demeaning, belittling, or that undermines the self-worth of one’s partner (Tolman, 1989).

Research was done on three areas of abuse to find the correlations, if any, between prisoners at war and the tactics used on them, victims of domestic violence and human trafficking victims.  It was found that in all three groups the tactics used by the “captors” was the same across the board.  Brain washing techniques, threats, coercive control, etc. were the main tools used to break the prisoners and victims.

the traumatic impact psychological abuse has on mental health. Even subtle psychological abuse (undermining, discounting)—without overt psychological abuse (dominating, demeaning) or violence—can be traumatizing (McKibbin 1998). In fact, subtle psychological abuse correlates more with women’s emotional states than acts of sexual and physical violence (Marshall 1999). Here are what the studies say regarding psychological abuse and women:

Experience depressionanxiety, and low self-esteem (Baldry 2003).

Score lower on self-efficacy, which is how empowered a woman feels to make a difference, than women who are not abused (Ovara, McLeod, and Sharpe 1996).

Shows up as the strongest predictor of post-traumatic stress disorder compared to physical violence and other types of abuse, (Pico- Alfonso 2005).

Makes people more fearful than any other type of abuse and causes a loss of self-esteem (Sackett and Saunders 2001).

These findings make a strong case that, when you live with someone who is psychologically abusive, it’s just not possible to feel well or to be at your best because you’re at very high risk for a multitude of health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

What Makes Psychological Abuse So Powerful…

In her well-received book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, Kathleen Taylor, a research scientist, explains that when an individual uses abusive tactics within a basic social structure, such as a couple or a family, it is possible to gain power over another human being. When this occurs, it is one of the most intense and damaging experiences for those involved.

Definition of intimate terrorism:  Coercive control: is conceptualized as distinct from psychological aggression, and has been defined as “a pattern of coercion characterized by use of threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional abuse, as well as a pattern of control over sexuality, and social life, including…relationships with family and friends; material resources (money, food, transportation); and various facets of everyday life (like shopping, cleaning, etc) (Stark & Flitcraft, 1996).

Children are feeling anxious, depressed, stressed because parents are always around

lack of good parenting from parents, cabin fever, watching parents fight, lack of attention from parents who are focused on their own emotions, isolation, constant surveillance of parents and no privacy, etc.

Being trapped in the house with a perpetrator of abuse.

Parents:  lack parenting skills, increased anger emotions, depression, isolation, constant surveillance of abuser, detailed rules for behavior, restrictions on: access  to food, clothing, sanitary needs, detailed  cleaning and cooking behaviors/actions, privacy, imposed restrictions and continued surveillance of social media, internet, and cell phones may also limit the ability of victims to reach out for help electronically. Further, schools, libraries, and churches are all critical staples in family routines around the globe. Families who are victimized by violence or abuse in the home indicate these institutions often offer critical emotional support and provide opportunity for a “reprieve” from their abusive home environment – a reprieve they are no longer getting at this time

Home isolation, however vital to the fight against the pandemic, is giving still more power to the abuser, Dr. Hester said. “If suddenly people have got to be at home,” she said, “that gives him an opportunity, suddenly, to call the shots around that. To say what she should be doing or shouldn’t.”

The isolation has also shattered support networks, making it far more difficult for victims to get help or escape.

Many family violence (domestic violence, child abuse, and pet abuse) victims may currently be facing a “worst case” scenario – finding themselves trapped in the home with a violent perpetrator during a time of severely limited contact with the outside world.

With shelter in-place measures and widespread organizational closures related to Covid-19 likely to continue for an extended period of time, stress and associated risk factors for family violence such as unemployment, reduced income, limited resources, and limited social support are likely to be further compounded. Additionally, alcohol abuse, a commonly reported risk factor for family violence, has been linked to an accumulation of stressful events and a lack of social support (both likely occurring as a result of Covid-19). With bars and restaurants being limited to take-out service only in many communities, family violence perpetrators who abuse alcohol may be even more likely to do so in the home, likely increasing risk for the entire household.

An increasing risk of domestic violence-related homicide is also a growing concern – reports continue to surface around the globe of intimate partner homicides with ties to stress or other factors related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reports of increasing gun and ammunition sales in the U.S. during the crisis are particularly concerning given the clear link between firearm access and fatal domestic violence incidents.

Communities considering the mass release of prisoners to reduce their risk of spreading Covid-19 in confinement must weigh the potentially significant risk for victims and households if domestic violence or other violent offenders are among those released. This risk is likely to extend outside of the home as well, as 20% of victims in domestic violence-related homicides are not the intimate partner but rather a neighbor, family member, friend, bystander, or first responders.

In addition to adult victims of family violence, children and pets reside in 60 % or more of households where domestic violence is perpetrated and are also at risk of suffering significant physical and/or emotional harm. Given current school and library closures and shelter in-place mandates, children are likely to be spending significantly more time than usual in the home. Domestic violence abusers may often target children or pets in the home as a means of furthering control over the household. Researchers estimate children residing in a home where domestic violence occurs are at as much as 60 times the risk of child abuse or neglect compared to the general U.S. child population. Additionally, when domestic violence abusers also harm animals in the home, it is often an indicator of increased risk for both human and animal members of the household. Nearly 80 % of victims residing in a home where domestic violence and pet abuse co-occur report daily fear they will be killed by the perpetrator.

Risks for children

Children are also especially vulnerable to abuse during the pandemic, says child psychologist Yo Jackson, PhD, associate director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network at Penn State. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents is often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children, she says.

And the resources many at-risk parents rely on — extended family, child care and schools, religious groups and other community organizations — are no longer available in many areas. Many child-protective organizations are experiencing strain with fewer workers available, so they may be unable to conduct home visits in areas with stay-at-home orders. While such operational changes may lead to inaccurate reporting of child abuse and neglect, Jackson says she and her colleagues are expecting a surge in abuse cases all over the country.

“Even parents who have great child management skills and great bonds with their kids are going to be tested,” says Jackson. “There’s a perfect storm happening in millions of homes for kids to be at greater risk for these negative interactions. “

The financial strain many Americans are experiencing due to business and other closures will also put children in many homes at a greater risk of abuse and neglect, says Amy Damashek, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Western Michigan University who studies child maltreatment. Many of these families may also not have access to the technology needed for children to stay connected with friends and extended family, which Damashek presents as another risk factor.

To add to the tension, children are also experiencing their own stress and uncertainty about the pandemic. Stressed parents may be more likely to respond to their children’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive or abusive ways.

All parents should be focusing on keeping their stress as low as possible right now, such as by talking walks or limiting their media exposure, say Jackson and Damashek. “Anything that reduces stress can reduce the risk for abuse and neglect,” Damashek says.

Jackson recommends prioritizing self-care and taking a break from parenting duties whenever possible to lessen the risk of lashing out at a child. While it’s important for parents to attune to their children’s needs, they need to attune to their own needs as well.

“The only way for you to reduce the risk of violence against children is to take care of yourself,” says Jackson. “There are no super parents; only parents who are more tuned in and connected to themselves.”

How family violence reporting in the aftermath of natural disasters relates to the current crisis

Though limited precedent exists for the current crisis, we do find scenarios of rapidly increasing stress, sudden shifts in daily routines, the closing of schools and community resources, and a rapid decrease in available resources after natural disasters. Additionally, controlling behaviors (often a means of coping with trauma), unemployment, and limited access to social support systems have all been identified as family violence risk factors that also commonly occur after natural disasters. Studies that explore the impact of natural disasters on crime and violence report that while property crimes and other forms of violent crime may or may not be impacted, domestic violence reports often substantially increase after the catastrophic event.

In fact, domestic violence reports increased by 46 % in Othello, Washington after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, along with increases in reported alcohol abuse, family stress, and aggression. After Hurricane Katrina, reports of psychological abuse among women by their partner increased 35 % while reports of partner physical abuse nearly doubled in the southernmost Mississippi counties. Similar significant increases in domestic violence have been reported following earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and many other catastrophic events around the world, including the 2009 “Black Saturday” bushfires in Australia and 2010 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti.

While similarities exist, the current Coronavirus crisis may result in closures of key organizations for longer durations than often occur in the aftermath of natural disasters. While community togetherness may be often encouraged after natural disasters, physical separation from fellow community members is the course of action promoted in the current crisis. As a result, the increase in family violence reports during and after the Covid-19 pandemic may be even greater than the substantial increase observed in reports following natural disasters and other catastrophic events.

Additionally, studies indicate the increased rates of domestic violence reported after a natural disaster often extend for several months after the catastrophic event occurs. In fact, a study looking at the aftermath of natural disasters in the United States and Canada found domestic violence victim service requests increased for an entire year following the event. Family violence victim-serving professionals must be aware of the high likelihood of increases in victimization rates and reports both during and long after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Improving community collaborations: a call to action

The reality is, we were hardly “winning” the fight to end family violence even before this pandemic shook the world. Many agencies around the globe were already feeling the strain of an ever-increasing workload and continually diminishing resources. Now, many find themselves facing even greater barriers as they struggle to find ways to reach these families who have been cut-off from the rest of the community and likely at great risk of harm. In addition to improving relations between human welfare and animal welfare agencies, family violence victim-serving agencies must explore new and expanded community partnerships. Many postal workers, garbage collectors, food delivery staff, and home repair agencies are all still out and traveling through neighborhoods during the global crisis – they may still have opportunity to detect violence in the home and report their concerns to the proper authorities.

Though many communities around the globe now find themselves physically separated by the threat of spreading the virus, opportunities to remain connected through this difficult time still exist. Communities must ensure citizens are aware of the current increased risk of family violence at this time, encourage them to check on their neighbors, friends, and family (while maintaining adherence to any distancing regulations) and report ANY concerns they see or hear to the proper authorities.

For as long as we allow family violence to remain in the shadows, it will do just that – remain. We must be vigilant. Risk of family violence is currently very high and will likely remain that way for the coming months. If you see or hear something concerning, please report it. The call you make may very well save a life.

In her  1999 study, Serrata found the stress associated with the disaster led to higher rates of both domestic violence and child abuse during and after disaster.

“We found social factors that put people more at risk for violence are reduced access to resources, increased stress due to job loss or strained finances, and disconnection from social support systems,” Serrata says. “With this pandemic, we’re seeing similar things happen, which unfortunately leads to circumstances that can foster violence.”

Psychologist Nadine Kaslow, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, says other factors may also contribute to the uptick in intimate partner violence — among them fewer options to find safety or help. Before the pandemic, a survivor or victim could flee a violent situation by staying with a family member, going to a shelter or filing a protective order with the police. For many, such options aren’t easily available right now.

At the same time, shelters are closing or under-resourced, emergency rooms are full and people don’t want to go out in public and risk getting COVID-19. “The things people use in their safety plan are no longer available, which leaves survivors trapped in an escalating cycle of tension, power and control,” Kaslow says.


Psychologist Carrie Lippy, PhD, director of the National LGBTQ Institute on IPV, says sexual and gender minorities are also at an increased risk for domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, partly because of the stressors they already experience as marginalized members of society.

“Being on lockdown, having fewer choices, having other people make large life choices for you, like when you can leave the house — these things replicate the trauma that some LGBTQ people have experienced both in their relationships and as members of oppressed and marginalized groups,” Lippy says.

Those in sexual and gender minority communities, and especially sexual and gender minorities of color, are disproportionately more likely to be homeless or unstably housed, have disabilities and be un- or underemployed. These stressors, Lippy says, compounded with the stress of the pandemic, could increase the risk of partner violence.

“From an organizational standpoint, it’s hard to stay on top of all the changing services and resources available during COVID-19, especially ones appropriate for LGBTQ communities,” Lippy says. “Many culturally specific organizations have been historically underfunded, so it has been harder for us to quickly transition to providing remote services and programs for survivors.”



Calls related to domestic violence in LA declined 18% from March 19 through April 15 compared with the same period in 2019, according to LAPD data provided to ABC News. Cases also declined in San Francisco.

Other cities including San Diego, Anaheim, Burbank and Santa Rosa have reported little change, while calls in Fresno County spiked in March but declined into April.

Back in California, officials told ABC News they believe domestic violence is increasing but the abused are stuck at home with their abusers and can’t alert authorities.

Rebecca Levenson, a police consultant on domestic violence, said that for victims their “world has gotten a whole lot smaller” and that they’re “hyper vulnerable” because of technology.

“With home cameras, you literally can’t do anything,” she added. “The abuser can check which websites you were on and check your phone.”

Police said that’s resulted in fewer calls, which Los Angeles County is combatting with “Behind Closed Doors,” a campaign aimed at helping abuse victims too scared to seek help.