Pre-proof: COVID-19: Reducing the risk of infection might increase the risk of intimate partner violence

N. van Gelder MSc , A Peterman Ph.D. , A. Potts MPH , M. O’Donnell MPhil , K. Thompson MBBS, MLitt., MPhil. , N. Shah MIPP , S. Oertelt-Prigione MD, Ph.D. MSc

Received date: 2 April 2020

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A recent review drawing on lessons from past pandemics shows the length of quarantine increases the risk for serious psychological consequences. A relevant, yet frequently ignored risk during a pandemic and its socially disrupting response, is the potential increase of intimate partner violence (IPV).

Many of the strategies employed in abusive relations overlap with the social measures imposed during quarantine. Next to physical and geographical isolation, IPV survivors describe social isolation (i.e. from family and friends), functional isolation (e.g. when peers or support systems appear to exist but are unreliable or have alliances with the perpetrator), surveillance, and control of daily activities. During quarantine, measures intentionally imposed in an abusive partnership, may be enforced on a massive scale in the attempt to save lives. Isolation paired with greater exposure, psychological and economic stressors, as well as potential increases in negative coping mechanisms (i.e. excessive alcohol consumption) can trigger an unprecedented wave of IPV. Recent anecdotal reports from Australia, Brazil, China, and the United States already indicate increases in IPV due to quarantines. The global community should prepare for similar effects in other countries.

While quarantines will protect people from SARS-CoV2 infection, immediate action is needed to mitigate against increases in IPV.

Although limited by quarantine, individuals will maintain contacts with their families, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. Non healthcare-related contacts represent the primary and most capillary detection system for IPV. Public media needs to raise awareness for the topic to sensitize the general population and share best practices. These include bystander approaches, offering supportive statements, and, accessing help on the behalf of a survivor, if consented to do so. Media should provide links to IPV services including hotlines and online/SMS channels for those who cannot speak safely by phone, especially while at home with abusers. Social networks, both formal and informal, can help decrease isolation and provide support in case of IPV. Social media can aid in upholding a buddy system and emergency contacts. In times of social distancing, internet-based help platforms can effectively replace some conventional in-person support. All should have safety mechanisms to quickly exit the page and clear browsing history, as abusers may monitor phone and internet use.


The Lancet – DOI: