By  Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

In addition to anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and substance abuse discussed in previous blogs, domestic violence is one more aspect of the COVID 19 pandemic that “lurks in the shadows” ( ).  One estimate is that a quarantine of three months would increase domestic violence by 20% worldwide, more specifically about 15 million additional cases.

Also known as “intimate partner violence (IPV)”, this tragic phenomenon is well-known to surge in times of natural disasters and crises.  This is true when hurricanes strike, for example.

There are several factors in play:

  • Stress:  The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska prompted three times the usual number of IPV reports.  With the pandemic, we are left with an uncertain time line and an ongoing feeling of risk and worry in an unpredictable future.  This elevates levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, clearly associated with higher levels of aggression.
  • Isolation: The restrictions and sheltering at home create isolation from friends, family, and trusted work colleagues.  The perpetrator of IPV gains more control over the victim’s life.  They  employ gaslighting to  normalize the violations and to create more dependence by the victim on their abuser, including how to define the victim’s identity.
  • Economic anxiety and job loss: Economic distress is highly associated with IPV, as documented in the 2008 recession.  Job loss threatens masculine identity, which then increases domestic violence, as one means of regaining some sense of power and control. 
  • Alcohol: Sales of alcohol have increased dramatically, often by more than 200%. Alcohol use disinhibits aggressive behavior.
  • Lack of resource: During the recent restrictions, court systems have greatly reduced their activity, if not shut down entirely.  Many legal aid organizations and advocacy groups, have reduced their availability to remote services.  Some judges are reluctant to hold abusers in jail due to the increased risks of infection.  Shelters for victims are also a risky option, so that such safe havens are less available. 

Even without a pandemic, one in three women in the US have experienced IPV, per CDC data, which includes a higher risk of death.  Disasters also prompt more severe abuse as well, as for example gun sales have surged during this time, too.

A national domestic violence abuse hotline is available:  800 799-7233.  Los Angeles County has a domestic violence hotline as well:  800 978-3600. 

Alan  M. Solomon, Ph.D. is  a clinical psychologist in private practice in Torrance, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, he can be reached at 310  539-2772 or

Copyright 2020 by Alan M. Solomon, Ph.D.

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