Stay-at-Home Order May Have Increased Domestic Violence in Louisville
As Kentucky begins its gradual reopening from the COVID-19 shutdown, many of the consequences of sheltering in place become more apparent. In Louisville, efforts to “flatten the curve” may have inadvertently driven an uptick in the number of domestic violence incidents.
Although total domestic violence calls to LMPD are down in 2020 from 2019, this is the result of considerably lower numbers of reports during the pre-shutdown months. March marked both the beginning of Kentucky’s coronavirus response and the first time that reports of domestic violence incidents surpassed those from the previous year. Through April, this year’s domestic violence incidents continued to outpace those from 2019.
LMPD crime report data released in May shows that in 2019, there was a 19% increase in total unique domestic violence reports between the months of February and March. During this same period in 2020, however, the city saw a 25% percent increase in unique reports.
An analysis by The Economist suggests that many cities around the country are experiencing a similar surge in domestic violence. In Chicago, weekly calls to a domestic violence hotline have risen from 383 during the first week of March to 549 calls per week by the end of April. Though reports of domestic violence have decreased in other cities, these reports have fallen far less dramatically than reports for overall violent crime. Some experts attribute this drop in domestic violence reports to the fact that many victims are indefinitely stuck at home with their abusers and are unable to contact the proper authorities.
By restricting travel, work, and other non-residential activities, the state’s COVID-19 response has placed domestic violence victims in confinement with their abusers for well over two months. In addition, many workplaces furloughed employees or instructed them to work from home, leaving many victims with far less time away from their abusers – time which could have allowed them to file a report safely.
Since the state of emergency was declared in Kentucky, the number of protective orders issued in Jefferson County has decreased nearly 25% from 2019. The petitions filed during this time reveal some of the added complications COVID-19 restrictions have placed on many victims’ home situations. In one instance, a woman was shoved to the ground after asking her husband to lower the television volume so she could hear a Zoom call with her daughter. In another, a woman stated that her husband threatened to destroy the computer she uses to work from home.
Moreover, the economic strain placed on many families by the pandemic can exacerbate in-home aggression. A 2019 study by the Texas Council on Family Violence found that the increased stress associated with Hurricane Harvey led to higher rates of domestic violence in Texas. The author noted in a discussion with the American Psychological Association that Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic have created similar circumstances, such as “reduced access to resources, increased stress due to job loss or strained finances, and disconnection from social support systems.” These factors intensify the risks which already exist for many living in dangerous home situations.
In their response to one public health crisis, public officials may have inadvertently intensified another one. Beginning to reopen is more than an economic issue; it is a safety issue for the many victims who remain trapped inside with their abusers.