Compelling Psychological Factors that led Perpetrators to Commit Domestic Violence During Covid-19
Updated: Feb 10, 2021
Abstract: Domestic violence has become a major social crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected the financial, economic and social spheres of people’s life affecting people’s psyche and inducing environments that propagate aggressive behavioural patterns. Stress levels, constant isolation and lack of contact from support systems have aggravated abusive situations. With healthcare systems and governments over-burdened the victims’ sources of help are also limited.
Keywords: Violence, Covid-19, Substance abuse, Alcohol myopia, PTSD, Social services
Domestic violence consists of a pattern which involves psychological, physical, financial, sexual and emotional abuse. Humiliation, assault, intimidation and threats also come under the ambit of violence. With the COVID-19 testing the world in unprecedented ways, not only have the social and economic spheres (public domain) in peoples’ lives suffered but so have the domestic ones (private domain). With people being forced to stay indoors, the chances of victimization stemming from abusive domestic environments also increase. The situation has worsened due to lack of access to support systems (friends, family, work colleagues etc.) and mediums of help. Although home is presumed to be a safe place, it is not always so and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a worrying increase in the number of cases of domestic violence. The National Commission For Women(NCW) have raised an urgent call for help, due to the alarming increase in domestic violence cases in our country, since the lockdown was made effective. As more and more countries go into lockdown, the call for help and the cases of domestic violence are increasing . Women’s rights societies and help centres have also registered an increasing number of cases of domestic violence in countries like UK, France, Canada, Germany, Argentina and the United states. The psychological strain put on people due to the lockdown, leads to an increase in impulses leading to violent behaviour. Through this paper we identify particular sources of increased stress (like isolation, financial strain, lack of support systems and house help, substance abuse, regressive social ideals and previous trauma being amplified) as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic has become an indirect cause for increase in Domestic Violence.
Due to the pandemic, movement has been restricted and families are forced to spend time together, this is in parallel to the idea that “domestic violence goes up whenever families spend more time together, such as the Christmas and summer vacations”. This understanding in essence means that when families spend long periods together, the risk of violence increases as a result of human psychology and behaviour. The pandemic situation has substantially increased the risk because most people are confined to their homes. This increased strain created due to health, security and financial issues make the situation explosive. Women and children are forced to live in isolation with their abusers, separated from their support systems and resources through which they can seek help. The pandemic has also forced partners to work from home, thus reducing the time that the victim could possibly get away from violence. The same situation would also exist if the perpetrator is facing unemployment, he would be under extreme stress and could be a constant threat to the other members staying at home. Unemployment can also induce feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment in people. Perpetrators of domestic abuse may look at violence and domination as the only ways to maintain their self-respect and self-esteem in the eyes of the victim. Often in these situations the victim’s fear or the potential victim’s fear is misunderstood as respect and obedience.
Another important factor is that with people staying at home, the responsibilities towards domestic work fall on both the male and female members. Toxic masculinity might come into play (social conditioning which leads men to believe problematic ideals either because of the environment they were brought up in or lack of education and enlightenment) and the male members may feel uncomfortable or threatened having to take up “domestic” work that they have always associated as a woman’s domain. This may further lead to abusive and violent behaviour towards the women and children. All this together makes for an environment conducive to abuse and violence.
Due to the restrictions placed, there have been many lay-offs, job and income losses. Low income is related to an increase in domestic violence [i]. Even in households previously free of abusive and violent environments, financial problems coupled with confinement can fuel stress and violence. Studies show that high levels of strain among couples stemming from financial and monetary issues “can increase the chance of domestic violence by about 3.5 times as compared to couples without such stress”. Economic issues in fact seem to be the major consequence of the pandemic and a major cause of Domestic Violence, previous situations where people faced economic issues also saw an increase in Domestic violence resulting from an increase in stressful conditions. It has been seen worldwide that cases of domestic violence increase in situations of crisis which result in financial strains on people. Domestic violence in New Zealand increased by a fifth after the earthquake at Christchurch. Although other factors might be operating simultaneously which contribute to the surge in domestic violence, nevertheless looking at the increase in domestic violence in some of the highly economically turbulent regions shows us that economic issues are a significant contributor to this surge[ii].
Regressive Social Ideals
Communities where the ‘sanctity of family’ is idealised can also create environments where victims can find it extremely difficult to speak up or seek help. Thus, it is important to rethink the idealised values about family in these times, and take a more direct and open approach in ensuring that people feel safe within their own homes. In such situations, the perpetrator might take advantage of these ideals and may continue being violent based off of the assurance that no one would know and the victim would not try to seek help. Such situations and thought processes are especially prevalent in socio-economically backward communities, especially with women of colour or in the Indian context, the lower caste women. These women did not have structural or cultural support even before the pandemic, with their plights worsening during the pandemic times.
Lack of Support Systems and House Help
The domestic violence faced by children has also increased significantly. The lack of support that these parents have from their family, friends and support systems due to the confinement coupled with lack of access to child care and house help creates extremely stressful and anxious environment for the parents and their children. These environments may usually lead to the parents using violent force on the children out of frustration. A child’s presence in a home, requires constant effort and attention and the parents might not have the required mental and emotional stability, due to the many difficulties created by the pandemic, this may lead them to react in a rash and violent manner, sometimes unintentionally or intentionally, becoming violent towards the child.
Increased Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is another factor which contributes to stressful environments. Previous world crisis have shown that there is an increase in substance abuse. “More people are using drugs and, more illicit drugs than ever are available. We have been here before. In the global recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis, drug users sought out cheaper synthetic substances and patterns of use shifted towards injecting drugs”. Data shows that the consumption of alcohol has also increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies show that in almost 92% of reported cases of domestic violence, substance abuse is involved[iii]. Some studies show that alcohol and other kinds of substance abuse increase the violent impulses in certain people; a prominent theory in this regards is “alcohol myopia”, which says that alcohol reduces a human’s ability to think straight and focus on distant events, the rational thinking ability that warns us about the consequences of our actions is hampered as a result of which people behave extremely impulsively and thus, tend to lose control of their violent urges. This results in the person hurting even their close loved ones like family or friends. “Some people naturally have poorer executive control than others, and these people, particularly if they are male, are more likely to be aggressive after drinking alcohol.”
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, occurs in people who have previously witnessed a traumatic and stressful event. These people get triggered in moments of even slight similarity to the traumatic events. PTSD can also be experienced as a result of more than one experience or due to constant exposure to a traumatic situation. People who have themselves witnessed abuse, like those who grew up with violent families or neighbourhoods, might have PTSD. Combat veterans are a high risk group when it comes to possibility of people having PTSD. These people are extremely hypervigilant, i.e. on edge with an impulse to overreact to something that can be perceived as a threat. Any slight distress can trigger a person with PTSD and make them feel attacked, with an impulse to fight back and defend themselves, sometimes these people can in these moments become violent towards their family members or partners.
With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting countries globally, the healthcare system of all countries are extremely overburdened. The victims might not find the help and reprieve that they may require. The organisations that provide refuge , advocacy, mentoring and peer support services become very important. Many of these institutions are run independently by individuals without government affiliation and the victims-survivors find it easier to seek help from them rather than the social services or police. These institutions and their work is now more crucial than ever and governments across the world must work to ensure that these remain functioning smoothly. These organisations must be provided with proper protective equipment and also additional incentives must be given to the employees to ensure their families’ safety and security. Solutions regarding holding capacity issues, treatment camps and discrete emergency contact services must also be provided. Domestic violence can be a result of a lot of socio-demographic factors, but the current pandemic has indirectly increased these factors that lead to violent impulses, creating a shadow pandemic of Domestic Violence across the world.
[i] J. A. Peprah, & I.Koomson. Economic drivers of domestic violence among women: A case study of Ghana, Violence and Society: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (pp. 222-240): IGI global. (2017). [ii] Amalesh Sharma & Sourav Bikash Borah, Covid-19 and Domestic Violence: an Indirect Path to Social and Economic Crisis, Journal of Family Violence (2020) [iii] D Brookoff et al, Characteristics of participants in domestic violence. Assessment at the scene of domestic assault. JAMA. 1997;277(17):1369-73.
Kajal Singhvi is a third year student of law at Jindal Global Law School. Her interests include reading, sketching and occasionally thinking of herself as a philosopher.
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