Thursday, April 23, 2020

Intimate Partner Violence, Child Abuse May Rise During Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic and the associated public health response could be causing the number of people who are the victims of intimate partner violence and child abuse to rise dramatically, according to a resource document published this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

“COVID-19 has caused major economic devastation, disconnected many from community resources and support systems, and created widespread uncertainty and panic,” the document states. “Such conditions may stimulate violence in families where it didn’t exist before and worsen situations in homes where mistreatment and violence have been a problem.”

Approximately 25% of women and nearly 10% of men have experienced intimate partner violence, sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It is important to acknowledge that IPV [intimate partner violence] can extend beyond physical injury and result in death,” the SAMHSA document states. About 16% of homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.

“Before the pandemic, a survivor or victim could flee a violent situation or file a protective order with the police,” the document states. “For many, such options aren’t easily available right now. A stay-at-home order can force victims to stay in a dangerous situation.”

Children are also especially vulnerable to abuse during the pandemic. According to the CDC, at least 14% of children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year. In 2018 nearly 1,770 children died due to abuse or neglect.

Stress levels among parents are often “a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children,” the document states. Due to the pandemic, parents may not have access to the support systems on which they typically rely. “Stressed parents may be more likely to respond to their children’s anxious behaviors or demands in aggressive or abusive ways,” the document states. Additionally, because schools are closed, teachers and counselors are unable to identify children who show signs of abuse or neglect and notify authorities.

The document outlines various ways to support people who are experiencing abuse, including the following:

  • Work with law enforcement and other state and local officials so they understand that stay-at-home orders need to be relaxed when the home is unsafe.
  • Offer virtual counseling and telephone check-ins through schools whenever possible.
  • Just as hotels have helped to house the homeless or health care practitioners during the pandemic, so too should businesses and localities remember that those affected by domestic violence may also need to turn to the hospitality industry for help.
  • Health care practitioners should screen all patients for intimate partner violence and child abuse.

SAMHSA also includes a list of resources for communities and clinicians to help address intimate partner violence and child abuse concerns. “We must take action to alert victims of abuse that there is help available,” the document states.

(Image: iStock/fizkes)

Join Us for APA’s Spring Highlights Meeting This Weekend

APA’s free, live virtual Spring Highlights Meeting is just days away. Join psychiatry’s foremost experts and leaders this Saturday and Sunday, April 25 and 26, for discussions about physician leadership in a time of crisis, challenges and opportunities in research, and more. Participants in the free Spring Highlights Meeting can claim up to 10 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits and 8 hours of MOC Part 2 Credit but must register to claim credit.