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While documented simple and aggravated assaults dropped, reports of domestic violence rose for a variety of reasons, new research shows.
From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, news coverage and policymakers spotlighted concerns that government-mandated restrictions on economic activity and personal mobility might increase domestic violence. But new research done for the National Bureau of Economic Research shows just the opposite happened.
NCADV, a national advocacy group, says domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. This includes physical violence, sexual violence and psychological violence.
Some states are expanding domestic violence laws to include emotional abuse. Connecticut is the latest state to do so, updating its laws to provide new protections for people victimized by damaging psychological tactics and controlling behavior.
The bill, approved by state legislators and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont earlier this year, broadens Connecticut’s definition of domestic violence to include “coercive control,” a pattern of abusive behavior that seeks to control a victim through emotional and psychological tactics. That can include isolating a victim from family and friends, restricting access to money or threatening harm to a person’s children or pets.
In the working NBER paper, the researchers showcase three main findings:
Domestic violence dropped. The report shows that the pandemic shutdowns were associated with a significant decrease in domestic violence assaults, specifically simple and aggravated assaults. And the research found there was no measurable change in domestic violence assaults during the preshutdown period.
Domestic violence calls to police increased. Nevertheless, the NBER report also found a significant increase in the number of domestic violence calls during the shutdown. However, the increase in calls was “clearly not matched by an increase in DV crimes, which declined substantially during shutdowns,” the report states.
Police enforcement increased. Domestic violence calls to police increased before the enforcement of mandatory shutdowns and should not be attributed to shutdowns themselves, according to the research.
The report asks how can the opposite effects of shutdowns on calls and crimes be reconciled? It says one possibility is that crimes decreased but reporting rates increased because of additional calls for noncriminal incidents or nondomestic violence crimes. Also, the calls could have come from “third-party reporters,” such as neighbors, who had incomplete information about the events in someone else’s home.
Another possibility is that the additional calls reflected an increase in crimes, but that fewer were recorded because of reductions in policing during the shutdowns, when people were social distancing.
The researchers investigated the impact of the Covid-19 shutdowns on domestic violence using incident-level data on both domestic-related calls for service and crime reports of domestic violence assaults from the 18 major U.S. police departments where both records were available.
For more information from the National Bureau of Economic Research report click here.
Andre Claudio is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.