Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Violence within homes has always been an alarming phenomenon in our society. The Domestic Violence Statistics (2021) report that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) during their lifetime, ‘violence’ here referring to physical, psychological, and/or sexual forms. It was also found that 30 to 60% of IPV offenders abused children in their households. 20% of recorded IPV cases were witnessed by children. The numbers have only worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent local lockdowns. Growth in the number of calls to domestic violence helplines has been observed in China and Spain, with almost a 20% noted increase for the latter during the first couple of weeks into lockdown (Taub, 2020).
A study conducted by Shoss, Jundt, Kobler, and Reynolds (2015) found that employees partook in counterproductive work behaviors (CWB) — such as theft, production manipulation, and abuse — at work, as a coping strategy. In an effort to seek out compensatory control, employee CWB increased as the employee’s perceived control over their workplace situations decreased. Though this paper primarily tackled the human condition within the confines of employment, there is something to be gleaned from this in understanding social interactions within the COVID-19 context.
It is important to note, at this point, that many other causes and risk factors beyond aggression are involved when we tackle something as complex as domestic and intimate partner violence. In fact, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.) have identified four broad risk categories involved with IPV, these being individual, relationship, community, and societal factors. Household violence demands more attention and understanding than a simple attribution to aggression. However, for the sake of brevity, published research and studies regarding aggression and how it may relate to the ongoing pandemic will be the topic of focus for this piece.
Aggression and Stringency
Killgore, Cloonan, Taylor, Anlap, and Dailey (2021) linked increased general aggression with experiences of lockdowns. Respondents who were on lockdown reported feeling and exhibiting higher levels of physical aggression, verbal aggression, anger, and hostility compared to those who experienced less or no restrictions. This is supported by Abreu et al. (2021), who found that household aggression and depression increased following stricter preventive countermeasures in Germany. Gender differences were noted between the severity of aggressive and depressive tendencies as seen in men and women, and mostly only manifested during periods of higher stringency: during the hard lockdown, symptoms of depression were more prevalent and increased more exponentially in women than in men, while aggressive behaviors in men were more commonly or more intensely observed than in women. Surprisingly, the opposite regarding gender differences and depression was found for couples with children — while depression still increased with stringency, gender differences became less pronounced. This implied that men who lived with children took on levels of depression that were similar to the pattern observed in women.
Aggression and Fear
Another study by Ye et al. (2021) proposed that fear contributed to pandemic-related feelings of aggression, as mediated by moral disengagement. As people become more afraid of COVID-19 implications, moral disengagement is activated in order to protect and defend them against emotional threats. This may then lead, not to the aggressive behaviors per se, but to the leniency of the individual toward their own aggressive behaviors. Due to moral disengagement, an individual might allow harmful behaviors they would have otherwise been able to restrain or stop by themselves. Interestingly, following the hypothesis that aggression was being utilized as a maladaptive coping strategy, family cohesion was thought to be a protective factor against aggression, as it provided a healthier and more supportive method of stress management.
What Can We Do?
They say prevention is better than cure, and the same applies here. Having identified various risk factors involved with household and partner violence, certain measures may be taken to assess what applies to us, and to guard against those risks that are within our level of control. On the opposite end, we may promote and encourage what protective factors against violence we have in life, such as better education regarding relationships, family cohesion, social support, etc. In addition, as no one is really born already an abuser, we must learn to cultivate in ourselves a sense of or mechanism for awareness regarding our actions and to actively choose healthy alternatives to whatever potentially destructive or maladaptive behaviors we have. The same measures can be applied to others, as well, for one, by prioritizing education on violence and recreational/positive programs for both adults and the youth.
Of course, prevention can only help so much if abuse is already a very present reality in our world. In that case, there are still steps an individual may take to help against it, the most vital, perhaps, being the normalization of speaking out about abuse experiences, and reinforcing the importance of it. This may help strengthen victims to be more open about their experiences, to finally get the psychological, medical, and legal help they deserve. Other actions that may be considered include the establishment of a neighborhood watch or check-in system among friends, as it may be a good way to let others know you are concerned about them and are willing to provide support should someone be in need of it. Conversely, one must also understand that there are people out there who are willing to help them, however, isolating or hopeless their situations might be. In the case of evidential abuse, it would be prudent to collect proof as needed, to ensure a better legal outcome should it come to that.
Perhaps the strongest help that may be given to anyone in such a situation, however, lies in the hands of the professionals. As normal individuals, the best we can do for this cause is to encourage the presence and participation of these professionals in the lives of potential and actual victims, and vice versa. This can be done by urging government officials to improve existing services and by seeking out new solutions to possible problems and pitfalls potential and actual victims of violence face. For one, we may demand greater education among police and emergency respondents regarding how to best handle situations of domestic violence, or lobby for more accessible health and support resources, such as therapy services or temporary housing.
Domestic Violence Statistics. (2021, June 15). The Hotline. https://www.thehotline.org/stakeholders/domestic-violence-statistics/
Taub, A. (2020, April 14). How Domestic Abuse Has Risen Worldwide Since Coronavirus. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/world/coronavirus-domestic-violence.html
Shoss, M. K., Jundt, D. K., Kobler, A., & Reynolds, C. (2015). Doing Bad to Feel Better? An Investigation of Within- and Between-Person Perceptions of Counterproductive Work Behavior as a Coping Tactic. Journal of Business Ethics, 137(3), 571–587. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-015-2573-9
Risk and Protective Factors|Intimate Partner Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. (n.d.). Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 17, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/riskprotectivefactors.html
Killgore, W. D., Cloonan, S. A., Taylor, E. C., Anlap, I., & Dailey, N. S. (2021). Increasing aggression during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, 5, 100163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadr.2021.100163
Abreu, L., Koebach, A., Díaz, O., Carleial, S., Hoeffler, A., Stojetz, W., Freudenreich, H., Justino, P., & Brück, T. (2021). Life With Corona: Increased Gender Differences in Aggression and Depression Symptoms Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic Burden in Germany. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.689396
Ye, B., Zeng, Y., Im, H., Liu, M., Wang, X., & Yang, Q. (2021). The Relationship Between Fear of COVID-19 and Online Aggressive Behavior: A Moderated Mediation Model. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.589615