Intimate partner and domestic violence during Covid-19

The Centre for Gender and Violence Research is running a series of blogs produced by staff and postgraduate researchers to spotlight feminist research on gender-based violence at the University of Bristol. Editor: Aisha K. Gill, School for Policy Studies.

Blog by Christina Palantza, doctoral student in the Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Bristol Medical School. Her research focuses on the effectiveness and acceptability of psychosocial interventions and services for the mental health of intimate partner violence survivors.

Intimate partner and domestic violence during Covid-19

Image by 8618939 from Pixabay

The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) globally, especially among women in developing countries (Kim &Royle, 2023). Approximately one in three women globally were victimised by an intimate partner during the pandemic (Kifle et al, 2024). Although various studies have reported mixed patterns of IPV rates or even decreases, this can be explained by the reduced help-seeking and hampered access to services, due to the pandemic (Lausi et al, 2021; Kim & Royle, 2023). In addition, the cases of IPV and DV that were identified during the pandemic were more severe (Gosangi et al, 2021).

Pre-existing vulnerabilities as main risk factors

In the early stages of the pandemic, the scientific community and general public expressed heightened concern about the impact of lockdowns on victims/survivors, who were confined with their abusers (Roesch et al, 2020). However, the exacerbation of IPV and DV caused by the pandemic-related restrictions may not be attributable to the state of being confined. A large international, cross-sectional study (Campbell et al, 2023) and other, longitudinal studies (Moore et al, 2023; Palantza et al, 2023) showed that the stringency of the lockdown measures had a considerably weaker association with victimisation than socio-economic factors, such as employment status, a rural setting, and limited social support.

The exacerbation of pre-existing types of vulnerability, especially financial ones, and difficulty in maintaining social support appear to be more strongly linked with victimisation. This is corroborated by the finding that individuals who were first victimised during the pandemic were significantly more similar to those who were first victimised before the pandemic than to those who were not victimised at all, in terms of their economic vulnerability and limited social support (Palantza et al, 2023).

Another interesting finding is that, with regard to economic vulnerability, short-term hardship, such as recent income reduction, is less closely linked to victimisation than to more steady factors, like employment status, in the long run (Palantza et al, 2023; Moore et al, 2023). This holds true even when subjective factors are taken into account, such as concern about one’s financial situation. It is admittedly surprising that the confinement measures per se have been found to have a low or even favourable effect on victimisation. This has been interpreted as arising from the fact that lockdowns create an ideal context for coercive control, where perpetrators do not feel the need to use any other forms of abuse, like physical violence, in order to control their victims (RESISTIRE, 2022; Arenas-Arroyo et al, 2021).

Another pre-existing vulnerability that remained impactful during the pandemic was belonging to a sexual minority, which was found to be a risk factor for victimisation during this period (Campbell et al, 2023). Furthermore, LGBTQI+ persons were consistently ignored in the policies and strategies designed to mitigate IPV during the pandemic (RESISTIRE, 2022). A younger age was also significantly associated with victimisation across countries and time (Palantza et al, 2023).

Impact of the pandemic on seeking help

The pandemic did not worsen IPV and DV solely by instigating an increase in their respective rates, but also by discouraging victims/survivors from seeking help and hampering access to services that might provide support (Lausi et al, 2021). Only a third of the participants in the study by Shyrokonis et al (2024) sought any form of help, and the two most common barriers to help-seeking were a fear of contracting Coronavirus or the unavailability of services. Evidently, the crucial role of pre-existing socio-economic types of vulnerability is relevant here, too. Formal services were accessed primarily by white, older individuals, with a higher income (Shyrokonis et al, 2024).

Even when merely the intent to seek help (rather than the actual behaviour) was measured, black and Latin participants, as well as those with a lower income, appeared to face barriers related to their physical and mental health (unpublished work). Younger people and those with a lower income also showed a lower intention to disclose IPV to healthcare providers (unpublished work).

Effects of gender inequality

The gender inequality that exists across countries continued to play a determining role in this unprecedented period, that even the high-income countries faced difficulties. The rate of IPV in developing countries was more than double that in the developed countries during the pandemic (at 34% and 15%, respectively) (Kifle et al, 2024). In addition, the national Gender Inequality Index (UNDP, 2021) was very strongly correlated with victimisation across time, even when accounting for demographics, socio-economic variables, social support and substance use (Palantza et al, 2023).


The Covid-19 pandemic is no longer a pressing issue, but there are certainly lessons to be learnt from it. Such lessons could prove very useful for managing future potential crises, that climate change is likely to induce. Firstly, IPV and DV, as part of the spectrum of gender-based violence (GBV), should be actively included in all formal crisis response plans created by governments and formal consulting stakeholders (RESISTIRE, 2022). At this point, it is vital to adopt a gender-sensitive, inclusive approach, that does not neglect intersectionalities. This could be achieved by including organisations that work with survivors among the consulted stakeholders (RESISTIRE, 2022). Such organisations and services for survivors should be considered essential and receive funding that will allow them to remain functional in times of crisis.

Another key strategy would be systematically to collect data for risk assessment through collaboration across multiple sectors (RESISTIRE, 2022). Coordination and collaboration regarding the different levels and sectors is also an integral approach for keeping the services provided for survivors functional in terms of their capacity, financial and human resources (RESISTIRE, 2022). Strategies for mitigating crises should actively include actions for combating IPV, DV and GBV.


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