During the coronavirus pandemic, Public Policy grad student Paige Oustrich wrote her master's thesis on the requests for, and enforcement of, Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders in Pennsylvania during 2020. Her research showed a significant backlog in processing PFA requests despite a reduced number of filings during lockdowns. According to an op-ed written by Oustrich and Fletcher McClellan in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, this issue was just one symptom of another pandemic—a dramatic rise of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Pennsylvania spurred on by quarantines and lockdowns.
“When the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago, observers feared it would have dangerous effects on domestic violence in the U.S.,” write Oustrich and McClellan. “Previous research shows that domestic violence and IPV incidents increase during public health emergencies… Studies of domestic violence and IPV in Pennsylvania in 2020 indicate both effects are true.”
A Look at the Data
Throughout their op-ed, Oustrich and McClellan point to several key indicators that suggest a troubling spike in domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic, not just in Pennsylvania but across the globe. These indicators include the following:
- Pennsylvania hospitals have seen an increase in abuse cases even as domestic violence hotlines have taken 29 percent fewer calls during lockdowns. This combination strongly suggests that the actual number of IPV abuse incidents is far higher than is being reported.
- The number of PFA requests decreased by 28 percent, yet the backlog of unprocessed PFA requests went up by 53 percent. This indicator shows that those victims seeking relief aren't getting the support they need.
- More domestic abuse calls came in as lockdowns were eased. This data suggests that the violence was prevalent during quarantines—just not reported.
- Other data shows that child abuse rates have gone up in a similar fashion. While child abuse calls for help were down by 42 percent, doctors saw a noted increase in child abuse cases during the same period.
What this data tells us is that while states issued lockdowns to mitigate a global public health crisis, the lockdowns themselves have created a health crisis of a different kind—one of widespread intimate partner violence. Let's look at a few of the specific factors driving this increase:
- Increased stress in the home environment. Economic hardship, fear of illness, and staying in close quarters together for long periods of time…these can each trigger escalating family tensions, and they have been happening all at once.
- Lack of opportunity. With everyone staying at home and no one going out, victims feel they have fewer opportunities to reach out safely.
- Reduced services. Court shutdowns have created backlogs in processing cases and relief injunctions, such as PFAs, creating opportunities for additional violence to occur.
The upshot of all this is that even as families try to stay safe from the disease, some of the more vulnerable households have been put at greater risk—not just for violence to occur, but having fewer opportunities to break the cycle and find a path toward restoration. If you have recently been arrested on domestic violence charges, attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can provide compassionate representation to make sure your rights are protected, even in times when the courts are overloaded. To discuss your case, call us today at 888-535-3686.