The Effect of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence and Assaults

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
The Effect of COVID-19 on
Domestic Violence and Assaults
Mustafa Demir
and Suyeon Park
The purpose of this research was to examine the effect of COVID-19 on four outcomes including
calls for service for domestic violence, calls for service for assaults, arrests for domestic violence,
and arrests for assaults in Burlington, Vermont. The data for each outcome collected over the time
periods January 2012 through May 2021 were obtained from the Burlington Police Department
website and then a monthly time-series data set were created. The analyses including an indepen-
dent samples t-test, a Poisson regression test, and a monthly interrupted time-series analyses (ITSA)
were employed to test the effects of COVID-19 on the previously mentioned outcomes. The
results of the ITSA showed that in the f‌irst month following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,
domestic violence calls statistically signif‌icantly increased, but no statistically signif‌icant change was
observed in domestic violence arrests, while assault calls and assault arrests statistically signif‌icantly
decreased. In addition, during COVID-19, there was a statistically signif‌icant decreasing trend in
domestic violence calls and domestic violence arrests, while there was no statistically signif‌icant
change in the trends of assault calls and assault arrests. The results suggest that COVID-19 had
an immediate as well as a persistent effect on the numbers of domestic violence and assaults.
The results and limitations of this study were also discussed.
COVID-19, domestic violence, assaults, pandemic, arrests
The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in numerous physical, mental, socio-economic effects on individ-
uals and society. As of June 25, 2021, about 179,500,000 individuals were said to be infected by
COVID-19 around the world and about 3,900,000 people had died due to COVID-19 (WHO,
2021). In the United States, as of June 25, 2021, more than 33,400,000 COVID-19 cases and
more than 600,000 deaths were reported (CDC, 2021). The unemployment rate increased to
14.8% in April 2020, resulting from closures of nonessential businesses. Media polls and reports per-
sistently presented the negative impact of the pandemic on the mental health of Americans (Falk
et al., 2021; Panchal et al., 2020; Twenge & Joiner, 2020).
Criminal Justice Department, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mustafa Demir, Criminal Justice Department, SUNYat Plattsburgh, 101 Broad St, Plattsburgh, NY 12901, USA.
Criminal Justice Review
2022, Vol. 47(4) 445-463
© 2021 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/07340168211061160
Public health measures including social distancing and stay-at-home (SAH) orders implemented
globally to control the spread of COVID-19 created circumstances that may however have had a pro-
found impact on criminal offending trends, and hence the association between COVID-19 and
various types of crimes has emerged as a subject of scholarly interest. This growing concern
about an increasing risk of domestic violence during the pandemic was documented by several
authors (Buttell & Ferreira, 2020; Kofman & Garf‌in, 2020; Sharma & Borah, 2020). As well, non-
prof‌it organizations and researchers warned that the pandemic and its public health control measures
may have set the stage for exacerbating the effects of isolation and heightening the vulnerability of
many to domestic violence and calls for action to address this possible surge in domestic violence
were made (Abramson, 2020; Campbell, 2020; Kumar, 2020; UN Women, 2020; WHO, 2020).
Contrary to the increased potential for domestic violence in the face of the pandemic, the risk of
assaults in public areas away from the home was expected to decrease as a result of social distancing
rules (Ashby, 2020; Campedelli, Favarin et al., 2020; Payne et al., 2020). These issues clearly high-
lighted the need to better understand how COVID-19 might affect violent crime and in what respect.
Hence, it was believed that studying the social conditions and changes that might inf‌luence patterns
of violent crimes during situations such as a pandemic was felt to possibly provide insights that could
be important for developing effective policy responses to the pandemic.
Despite the importance of the problem, empirical research on the effects of COVID-19 on domes-
tic violence and assaults is limited. Data on domestic violence in the early stages of the COVID-19
pandemic were based largely on media reports and issue briefs and reliable data on domestic violence
during COVID-19 were scarce (Anurudran et al., 2020; Ertan et al., 2020; Kumar, 2020). There has
been empirical research on the effect of COVID-19 on different types of crimes, including property
and violent offenses (e.g., Ashby, 2020; Mohler et al., 2020; Nivette et al., 2021) as well as domestic
violence (see Piquero et al., 2021), but research that specif‌ically examines whether and how violence
at home and in public spaces have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and in what way is
This current study investigated the effect of the pandemic-related restrictions on violent crimes,
particularly focusing on comparing domestic violence and assaults in Burlington, Vermont. We
aimed to contribute to the research on COVID-19 and violent crimes by painting a comprehensive
picture of this association, and by analyzing how the trends in domestic violence and general assaults
evolved before and during COVID-19.
Literature Review
Theoretical Framework
The theoretical basis for understanding the impact of COVID-19 on violent crime is derived from
general strain theory (Agnew, 1992) as well as routine activity theory (Cohen & Felson, 1979).
General strain theory (Agnew, 1992) posits that strain tends to create negative emotions, which in
turn increases the likelihood of criminal behavior. According to Agnew (1992), there are three
sources of strain: failure to achieve goals, removal of positive stimuli, and the presentation of
noxious stimuli. Emotional distress resulting from strain leads individuals to take corrective
actions. Criminal behavior is an illegitimate means of coping with strain-generated negative emo-
tions, such as anger, anxiety, and depression.
Restrictions on mobility, social isolation, and economic challenges caused by COVID-19 may
lead individuals to experience negative emotions that, if left unchecked by coping strategies,
promote criminal behavior (Campedelli, Aziani et al., 2020; Payne et al., 2020). Multiple studies
on natural disasters, health emergencies, and crisis situations have demonstrated that disaster-related
stress can produce a substantial increase in domestic violence (Bell & Folkerth, 2016; Evans et al.,
446 Criminal Justice Review 47(4)

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