Domestic violence (DV) has been a rising concern since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay-at-home orders trap individuals in potentially dangerous situations within their homes. A study by Lousia Baidoo and team analyzed the number of police reports for domestic violence in the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic in 77 distinct communities in Chicago. They also looked at changes in community resources for victims of domestic abuse.
Domestic violence police reports decreased by 21.8 crimes per 100,000 people during the stay-at-home orders compared to 2019 reports, represented by the solid orange line above. Reports reached a five-year low in April 2020. Risk factors for domestic violence include isolation and high levels of social stressors, certainly present during the first months of Covid-19, suggesting the decrease in reports to police may not represent true rates of domestic violence. Additionally, rates of DV commonly increase during and after crises. Most telling, over the same time period of the study, calls to domestic violence hotlines increased. Rates of property crimes, which are more accurately reported than domestic violence, were in line with 2019 numbers, as shown in the dashed lines in the graph, again making one wonder about the recorded decrease in domestic violence.
Rates of reporting domestic violence varied based on community characteristics. Frequency was consistent with previous years for majority white neighborhoods, but substantially decreased in majority Black neighborhoods. Because the data collected was from March to August 2020 and overlapped with waves of national protests against police brutality, increased visibility of police violence and structural racism may have contributed to the reduction in police reporting seen above.
Clearly, reporting systems for domestic violence remain flawed. It is necessary to provide suitable alternatives to police reporting that will prioritize the safety of the reporter.
Baidoo L, Zakrison TL, Feldmeth G, Lindau ST, Tung EL. Domestic Violence Police Reporting and Resources During the 2020 COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Order in Chicago, Illinois. JAMA Network Open. 2021.