Calls for Assistance Don’t Tell Full Story of Intimate Partner Violence During the Pandemic

Domestic Violence Calls for Assistance per 1,000 Adults, by County, 2020

Map of domestic violence calls for assistance by California county for 2020, with a rate per 1,000 adults.

Increases in intimate partner violence (IPV) after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 have been widely documented, as many families experienced financial strain, social isolation, and other pressures. IPV may involve stalking, psychological aggression, sexual coercion or violence, or physical violence by a current or past intimate partner. Survivors of IPV—and the children who witness it—may experience immediate psychological trauma and physical injuries, as well as increased risks of long-term emotional, social, and health problems.

About one in three California parents/caregivers of children under age 18 experienced at least one form of IPV—psychological or physical—during the first 16 months of the pandemic, according to July 2021 estimates. More than one in four caregivers experienced psychological IPV, and one in six caregivers experienced physical violence.

While IPV occurs across all demographic groups, caregivers of children with special health care needs (CSHCN) were particularly impacted. In the first 16 months of the pandemic, nearly half (49%) of CSHCN caregivers experienced some type of IPV, 41% experienced psychological IPV, and 29% experienced physical IPV—more than twice the estimates for caregivers without CSHCN.

Percentage of Caregivers Experiencing IPV During COVID-19 Pandemic, by Household CSHCN Status, July 2021

Bar chart of percentage of California caregivers experiencing intimate partner violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, for caregivers in households with children with special health care needs, households without children with special health care needs, and all households, as of July 2021.

In 2020, 160,646 domestic violence calls for assistance were made to California authorities—a rate of 6.1 calls per 1,000 adults ages 18 to 69. Although statewide figures held steady between 2019 and 2020, a majority of counties saw their rates increase.

Why do calls for assistance and caregiver reports paint a different picture of IPV in California? Data on domestic violence calls, while concerning, likely represent only a portion of IPV incidents. Many who experience IPV do not seek help, and “domestic violence” captures only certain acts and threats of physical injury, subject to interpretation by law enforcement. High rates of IPV among caregivers during the pandemic point to a more serious public health issue, and a greater need for services and supports to address the impacts of IPV on survivors, children, and families.

Fortunately, IPV can be prevented. Efforts targeted at teenagers and young adults are critical, as younger partners are at higher risk than older groups. Policymakers and other leaders can support cross-sector, comprehensive strategies at the individual, family, and community levels. For example, schools can provide safe, supportive environments and programs to teach youth healthy relationship skills, while policymakers can fund family support services and strengthen the safety net to improve family financial security. Read more about what can be done to prevent and address IPV.

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Recently Released Data

We recently released data about characteristics of children with special needs, intimate partner violence, nutrition, and school climate. See links to the latest here.

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