COVID-19 lockdowns linked to more domestic violence, Brigham and Women's study finds

State-issued lockdowns and social distancing protocols are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 but can bring about negative socioeconomic and psychological effects, such as the increased number and severity of intimate partner violence cases occurring during the pandemic.

A new study published in Radiology from Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital collected injury records and radiological scans of 26 physical IPV victims from March 11 to May 3, 2020, to compare against 42 physical IPV victims from the same time period in 2017, 2018 and 2019. The researchers found that incidents of IPV increased by 1.8 times percent during the pandemic, with five victims of severe abuse being identified in 2020 compared to only one such case per year for 2017-19.

The study also revealed that Brigham and Women's Hospital saw 28 injuries to deep internal organs in IPV victims for 2020, compared to 16 from 2017-19. Additionally, cases of high-risk violence, which includes injuries brought about by stabbing, strangulation, guns, burns or harsh instruments, was two times greater during the pandemic.

"Our study showed a higher incidence of physical IPV, both in absolute numbers and proportion, with more severe injuries despite fewer patients reporting IPV," Bharti Khurana, MD, the study's principal investigator said in an Aug. 13 news release. "This indicates that victims are reporting to health care facilities in the late stages of the abuse cycle. Fear of contracting infection and closure of ambulatory sites might be preventing victims of mild physical or emotional abuse from seeking help compared to the pre-pandemic era."

The study also addressed the idea that telehealth visits often reduce physicians' ability to recognize visual indicators and nonverbal cues of physical trauma, as well as makes it harder for healthcare providers to ask IPV screening questions, as patients often have limited privacy in their homes.

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