When Home is Not the Safest Option IE INSIGTHS- Article by researchers: Daniel Fernández-Kranz & Natalia Nollenberger
14 jul 2021


Has Covid-19 increased intimate partner violence? Daniel Fernández-Kranz and Natalia Nollenberger explain how the pandemic has changed not only the incidence but also the perception of intimate partner violence by employers, some of which are bringing creative solutions to help victims.


As Covid-19 began to make its way around the world during the first and second quarter of 2020, people were told to stay at home in order to protect their health and the health of others. But for many individuals, home was not the safest option. During the first weeks after lockdowns started, many countries reported a dramatic increase in calls to gender-based hotlines. Concern began to grow about the escalation of intimate partner violence (IPV) and, in this way, the pandemic has raised awareness of a long existing problem. Some employers began to take an active role in helping the victims. After all, it was their employees who had been asked to work from home.


Lockdowns could increase but also decrease intimate partner violence


Existing theories of domestic violence are ambiguous about the effects of a lockdown. Consistent with violence as an expressive behavior, a lockdown can increase intimate partner violence on account of exposure (more time together) or an unexpected emotional cue. However, in some cases, a lockdown can curtail domestic violence because the forced cohabitation itself becomes an instrument of control and thus replaces the use of violence to do so. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm of forced cohabitation plus economic shutdown, triggering additional factors of stress within most households. In such a situation, bargaining models predict that there would be an increase in domestic violence against women when their labor market prospects worsen, because her bargaining power decreases, but the male backlash theory predicts just the opposite in this situation because he retains the dominant position within the couple.


All of this ambiguity in theory leads us to question whether IPV does in fact increase during lockdowns. During this current pandemic, did IPV evolve in the opposite direction once the stay-at-home restrictions were lifted? In a recently published paper, co-authored with Esther Arenas Arroyo, from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, we disentangle the effect of forced cohabitation and economic stress on IPV against women in traditional two-gender households and consider what the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us about IPV and the measures that can be implemented to help affected victims.



To investigate this issue, we use individual level data from an ad-hoc online survey of more than 13,000 Spanish women, in which we asked them about situations typically related to IPV. By using data from cases that were either reported or not reported to the police, we were able to capture reliable estimates of changes in the prevalence of IPV during the lockdown. Because we collect information about the mobility and the employment status of each member of the couple before and during the lockdown, we could identify the main mechanisms through which the Covid-19 pandemic affects IPV, specifically the lockdown and the economic stress.



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