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Binghamton University, State University of New York

Quarantine, stress from COVID-19 pandemic may lead to increased intimate partner violence

The coronavirus has caused millions of people around the world to quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus, but this isolation may not benefit couples in abusive or violent relationships, according to Richard Mattson, associate professor of psychology at Binghamton University. Mattson says that the increased stress caused by the pandemic may trigger aggressive behaviors in couples.

“Most experts in the field are projecting an increase in intimate partner violence (IPV) for two non-exclusive reasons," says Mattson. "The first pertains to intimate terrorism, wherein typically male perpetrators engage in severe, ongoing physical and psychological abuse and control. The quarantine – and the coronavirus pandemic more generally – facilitate intimate terrorism by several routes, such as cutting off ties from or preoccupying those who can identify victims of intimate terrorism (e.g., social workers, nurses, family), as well as by making it easier for perpetrators to surveil their partners more intensely. It is important to highlight that many of the resources available to abused partners are still up-and-running, inclusive of hotlines and shelters, and many providers are adjusting their practice to navigate the issues raised by the quarantine. I think the bigger issue is not so much the availability of support, but the ability of those abused – especially by an intimate terrorist – to actually access these supports under quarantine.

“It is also important to note, however, that intimate terrorism – while extremely problematic - is far less frequent than what is referred to as ‘common’ or ‘ordinary’ couple violence. Common couple violence can result when arguments between partners escalate into an exchange of physically and/or psychologically aggressive behaviors, which are shown to be present in around 50 to 80 percent of couples, respectively. This involves the reciprocation of violence, and is linked to many of the same or deleterious outcomes as intimate terrorism (e.g., depression). Common couple violence also needs to be on our radar because, like all forms of violence, the likelihood of this kind of aggression manifesting increases in times of stress, which brings us to our second cause for concern. The coronavirus is amplifying stress in multiple ways, such as increased health or financial anxieties, potential loss of loved ones, having to take care of children and dependents, and more. Moreover, stress is likely to increase other factors with inroads to IPV, such as alcohol or drug use. These factors together are not only likely to increase aggressive behaviors for couples with a history of IPV, but may also push the needle past the tipping point for those couples who were non-violent before the crisis."

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