George Mason University
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George Mason University

Staying at Home Isn’t Safer for Everyone During COVID-19

June 24, 2020   /   by Danielle Hawkins

During the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, calls to domestic violence hotlines and police reports have increased in many parts of the country and globally. For example, in one Chinese province, calls to police reporting domestic violence tripled compared to the same time a year ago. Locally, calls to domestic abuse hotlines in Fairfax County also increased in March.

Dr. Jhumka Gupta

Dr. Jhumka Gupta investigates the mental and reproductive health implications of gender-based violence and conducts intervention studies to reduce violence against women.

“One in four women in the United States will experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in her lifetime – and globally, one in three women will,” Dr. Jhumka Gupta explains. “We must focus our efforts on preventing this violence where we can and providing services and supports for women who are victims of this violence.”

Dr. Jhumka Gupta investigates the mental and reproductive health implications of gender-based violence—focusing on the determinants and protective factors related to this violence—and conducts intervention studies to reduce violence against women.

This violence has serious public health consequences for women, including poor mental health, suicide, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, poor pregnancy and birth outcomes, and increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections.

“We know that the pandemic is not causing this violence, but it is exacerbating it,” Gupta explained in a recent op-ed in Women’s Media Center. “This can be due to economic stressors, further isolation from family and friends, and that women’s concerns often get triaged during crisis situations.”

Even though we have limited population-level data from the COVID-19 pandemic, we do know from previous epidemics and humanitarian and natural disasters that women can be at an increased risk of violence at home. Gupta co-authored a recent editorial in The BMJ on the topic, with colleagues from the World Health Organization. They highlighted the additional risks women can face with requirements to stay home –such as increased household stress, disruption of social and protective networks, and fewer opportunities to access health services (one of the most common ways women experiencing violence receive help). They offered recommendations for health care facilities and governments to address violence against women, including identifying local support services for women experiencing violence, including services in response plans that continue to provide access during social distancing, and urgently exploring the safety of telehealth.

As stay-at-home orders are being lifted in some areas and because we can expect to see future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to remember that many women are in danger at home. Gupta is beginning a new pilot study this summer to begin integrating safety planning and universal education for intimate partner violence (IPV) during telehealth visits with health care providers. Collaborating with Dr. Rebecca Sutter, co-director of the Mason and Partners Clinics and associate professor of nursing, this study is the first step toward developing a telehealth-based IPV intervention. They will test the feasibility and acceptability of this intervention during COVID-19.

“We are in an unprecedented time, but we can’t continue to ignore violence against women and neglect them in our planning and emergency response, whether that be for COVID-19 or the next crisis,” Gupta urges.

Jhumka Gupta can be reached at jgupta4@gmu.edu. For more information, contact CHHS Associate Director of Marking and Communications Danielle Hawkins at dhawkin@gmu.edu or 703-993-1931. 

Resources for Domestic Violence

For immediate help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 24/7, confidential, and free: 1-800-799-7233. The hotline also offers 24/7 online chat through their website.

Guidance for women experiencing violence during COVID-19 or their friends or family can be found on the WHO website.

A detailed list of resources on domestic violence and COVID-19 can be found at Futures Without Violence and in The BMJ editorial.

Related people: Jhumka Gupta, ScD
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