Family and domestic violence during the pandemic

Family and domestic violence refers to threatening, intimidating or other violent behaviours within families or intimate relationships that may be physical, sexual, emotional or financial.[1] It is widely recognised that pandemics and global crises increase the prevalence and severity of violence for women and children.

Various psychosocial factors have been identified as contributing to a potential increase in both the prevalence and severity of family and domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • Imposed social distancing and isolation strategies means that victims and perpetrators are spending more time together;
  • Decreased social contact and social movement has resulted in limited access for women to seek help, such as through extended family and/or through social or community-based support networks;
  • Children not able to attend school, places them at greater risk of neglect and physical, emotional or sexual abuse;
  • Increased social, economic and psychological pressure associated with the pandemic can exacerbate stress which can lead to violence;
  • Perpetrators feeling out of control due to situational demands may use violence and coercive control as a way of creating a perceived sense of control;
  • Stress associated with the pandemic (e.g., financial stress, job insecurity and general uncertainty) increases negative coping mechanisms (e.g., excessive reliance on drugs and/or alcohol) which significantly increased the risk of family and domestic violence; and
  • Substance misuse, financial stress, unemployment and social isolation are well-known risk factors for family and domestic violence and together create a perfect storm to trigger heightened levels of aggression, violence and control against women and children.[2]

Trends that have already been identified:

  • The domestic violence hotline 1800RESPECT saw a 32% increase in calls answered between March – August 2020.3
  • In 2020, more than 1 in 2 (54%) recorded assaults were related to family and domestic violence, which is a 7.8% increase from 2019.[3]
  • Almost 2 in 5 (37%) recorded murders were related to family and domestic violence.[4]
  • An online survey of 15,000 women found that between March-May 2020, 8.2% of women in co-habiting relationships experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner. Almost two-thirds (65%) of women said the violence had either started for the first time or worsened since the commencement of the pandemic.[5]
  • Google reported a 75% increase in internet searches relating to support for domestic violence.[6]
  • Domestic abuse callouts increased by 5% when stay at home orders were in place in Australia.[7]
  • In Victoria, the number of family violence incidents recorded by police was higher in every month during 2020 than in 2019.[8]
  • Research demonstrates that perpetrators used lockdown to further control and isolate their victims. Indeed, reports indicate that in some cases the pandemic has been used as a coercive control mechanism whereby perpetrators use containment, fear and the threat of contagion as a mechanism of abuse.1

Since the start of the pandemic, significant concerns have been raised about the increased risk of family and domestic violence within households. With the ongoing uncertainty associated with the pandemic and the potential for localised lock-downs to continue for the foreseeable future, the risks and threats are ongoing. Additionally, because the reporting of victimisation can lag, it is believed that the true extent of family and domestic violence as a result of the pandemic will surface in the months and even years to come.


[1] Usher, K., Bhullar, N., Durkin, J., Gyamfi, N., & Jackson, D. (2020). Family violence and COVID‐19: Increased vulnerability and reduced options for support. International journal of mental health nursing.

[2] Richards, L. (2009). DASH: Domestic abuse, stalking and harassment and honour‐based violence risk identification and assessment and management model, DASH risk checklist. Retrieved on 12 April 2020 from: http://www.dashriskchecklist.co.uk

[3] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Family, domestic and sexual violence.

[4] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2021)

[5] Boxall, H., Morgan, A., & Brown, R. (2020). The prevalence of domestic violence among women during the COVID-19 pandemic. Australasian Policing, 12, 38-46.

[6] Poate, S. (2020). 75% increase in domestic violence searches since Coronavirus. NBN News. Retrieved from https://www.nbnnews.com.au/2020/03/31/dvsearches- coronavirus/

[7]Kagi, J. (2020). Crime rate in WA plunges amid coronavirus social distancing lockdown measures. ABC News Australia. Retrieved on 10th April, 2020 from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-08/coronavirus-shutdown-sees-crime-rate-drop-in- wa/12132410

[8] Crime Statistics Agency. (2020). Police-recorded crime trends in Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic. Received from https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/research-and-evaluation/publications/police-recorded-crime-trends-in-victoria-during-the-covid-19