Intimate partner violence (IPV) is a pressing and pervasive public health concern in the United States. There are many different definitions for IPV, but generally it includes physically and/or emotionally abusive behavior by a current or former intimate partner, dating partner, or spouse. IPV impacts persons of all ages, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic classes, religions, cultures, genders and gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, and physical, mental, and emotional abilities. According to a report on the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) (PDF) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 47% of women and 44% of men experience IPV during their lifetime. However, the prevalence of IPV is disproportionately higher among low-income; Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC); immigrant; and sexual and gender minority populations.
The consequences for people who experience IPV can be serious and debilitating and include physical injury, mental health challenges (anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]), increased risk of substance use, increased risk of chronic disease, and even death. Data from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Patterns & Trends (PDF) report suggest that 1 in 5 homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner. Furthermore, there are collective costs to society, as IPV also results in significant economic loss through missed days of work, medical bills, and criminal justice fees. These individual and collective costs call for increased prioritization of this issue in public health research and practice.
IPV Changes During COVID-19
The prevalence of IPV worsened with the onset of COVID-19, particularly with nationwide lockdowns and the impacts on social systems. According to a report from UN Women, this increase in the prevalence of violence is now commonly referred to as the “shadow pandemic (PDF).” During lockdown, many individuals already experiencing IPV felt trapped at home with their partners, with limited options to leave their homes and unable to reach out to others whom they trusted or who might have noticed warning signs. Some individuals reported being unable to use hotlines or digital resources as their partners could monitor their communications while they sheltered in place. Furthermore, domestic violence shelters were operating at reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements or closed all together. Public health resources and personnel shifted from IPV prevention and response to addressing COVID-19. These individual, interpersonal, community, and societal-level barriers both increased opportunities for violence and made it more challenging for individuals experiencing violence to get help.
Government programs play an important role in leading the nation’s public health response to IPV. Through examination of the current literature, efforts to turn research into evidence-based practice, and further work to close research gaps, the United States can build a stronger and more effective public health response to IPV.
What Westat Is Doing
Westat has an extensive history of supporting federal, state, and local partners in their efforts to better understand and address IPV nationwide. Most recently, Westat partnered with CDC to revise the NISVS to improve overall response and cooperation rates. Westat revised the self-administered survey for web and paper usage and conducted cognitive interviews in both English and Spanish, with additional feasibility testing of the survey. This resulted in a revised data collection methodology, a pilot test of the new methods, and final reports with recommendations for implementation of a national study.
As October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it provides a great opportunity for all to learn about the issue and help those who may experience IPV by sharing resources they can use.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233; TTY: 1-800-787-3224
- CDC web page on Violence Prevention
- WHO Report: Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women During COVID-19 (PDF)
Contributed by Westat expert Mica Astion, MS, a Senior Public Health Researcher, Clinical Research and Isa Weiss, a summer intern, Public Health.
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