Pandemic lockdown intensified domestic violence
By Jeffery M. Leving
In the early days of the pandemic, a friend of mine told me his wife threw a knife at him. He didn’t call the police because it was embarrassing. For another friend, things were raging so severely at home, he asked if he could sleep in my office. People were losing their minds.
The lockdown last year pushed tempers over the edge: Spouses were working at home, or not working, or working essential jobs that exposed them to coronavirus, while their children were home from school, and parents were expected to help them with online schooling. Each day was scarier than the last, as we fretted about our health and our financial positions. Alcohol consumption added to the mix.
A report by a team of researchers led by sociologist Alex R. Piquero of the University of Miami found that domestic violence incidents increased 8.1% once pandemic-related lockdowns were ordered. The analysis was based on a review of multiple studies that compared changes in the number of domestic violence incidents before and after jurisdictions put lockdown restrictions in place.
Unlike some early reports on domestic violence trends that relied exclusively on police calls for service, the studies covered by this review also drew on data from crime reports, emergency hotline registries, hospital and other health records, and additional administrative documents.
We’ve been out of full-strength lockdown for over a year now, but I’m still concerned about domestic violence, because many people are still stressed for the same reasons that applied during the lockdown, and they may not yet have the panoply of healthy outlets, such as sports, entertainment and in-person interaction with co-workers and friends, that can bring down their emotional temperature.
In my family law practice, I mostly represent fathers who are going through passionate divorce or child custody disputes. I see a shocking level of violence, or threats of violence, against men, which I know goes unreported because men are ashamed to tell anyone they’re victims. I don’t wish in any way to diminish the harm that women suffer, but to call attention to men as domestic violence victims, which is often hidden from view.
One in seven men have been victims of severe physical violence — beating, burning, strangling — by an intimate partner in their lifetime, and one in four men have experienced milder forms of physical violence by an intimate partner — slapping, shoving, pushing — according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It suffices to say that domestic violence is a problem that affects significant segments of our society.
With respect to reported violence by men against women, a Psychology Today article suggests that it’s valuable to examine certain societal attitudes toward men that are destructive and can increase instances of violence. “Expectations that men should be strong, masculine, and more powerful than women can be very destructive to a man at risk of becoming violent. The shame triggered by the idea that they are appearing weak or unmanly can trigger some men to become enraged or to act on violent impulses,” author Lisa Firestone says.
What can we do? One successful program teaches domestic violence offenders to recognize what triggers them, so they can collect themselves and not lash out physically. It’s an approach that requires the offender to take full responsibility for his or her actions. This must not be gender-specific. As I’ve said, men are victims of domestic violence too.
Domestic violence has vexed humanity for millennia. There’s no excuse, and if there was an easy solution, we’d have found it already. I think we’ll be on the right path when we as a society make it clear that all domestic violence is unacceptable, that the offender is fully responsible, and that our culture must reduce gender-based stereotypes that can push men and women beyond the breaking point.
Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd., and is an advocate for the rights of fathers. He is the author of Fathers’ Rights, Divorce Wars and How to be a Good Divorced Dad, the latter of which was endorsed by President Obama and by Cardinal Francis E. George, then the archbishop of Chicago. To learn more about Leving and his latest court victories, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.