KEY POINTS

  • The current pandemic has taken a toll on people's mental health
  • Study showed a higher incidence of injuries due to physical violence during the pandemic
  • Fear of contracting the coronavirus might be preventing victims from seeking help

There has been an increase in the number and severity of physical intimate partner violence (IPV) amid the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns compared to the last three years, with high-risk abuse cases being two times higher than before, a new study pointed out.

The experts at the Trauma Imaging Research and Innovation Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, who reported the surge in domestic violence during the pandemic, also found the number of injuries to deep internal organs rose during this period.

"Our study showed a higher incidence of physical IPV, both in absolute numbers and proportion, with more severe injuries despite fewer patients reporting IPV. This indicates that victims are reporting to health care facilities in the late stages of the abuse cycle," said the study’s lead investigator Bharti Khurana, M.D of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

"Fear of contracting infection and closure of ambulatory sites might be preventing victims of mild physical or emotional abuse from seeking help compared to the pre-pandemic era," Khurana added.

Although social distancing had proven to be effective in controlling COVID-19 transmission, service-oriented economies face increased unemployment and a higher incidence of mental health disorder, and alcohol and substance abuse. With mandatory lockdowns intended to curb the spread of the virus, intimate partner violence has increasingly been reported worldwide.

Dr. Khurana and the team sought to assess the incidence, severity and pattern of injuries related to the violence at Brigham and Women’s Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.

They compared the clinical presentation, demographics, injuries and radiological assessments of patients reporting physical abuse arising from intimate partner violence between March to May over the past three years.

Upon evaluating and comparing the data from 26 physical IPV victims with 42 physical victims from 2017 to 2019, they found the following:

  • Even though the total number of people reporting violence was fewer, the incidence of physical intimate partner violence was 1.8 times higher during COVID-19 pandemic
  • Five victims were severely abused in 2020 compared to just one each in the previous years
  • The total number of injuries to deep internal organs was 28 during the pandemic compared to 16 in the previous years
  • The incidence of high-risk abuse such as injuries due to burns, stab injuries, strangulation, burns or use of weapons like knives, guns and other sharp objects were two times higher
  • IPV victims during the pandemic were more likely to be ethnically white

"During the pandemic, victims experienced more injuries to the chest and abdomen compared to prior years," said the study’s coauthor Babina Gosangi, M.D of Yale New Haven Health in New Haven, Connecticut.