Fewer Domestic Violence Police Reports During Lockdown Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Woman staring out a window during quarantine.

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Key Takeaways

  • During Chicago's COVID-19 stay-at-home order, the city saw a decline in domestic violence police reports. 
  • While the study did not draw conclusive results, researchers predict that these lower rates were likely due to decreased incidence or simply underreporting.
  • From 2015 to 2019, Illinois decreased funding for its domestic violence program each year, decreasing staff and resources across domestic shelters and organizations.

Many worried that initial COVID-19 stay-at-home orders would drive domestic violence rates in households higher. But a recent study conducted in Chicago found that the city's order was actually associated with a decrease in the rate of domestic violence police reports.

From January 2020 to June 2020, Chicago-based researchers looked at domestic violence police reports from the Chicago Police Department and NowPow community resource database. 

Of the 77 community areas in Chicago, the order was associated with a decrease in domestic violence police report rates of 21.8 crimes per 100,000 individuals per month in each community area.

While the study did not draw conclusive results, researchers predict that these lower rates were likely due to decreased incidence or simply underreporting.

When study co-author Elizabeth L. Tung, MD, MS, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, disaggregated the data by race, she found differences in the rates of domestic violence. Black majority neighborhoods saw a substantial drop, Tung tells Verywell. 

Compared with predominately White neighborhoods, predominately Black neighborhoods experienced a decrease in the rate of domestic violence police reports by 40.8 crimes per 100,000 individuals per month in comparison to the same time period the year before.

“When we looked at the difference between Black and White-majority neighborhoods, there was actually no difference from pre-pandemic to post-pandemic in the White neighborhoods,” Tung says. 

Lead study author Louisa Baidoo, a third-year medical student at the University of Chicago, predicts that a reason for this decline was due to the amplification of racial issues in 2020. 

“It was around the time of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s cases," Baidoo tells Verywell. "Historically, it’s the relationship that predominately Black neighborhoods and individuals have with policing in general. I think police stress plays a role in why we’re seeing those police reports decline more in Black neighborhoods.” 

One Chicago Organization Didn’t See a Decline

While data shows that police reports for domestic violence decreased, that doesn't mean violence itself decreased during stay-at-home orders. One organization in Chicago had a different experience.

Neusa Gaytan, senior vice president of programs for Mujeres Latinas En Acción, a Latina-led organization providing community services to victims of domestic violence, tells Verywell that there was a spike in people reaching out for crisis intervention services. 

“It got to a point where we had a huge waitlist," Gaytan says. "We had to reach out to a lot of sister organizations to assist us with all the incoming calls and people seeking services." She adds that the majority of cases were about physical abuse. 

Since 1973 and throughout the course of the pandemic, Mujeres Latinas En Acción has provided:

  • Crisis intervention
  • 24-hour crisis hotline
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Adult and child therapy
  • Court advocacy 
  • Community education
  • Referrals to shelter and other resources

During the pandemic, “we also worked on trying to get money from the city to invest in domestic violence work and talk to the court to do advocacy,” Gaytan says. 

Although domestic violence impacts people of all socioeconomic levels, Gaytan explains that the most vulnerable in Chicago during the pandemic were poor women.

“Those are the individuals that have additional barriers and aren’t independent economically,” making it hard for them to leave their abusers, some of whom were financial providers, Gaytan says. 

What This Means For You

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance.

What Can Be Done to Improve?

Tung and Baidoo’s research study also found that the stay-at-home order was associated with a decrease in domestic violence resource availability at a rate of 5.1 resources per 100,000 persons.

The largest decreases were seen for mental health and personal safety resources.

“We have more people that need service than we can serve, even with assistance,” underscoring the need for more state funding Gaytan says. “We need more dollars because domestic violence does not happen in a vacuum,” she adds.  

Since 2016, the fiscal year budgets for Illinois Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention program have been reduced yearly.

Gaytan says that greater financial assistance can lead to economic empowerment for survivors. The money, she says, can be used toward safe housing and supervised spaces to protect victims when their abuser wants to see the children. 

The disparity in resources was worse for predominantly Black neighborhoods in the South Side of Chicago where there was a decrease of 6.7 resources per 100,000 persons. This is no surprise considering the history of systemic racism and geographic polarization by race in the city, Tung says. 

Gaytan says that domestic violence victims of color are more likely to experience discrimination and be mistreated by the institutions that were supposed to protect them. 

Overall, Tung emphasizes that this study has potential clinical implications.

“From a clinical standpoint, those who are interacting with patients on a day-to-day basis should be aware that this is happening and potentially open up avenues for those conversations,” Tung says.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Baidoo L, Zakrison TL, Feldmeth G, Lindau ST, Tung EL. Domestic Violence Police Reporting and Resources During the 2020 COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Order in Chicago, Illinois. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2122260. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.22260

  2. Mujeres Latinas En Acción. Programs and Services

  3. Illinois Catalog of State Financial Assistance. Domestic Violence Prevention and Intervention Program. 

By Kayla Hui, MPH
Kayla Hui, MPH is the health and wellness ecommerce writer at Verywell Health.She earned her master's degree in public health from the Boston University School of Public Health and BA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.