Panel discussing rise in domestic violence during the pandemic

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UC Davis LIVE held a roughly 30-minute webcast Thursday about rises in household violence during the pandemic. Two UCD professors answered a series of questions during the panel. Clare Cannon, assistant professor of community and regional development in the department of social inequality at UCD, talked about how the stress and social isolation of the pandemic may have contributed to an increase in domestic violence. Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, assistant professor with the Violence Prevention Research Program in the UCD department of emergency medicine, talked about a rise in firearm ownership during the pandemic. Cannon said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in four women, and one in five men, will experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime. “Intimate partner violence is stalking, it’s sexual violence, it’s economic violence, it’s physical abuse, it’s emotional, it’s psycological,” Cannon said. “It’s many different forms of violence.” Cannon added that rates of domestic violence have escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning roughly a year ago when countries entered lockdown worldwide. She said responses to a survey she conducted with colleagues at Tulane University indicated that a loss of income because of the virus or any other increase in stress were contributing factors to domestic violence. “When there’s more to be stressed about, there’s more to fight about,” Cannon said. “And if there’s more to fight about, you’re going to see more violence.” Another aspect, Cannon said, is that people have been trapped together in their homes, making them isolated to domestic aggressors or potential aggressors. “Even being able to go out and take a walk, or go meet with a friend and talk about your frustrations or your stresses, that’s all been more or less cut off for most people,” Cannon said. “And so we see the increase in stress. But we also see the decrease in resilience, and those are all contributing factors to increased intimate partner violence.” Kravitz-Wirtz, also currently the lead investigator for the California Safety and Wellbeing survey, talked about an increase in gun sales as a result of the pandemic. The survey is an ongoing state survey on topics related to firearm ownership and exposure to violence. Kravitz-Wirtz said the survey was retooled in July last year to ask respondents whether they’d acquired a firearm in response to the pandemic. The results show that an estimated 110,000 people reported acquiring a firearm in response to the pandemic, she said. Two fifths of respondents didn’t own a gun before the pandemic. “Most of these respondents cited a perceived need for self protection corresponding with, for example, worry about lawlessness and prisoner releases,” Kravitz-Wirtz said. “Which was consistent with sort of the fearmongering and messaging advanced by some gun rights groups and others during that time.” Kravitz-Wirtz said scientific evidence consistently shows easy access to a firearm in the home is associated with elevated risk of firearm injury and death for everyone residing in the home. She added that the survey found roughly 50,000 current gun owners said they’d started storing at least one of their firearms “in the least secure way, that is, loaded and not locked up, because of the pandemic.” Nearly half of those households had children or teens residing in them, Kravitz-Wirtz said. Both professors were asked if the 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed by President Joe Biden Thursday contains resources to help mitigate violence during the pandemic. Kravitz-Wirtz said there’s direct monetary support for families and families with kids that will help reduce some of the psychological toll of worrying about basic needs during the pandemic, which may increase risks of violence. She said initial findings from the Stockton basic income pilot program show when families are provided direct monetary support, many psychosocial outcomes improve. Cannon said her understanding is the package provides resources for schools, universities and states, which is important because a lot of victim advocacy and support are funded at the local and state levels. “What we found in our study is that when people have increased financial stress, it increases violence in their relationship in the household,” Cannon said. “And so these tax credits for individuals, for families, for children, we expect to really alleviate a lot of the violence that’s being experienced in families, in households.”

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