UConn Researchers Collaborate to Study Effects of COVID-19 on Domestic Violence

An apartment building at night, with some of the windows illuminated.
Lockdown orders that have kept people around the world at home have seen a spike in reports of domestic violence. (Getty Images)

As people are stuck in their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic, several countries, including the United States, have seen more reports of domestic violence incidents since stay-at-home orders went into effect several months ago. In 2017, 35% of women worldwide reported experiencing domestic violence, defined as stalking, rape, or physical violence. With stay-at-home orders in place around the world, these rates have seen an unfortunate increase.

University of Connecticut researchers Nishith Prakash, associate professor of economics with a joint appointment with the Human Rights Institute, and Ph.D. candidate Lindsey Buck have been awarded a $76,000 grant from Princeton University to study COVID-19’s implications on domestic violence. Prakash and Buck will work with coauthors Maria Micaela Sviatschi, assistant professor of economics at Princeton, and Sofia Amaral, economist at the Center for Labor and Demographic Economics of the ifo Institute at the University of Munich.

The researchers will analyze the impact of COVID-19 on domestic violence through the lenses of health and economic impact, as the pandemic itself is having unprecedented global repercussions in both areas. Domestic violence survivors often suffer poor health and reductions in earnings, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spends $5.8 billion annually on health costs related to domestic violence.

“Ultimately, I see our research as a way to inform policymakers of channels to help women who are experiencing abuse,” Buck says. “Many women find it difficult to leave abusive relationships for a variety of reasons, including financial constraints, children, fear, and more. Figuring out which of these barriers is most important is the goal of our research.”

The study will address an important question: What are the most important barriers for victims of domestic violence, and how can victims reduce self-blaming, increase psychological and emotional well-being, and ultimately report or leave abusive relationships?

This project aims to answer these questions through a novel intervention using data from the online research tools Prolific and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to survey 8,000 women in the United States. The team will follow the same sample group over a three-month period. The intervention will address constraints surrounding victims’ access to information about domestic violence, belief updating, and victims blaming themselves for abuse they have experienced.

The research team will collect information on the women’s psychological well-being, use of information and resources related to domestic violence, and their expectations and beliefs about abuse and unhealthy relationships.

Based on this, the research team aims to test four interventions that are likely to determine pathways to aid victims of domestic violence during the current pandemic and any future stay-at-home orders. These interventions involve providing resources and information to victims, updating victims on the health of their relationship, and reducing self-blaming behaviors.

By examining the broad implications of COVID-19 on domestic violence, the researchers will discover informational and economic policy opportunities to mitigate the incidence of domestic violence during this unprecedented macroeconomic and health shock.

“Uncovering the psychological and behavioral factors behind any kind of abuse, especially domestic violence, is the first step before designing policies to mitigate it,” Prakash says.

 

Nishith Prakash holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston and a post-doctoral from Cornell University. He has a joint appointment in the UConn Department of Economics and the Human Rights Institute. He is currently a fellow with the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School. His research includes studying the effects of affirmative action policies in India on labor market outcomes, child labor and poverty, returns to English-language skills in India, addressing gender gap in education, and designing policies to reduce crimes against women in India. Prakash’s research has been covered in The Economist, World Bank Development Impact Blog, World Economic Forum, Financial Times, Forbes, The Statesman, The Atlantic, The Hindu, The Times of India and other national and international newspapers.

Lindsey Buck is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut. Her research interests include development, education, health and applied microeconomics.

 Follow UConn Research on Twitter & LinkedIn.