Domestic Violence Homicides Surged This Year and Advocates Fear It Could Happen Again


By Bree Burkitt

December 8, 2020

Advocates fear a second wave of the coronavirus could have deadly results for those trapped in already-tenuous cohabitation situations.

The COVID-19 pandemic came with many unexpected impacts, including an increase in domestic violence in Arizona and across the country. 

At least 92 Arizonans died in domestic violence incidents through the end of October 2020—a 16% increase from the same time period 2019, according to data compiled by the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual & Domestic Violence. 

Some cities, such as Phoenix, saw the number of domestic violence-tied homicides jump from 10 in 2019 to 24 in 2020—a 140% increase—during the first six months of the year as Arizonans grappled with the start of the pandemic and the accompanying isolation. 

And it only got worse with the number of domestic violence deaths. Reported deaths as a result of domestic violence through Aug. 3 jumped by  180% compared with the same time period in 2019.

Annual national data on domestic violence killings isn’t released until 2021, but initial numbers show a similar increase in major cities across the country. 

As more people work or attend school from home and stay-at-home orders went into effect in March, more domestic violence victims have had to stay with their abusers.

And survivors who are able to safely leave are turning to shelters with more severe injuries, according to Jenna Panas, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Domestic violence hotlines also saw an uptick in calls. 

The COVID pandemic left many in already-tenuous cohabitation situations even more isolated, often having nowhere to turn as they’re now trapped 24/7 with their abuser and unable to make a plan for safety. 

“It’s the tip of the iceberg,” Panas said. “There’s actually this huge wave of violence happening because of the isolation.”

Panas explained that the COVID pandemic also brought additional stressors that can make an already strained situation more volatile. People losing their jobs or stressing about how to educate their children at home can place additional strain. Plus, many people are now without the activities they once used to cope, such as going to the gym or socializing. 

“You add something like that to an already difficult situation and a negative relationship and you’re going to see it get worse,” she said. 

She speculated that the number of domestic violence incidents has likely increased during the pandemic, but gone unreported with fewer opportunities to interact with friends in person or come into contact with mandatory reporters, such as counselors or social workers. 

With the country facing another wave of new coronavirus cases, advocates fear the spike in domestic violence-related deaths could continue through the last weeks of the year and into 2021—especially if businesses are asked to shut down again. However, Gov. Doug Ducey has spurned the idea of a statewide shutdown and previously stated during a December media briefing that additional restrictions could bring complications, such as increased domestic violence, child abuse, and suicide attempts.

Panas urged people to reach out to those they’re concerned about and to believe anyone who confides in them that they’re experiencing domestic violence. Just because a relationship seems fine from the outside doesn’t mean it’s not happening. 

“I think so many times survivors and victims are afraid to come forward and just tell a friend because they’re afraid of the reaction of not being believed,” Panas said. 

A friend or family member could be the lifeline someone needs as they attempt to leave the home or relationship, Panas said. Both survivors and allies can call the coalition’s hotline at 602-279-2980 to speak to an advocate. Local police agencies also offer anonymous reporting. 


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