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Understanding behavioral barriers to demand for domestic violence services

Domestic violence (DV), defined as stalking, rape, or physical violence, is a global problem with 35% of women worldwide reporting experiencing DV (WHO 2017). More than 12 million people experience domestic violence in the U.S. each year (National DV Hotline, 2017), with severe implications for health (Coker et al., 2000), human capital (Borker, 2018), and child wellbeing (Aizer, 2011; Kavanaugh, Trako and Sviatschi, 2019). In addition, DV also has intergenerational consequences: children who experience DV are 7 times more likely to become perpetrators (St Jude House 2020). Furthermore, several studies have shown that unemployment (Harknett and McLanahan, 2016), social networks, and financial and emotional stress affect domestic violence (Brush, 2003; Benson and Fox, 2004).

Coronavirus (Covid-19), a highly infectious disease with no known cure or prevention till date (WHO, 2020), has caused one of the greatest macroeconomic shocks ever to hit the world. Coronavirus cases in the U.S. have now surpassed all other countries (CDC, 2020), and in an effort to prevent further spread, most businesses deemed non-essential have been temporarily closed. Unemployment claims in the final week of March rose from 282,000 to 6.65 million—more than four times the record in a single week (Bui and Wolfers, 2020). Beyond this, many still-employed Americans are being forced to work from home and asked to leave their homes only for necessities.

In the wake of Covid-19, countries from Australia to France to Brazil to the U.S. are experiencing unprecedented reports of domestic violence; the National Domestic Violence Hotline recently urged those at risk for DV to make safety plans as perpetrators began to use “the virus as scare tactic to threaten or isolate victims,” (Peterman et al., 2020). Many countries have already began implementing broad measures to curb violence in the wake of coronavirus; Australia has allocated $1bn for mental health services related to DV (The Guardian, 2020) and France has begun using hotels to keep victims safe as reports of DV have skyrocketed by 30% (Hume, 2020).

With DV rates rising sharply during Covid-19, an important question from a policy perspective is arising: What can be done to help DV survivors in the era of this pandemic? There are many barriers that keep DV victims from reporting abuse or leaving relationships; in this project, we will focus on four important barriers: lack of resources and information, low self-esteem and shame, self-blame, and incorrect beliefs about what abuse looks like.

We aim to test four interventions that are likely to determine pathways to aid victims of DV during the current pandemic and future mandated stay at home orders: our interventions target information constraints, belief constraints, and barriers to reporting such as victim self-blaming.

Lead investigator:

Sofia Amaral


University of Munich, ifo Institute

Primary topic:

Crime & policing

Secondary topic:

Families & households

Region of data collection:

North America

Country of data collection


Status of data collection

In Progress

Type of data being collected:

Online survey

Unit of real-time data collection


Start date


End date



Periodic (other)

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