Domestic Violence Spikes Amidst COVID and Economic Downturn

Police departments across the country are reporting an increase in emergency 911 calls for domestic-violence incidents. A study published in the prestigious medical journal Radiology reports that the number of these incidents has almost doubled when compared to the same time period over the last three years. These researchers also report a dramatic increase the number of cases featuring severe abuse and injuries. They opine that this is likely due to the reporting party's concerns about contracting COVID-19 - so victims of domestic violence are likely waiting until later in the abuse cycle to seek aid. In so doing, they are choosing not to report milder forms of physical abuse or threats. They are therefore staying in relationships that have unfortunately led to escalated, and more serious, physical violence.

A second study, conducted through the University of California Davis, also reported an increase in episodes of domestic violence during a recession. Economists have expressed concern that the current economic downturn resulting from the coronavirus pandemic could result in a recession. If so, the incidence of domestic violence may continue to increase.

These two studies highlight two reasons why domestic violence allegations may continue to spike during these difficult times. As anyone involved in these cases well knows, formal allegations make these situations much more than just a family matter. Criminal charges are almost inevitable if allegations are reported to the police.

When it comes to criminal charges, how does the government define domestic violence?

It is important to note that criminal charges for domestic violence are almost always a violation of state, as opposed to federal, law. As such, the details of how the prosecution establishes these charges and moves the case forward will vary with each state. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the term "domestic violence" refers to any abuse that is committed by a family member, member of the same household or by an intimate partner. This form of abuse extends beyond physical harm and can include isolation, emotional abuse, economic abuse, sexual abuse, intimidation and threats. Those who can establish that they face physical harm, attempts of physical harm or fear of physical harm can generally seek a court order for protection against the accused individual. In Massachusetts, this is called an abuse prevention order or a restraining order. Violations of a restraining order are criminal offenses, prosecuted under the umbrella of "domestic violence." Other related allegations - for "threats" or an unwanted touching, or actual physical abuse - are also prosecuted as serious domestic-violence charges in Massachusetts.

Those accused of domestic assault and battery can face serious penalties. The exact penalties will vary depending on the allegations but just simple "Domestic A&B" can result in a sentence of up to two and a half years in a house of correction and up to $5,000 in fines, even for just a first offense. Other offenses - such as assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon or assault and battery with serious bodily injury - are felonies punishable by five or ten years in a state prison - or more.

Needless to say, with the stakes so high in these cases, it is paramount to choose an attorney or a law firm that has handled hundreds, if not thousands of these cases. With your future, and potentially your freedom, on the line, it is worth investing in a lawyer who is an expert in these matters.