Study finds UK women living with abusers more likely to catch COVID

UK women domestic abuse, violence against women
© Niccolo Pontigia

According to data collected during the first and second wave in the UK, women living in domestic abuse conditions were more likely to catch COVID – during globally observed “increased rates of violence”

The UK domestic abuse crisis increased in time with the global pandemic. With households suspended in isolation, previous experiences of violence were repeating themselves, escalating – with restrictions on movement making it difficult to take time out.

First author Dr Joht Singh Chandan, NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Birmingham, said: “Public health measures, such as restrictions on movement, put in place to prevent the spread of infection, has previously seen increased rates of violence against women in other recent epidemics such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Cholera outbreaks in Haiti and Yemen, and the Zika outbreak.”

97% of women experience sexual harassment

Violence against women remains a salient, ongoing issue today. The murder of Sarah Everard led to a mass-discussion of a culture of well-founded fear, for women across the UK attempting to walk home safely. A study found that 97% of women in the UK had experienced sexual harassment. The outcry led to a new strategy, released by the Home Office, which would someday be implemented.

Recently, Sabina Nessa was found murdered. She had been taking a five minute walk to meet a friend, in a busy park in broad daylight. Currently, it appears that she was murdered by a stranger. The crisis of violence against women has been described by London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, as equally important as terrorism.

The study, published in BMC Medicine, used anonymised data from GP records and looked at the situations of 10,462 women in the UK – who were female domestic violence and abuse survivors. To understand any differences, this population was compared against a group of 41,467 women not recorded as exposed to violence in their home.

The data reveals that women with a recorded history of experiencing violence or abuse were increasingly likely to have confirmed COVID. These women became even more likely to have the virus if they had been abused recently, in 2019.

Why does this connection exist?

Scientists working with this data believe that preventing access to healthcare is part of the abusive control in which women find themselves.

In addition, there is strong evidence to suggest that women in abusive situations also have more comorbidities than women not exposed to violence – such as diabetes.

Dr Rochelle A Dicker, University of California at Los Angeles Geffen School of Medicine and not involved in this study, explained the link between violence and health in the US.

She said: “Violence, in and of itself, is very much the end result of social determinants of health, structural racism, and structural barriers in our country that have existed for a long time.”

Pop-up clinics could remove vaccine access barriers

Senior author Krish Nirantharakumar, Professor in Health Data Science and Public Health at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research, said: “Although these policies are well received, the risk of transmission and exposure to the virus is compounded in this vulnerable group owing to the early evidence suggesting an upsurge in coercive behaviour of the perpetrators to control survivors.

“These include behaviours such as preventing access to healthcare services or treatment, and threatening or enacting purposeful exposure to COVID-19 within the household.”

They further believe that pop-up clinics in abuse shelters would help women to access the vaccine, while prioritising those with a history of abuse could also really help.

Read the full study here.


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