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This content will become publicly available on December 12, 2024

Title: Lessons Learned From the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States by Domestic Violence Coalition Leaders

This U.S. study explores lessons learned about domestic violence service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic identified by state, territory, and tribal coalition leadership to advance preparedness and guide structural improvements for future disasters. Semi-structured interviews with 25 Coalition leaders identified public health control measures and victim-centered strategies used to mitigate the pandemic's impacts on services and advocacy. Three main themes emerged: workforce innovations, system empowerment, and the simultaneous pandemic of racial injustice. The COVID-19 pandemic inspired Coalitions to respond creatively and highlighted resources needed to support survivors and the domestic violence (DV) workforce going forward, including reassessing the current state of the DV movement.

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Author(s) / Creator(s):
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Publisher / Repository:
SAGE Publications
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Violence Against Women
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract Background

    Prior to the availability of pharmaceutical control measures, non-pharmaceutical control measures, including travel restrictions, physical distancing, isolation and quarantine, closure of schools and workplaces, and the use of personal protective equipment were the only tools available to public health authorities to control the spread of COVID-19. The implementation of these non-pharmaceutical control measures had unintended impacts on the ability of state and territorial domestic violence coalitions to provide services to victims.


    A semi-structured interview guide to assess how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted service provision and advocacy generally, and how COVID-19 control measures specifically, created barriers to services and advocacy, was developed, pilot tested, and revised based on feedback. Interviews with state and territorial domestic violence coalition executive directors were conducted between November 2021 and March 2022. Transcripts were inductively and deductively coded using both hand-coding and qualitative software.


    Forty-five percent (25 of 56) of state and territorial domestic violence coalition executive directors representing all 8 National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) regions were interviewed. Five themes related to the use of non-pharmaceutical pandemic control measures with impacts on the provision of services and advocacy were identified.


    The use of non-pharmaceutical control measures early in the COVID-19 pandemic had negative impacts on the health and safety of some vulnerable groups, including domestic violence victims. Organizations that provide services and advocacy to victims faced many unique challenges in carrying out their missions while adhering to required public health control measures. Policy and preparedness plan changes are needed to prevent unintended consequences of control measure implementation among vulnerable groups as well as to identify lessons learned that should be applied in future disasters and emergencies.

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  2. Many frontline and essential workers faced increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and even suicide ideation during the pandemic response. These and other factors led to burnout, shifts into non-patient or client-facing roles, or leaving an occupation altogether. Domestic violence advocates experienced increases in many types of stressors as they continued to provide essential services to victims and survivors during the pandemic. However, in most cases they did so without protections offered to essential workers, like priority access to personal protective equipment (PPE) or vaccines. Executive directors of U.S. State and Territorial Domestic Violence Coalitions were identified using the National Network to End Domestic Violence website and contacted via email to schedule key informant interviews. Interviews were conducted, recorded, and transcribed using Zoom. Themes were identified using both inductive and deductive coding. Twenty-five of 56 (45%) coalition executive directors completed an interview. Three main themes related to workforce were identified, including an accelerated rate of job turnover among both leadership and staff; a lack of essential worker status for domestic violence advocates; and unsustainable levels of stress, fear, and exhaustion. While familiar challenges drove these outcomes for this predominantly female, low-wage workforce, such as a lack of access to childcare, other factors, including the lack of access to PPE, training, and hazard pay for those working in person, highlighted inequities facing the domestic violence workforce. The factors identified as impacting the domestic violence workforce—turnover, low status, and high levels of stress, fear, and exhaustion—made the already challenging provision of advocacy and services more difficult. Domestic violence advocates are essential first responders and must be supported in ways that increase the resilience of empowerment-based services for victims and survivors.

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  3. To assess COVID-19 information and services available to domestic violence service providers, survivors, and racially and culturally specific communities in the U.S., a content analysis of 80 national and state/territorial coalition websites was performed in June 2020. COVID-19 information was available on 84% of websites. National organizations provided more information for survivors related to safety and mental health and for racially and culturally specific communities. State/territorial coalitions provided more information for providers on COVID-19 and general disaster preparedness. COVID-19 and social distancing measures implemented to control it diminished help-seeking in unique ways. Greater online access to information and resources may be needed to address changing needs of survivors during disasters and emergencies.

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