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How The Legal System Can Better Address A Rise In Domestic Violence Amid The Pandemic


We're going to talk now about what the U.N. refers to as the shadow pandemic. One in three women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, and experts say domestic abuse has been growing under the stress and confinement of the pandemic. Leigh Goodmark is director of the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LEIGH GOODMARK: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: So a report in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine last year said stay-at-home orders may create a worst-case scenario for individuals suffering from domestic violence. Can you explain what makes this such a toxic combination of factors right now?

GOODMARK: There are so many of the correlates of intimate partner violence that are kind of caught up in the COVID pandemic - so, obviously, isolation, not being around other people who might be able to provide you with support or intervention, economic stress which is absolutely correlated with the perpetration of intimate partner violence, the trauma that many of us are experiencing both because of the sickness and death of our family members or because of various other things that are going on in our lives. All of those things can come together to create a scenario where intimate partner violence is much more likely and much more difficult to address.

SHAPIRO: And so how has that translated to what you've actually seen over the last year of this pandemic?

GOODMARK: There's a fair amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that rates of intimate partner violence are going up. I don't think we know anything for sure yet. Certainly, we can't look at court dockets, for example, as a way of monitoring what's happening because many courts are closed. But I think when the reports come out for 2020, we're likely to see a significant increase in reporting of intimate partner violence.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned the courts, and I know that you have researched the legal system's ability to address these problems. Even apart from the pandemic, I understand you conclude that the legal system falls short. Explain that.

GOODMARK: I do think the legal system falls short in a number of different ways. And you have to be clear about, you know, both the criminal legal system and the civil legal system, which are different pathways for people to try to seek some kind of protection. The orders that come out of these courts are often ineffective. They're not always enforced by police as strongly as they could be. Prosecution and conviction - there's not any real evidence to show that those actions prevent further recidivist violence, unless you closely monitor somebody upon their release.

And there's no reason to believe that incarceration does that work, either. And in fact, incarceration actually has the effect of spurring some of the things that we've talked about, like economic distress and like the experience of trauma, which then actually exacerbate rather than lessen the chances that intimate partner violence will recur.

SHAPIRO: You're saying locking up the perpetrator might not be the best solution. What would be?

GOODMARK: There are a variety of other things that we could be doing. One, of course, is looking at the economics of intimate partner violence. Congress could be looking at increasing the minimum wage right now, and there's evidence to suggest that increasing the minimum wage would reduce all crime, including - one would think - intimate partner violence.

Other things - you know, putting more funding into community-based services - are things that are actually happening as a result of the pandemic. So you hear a lot about, for example, mutual aid and pod-mapping and trying to figure out who in your community can you really rely on when you can't rely on the state. That all came out of the domestic violence movement, the movement to end childhood sexual abuse. And so those concepts have been around for a long time.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like you're saying the pain and suffering of this pandemic might also have led to a sort of breakthrough that will allow for some of the long-term changes that might not have happened otherwise.

GOODMARK: I absolutely hope that that's true. If anything good can come out of this pandemic, one good thing could be our ability to see the real power that communities could bring to this issue and the ability of communities to step in and provide protection when state structures aren't doing what we hoped that they would do.

SHAPIRO: That's Professor Leigh Goodmark, director of the Gender Violence Clinic at the University of Maryland. Her latest book is "Decriminalizing Domestic Violence." Thank you for talking with us.

GOODMARK: Thank you so much for having me.

SHAPIRO: And if you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.