Domestic Violence in the Pandemic

Covid-19 and the surge in domestic abuse

COVID-19 does not divide along the lines of gender, though its outcomes do. In 2020, AWARE submitted a report to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the increase of domestic violence against women during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to AWARE, “the AWARE Women’s Helpline has received a 65%, 119%, and 137% increase in the number of family violence calls in March, April and May 2020 respectively.”, the cases coinciding with the circuit breaker period and reopening phases of the pandemic. In the report, it documented instances of assault against women, by spouses and various family members. 

While women may be vulnerable to physical abuse and exploitation, men are not exempt from being victims of domestic violence either. Family Central, a service provided by Fei Yue Community Services, reported that men are more vulnerable to emotional and verbal abuse such as name calling, belittling and humiliation while facing threats by their spouses. Further, men often turn the shame inward, and few come forward to report their abuse. According to police figures, domestic abuse cases increased by 22% compared to before the circuit breaker. Though it is unclear what proportion of domestic abuse victims are male, the victims mentioned in the police report are across genders, ages and races. 

How Covid-19 contributed to the surge in domestic abuse
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF, 2021) suggested that the uncertainties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic may have exacerbated underlying mental health conditions that led to domestic violence, though it is noteworthy that mental health conditions do not always cause family domestic violence. Financial stressors, unbalanced division of domestic work and increased contact time at home are among numerous factors that contributed to the spike in domestic violence. 
Barriers in reporting domestic abuse

However, not all domestic violence incidents are reported. In the AWARE report to the UN special rapporteur, the main barriers cited in combating domestic violence are a lack of consensus of what constitutes domestic violence, and imperfect information on how to safely intervene in suspected cases of assault and violence.

Lack of consensus of what constitutes domestic violence

Indeed, for both men and women, it can be difficult to tell where the line is drawn especially in intimate and close relationships. When does a demeaning comment disguised as a passing comment become verbal and emotional abuse? When does a hit on the arm or the back by a spouse become physical abuse? Some of these incidents become blurred when social contexts, relationship dynamics, personalities and gender come into play. 

Imperfect information on how to safely intervene

Additionally, for victims of abuse and those who witness abuse, seeking help may not come intuitively for fear of putting themselves or their loved ones in danger, retaliation or dependency on the abuser among various reasons (Harborhouse, 2022). Further, power relations make it easier for perpetrators to leverage on fear and prevent victims from seeking help. As such, key players involve not just the victims, but friends, relatives, acquaintances or even neighbors of the victim too.  

The pandemic has merely revealed the flaws in our understanding of gender relations at home in Singapore, though such conflicts would not pass just as COVID does. There is still much to learn in targeting support for men who experience domestic violence, and much to do to discover and fix the root causes of such violence which involves the complex interplay of power and control. 

If you fear danger for yourself or someone you know at any point, you can reach the police at 999, or the ambulance at 995
National Anti-Violence and Sexual Harassment Helpline (NAVH): 1800-777 0000
Sexual Assault Care Center (SACC) helpline: 6779 0282
Samaritans of Singapore: 1800 221 4444


AWARE. 2020. “COVID-19 and the increase of domestic violence against women: OHCHR submission by AWARE”. Gender based violence. Retrieved from

Family Services. 2019. ““You’re A Useless Man!” – When Men Fall Victim to Domestic Abuse”. Retrieved from 

Harbour House. 2022. “Reasons victims of domestic violence don’t seek help”. Retrieved from 

Ministry of Social and Family Development. 2021. Statistics Of Domestic Violence Cases Arising From Underlying Mental Health Issues Due To COVID-19 Uncertainties. Retrieved from 

The Straits Times. 2020. “Coronavirus: Spike in family violence reports prompts group to launch platform for men to seek support”. Retrieved from 

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