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California Had Significant Increases in Violence Following Pandemic Restrictions, New Study Finds

More than one million state residents reported physical or sexual violence from a partner

California residents experienced “significant increases” in physical and sexual violence following the government’s pandemic response measures from 2020 to 2022, a new study shows.

The latest annual report from the California Study on Violence Experiences across the Lifespan (CalVEX) found that one in five Californians (18 percent) experienced physical violence or sexual violence in the past year, and that one in 25 state residents (1.1 million Californians) reported physical or sexual violence from a partner in the last year.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine led the study and concluded that violence increased because of the pandemic response, linking the increase to the economic impact sustained by state residents.

“Californians are experiencing violence at epidemic proportions,” principal investigator Anita Raj, PhD, professor at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Division of Social Sciences, said in a press release. “Current violence prevention efforts are clearly woefully inadequate and often ignore the gendered nature of violence, its intersections with other socioeconomic vulnerabilities and its disproportionate effects on marginalized populations.”

California enacted the strictest lockdowns in the nation in response to the pandemic. Over 52 percent of the state’s businesses closed and more than a year after the virus initially began spreading, nearly 36 percent of the state’s small businesses remained closed.

In the report, CalVEX said that “those reporting severe economic insecurity (i.e., insufficient money for food or other basic needs) reported a 5-fold greater risk for physical violence and two-fold greater risk for sexual violence, relative to those not facing this level of economic insecurity.”

Researchers say most victims never report their experiences, so data used in the study may actually underrepresent the scope of abuse taking place in California. According to the report — which only includes data for those ages 18 and older — only seven percent of females and 13 percent of males who experienced physical violence in the past year filed a formal complaint.

“Our findings suggest the rising rates of violence are linked to the harsher social climate, economic insecurity, and poorer physical and mental health that many Californians have experienced over the last few years due to the pandemic,” Raj said.

Researchers are advocating for statewide policies that strengthen economic safety nets, programs for violence prevention, and mental health services.

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