Crises are often predictable catalysts for Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). As COVID-19 rates increased, stay-at-home orders were issued with workers laid off or ordered to work from home, and some left homeless and without income. With limited personal movement and home confinement, stay-at-home orders, intended to protect the public and prevent widespread infection, left many LGBTQ+ people at increased risk for IPV, with victims isolated in abusive situations caused by a pandemic response that facilitated isolation. Scant research has assessed IPV among LGBTQ+ populations during the pandemic. We assessed population-specific experiences of IPV among racialized LGBTQ+ people and pandemic-related increases in IPV.
Among sexual and gender minority participants in the #SafeHandsSafeHearts intervention, we assessed IPV with 6 items (i.e., verbal belittling and put-downs, prevented you from going outside of your home, forced/unwanted sex, use of technology to track, impersonate, or access your emails and texts, etc.) based on past studies and clinical experience. We also assessed depression (PHQ-2), anxiety (GAD-2), and adherence to public health-recommended protective behaviors (e.g., stay-at-home, physical distancing) amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We examined IPV prevalence and associations with psychological distress, and IPV increases attributed to COVID-19 and their association with adherence to protective behaviors, using Fisher’s exact test and multiple linear regression.
Participants (n=202) (mean age: 29.7 [SD=10.3]) identified as Black (29.2%), South/East/Southeast Asian (27.6%), White (20.3%), Latinx/Hispanic (8.9%), and other (13.9%). Among cisgender lesbian/bisexual/women who have sex with women (LBWSW) (n=110; 54.3%), 20% reported verbal belittling/put-downs, 14% being prevented from going outside their home, 6% use of technology to track, impersonate, or access emails/texts, and 3% forced/unwanted sex. Among transgender/gender nonbinary people (19.3%; n=39), 11% reported verbal belittling/put-downs, 14% being prevented from going outside their home, 11% use of technology to track them, and 13% forced/unwanted sex. For cisgender gay/bisexual/men who have sex with men (GBMSM) (26.2%; n=53), 32% reported verbal belittling/put-downs, 34% being prevented from going outside home, 26% use of technology to track them, and 19% forced/unwanted sex. Overall, Fisher’s exact test results indicate that experiencing verbal belittling and put-downs was significantly associated with anxiety (p=.009) and depression (p=.033) at baseline. One-fourth (25.7%; n=52) of participants reported any type of increase in IPV “because of COVID-19.” Experiencing an increase in verbal belittling/put-downs because of COVID-19 was significantly associated with greater adherence to public health-recommended protective behaviors (p=.049).
Conclusions and Implications:
Our findings suggest that structural inequities experienced by racialized LGBTQ+ participants were magnified during the pandemic and substantially increased risks of IPV. The expression of IPV was exhibited in distinct forms among racialized LBWSW, GBMSM, and transgender/gender nonbinary people, requiring attention that deviates from heteronormative perspectives of IPV and requiring culturally and racially specific engagement. Of particular concern was the association of greater adherence to public health-recommended protective measures with IPV. Sheltering in place did not provide equitable experiences of protection. For future equitable and effective pandemic responses, there is a need for specific consideration of the contexts and needs of racialized LGBTQ+ populations.