Author Karen Freeman
Published May 2020
Report Type Bureau Brief No. 146
Subject Domestic violence; Socioeconomic factors and crime
Keywords domestic violence, family violence, intimate partner violence, social isolation, social distancing, COVID-19, Coronavirus



To monitor changes in the incidents and patterns of domestic violence in NSW related to the unprecedented societal changes in response to the global pandemic COVID-19.


Consider changes in the volume of domestic violence records from January 2019 to April 2020 from the following data sources:

- Domestic violence-related assaults and sexual assaults recorded by the NSW Police Force;
- NSW Police callouts to domestic violence incidents;
- NSW Domestic Violence Line call volumes; and
- Apprehended Domestic Violence Order (ADVO) compliance checks made by NSW Police.


Police recorded crime data for March and April 2020 show no evidence of an increase in domestic violence since social distancing was implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing measures commenced in NSW in mid-March 2020. Recorded incidents of domestic violence-related assault for the month of April 2020 were lower than April 2019 (2,145 recorded domestic violence-related assaults in April 2020 versus 2,434 in April 2019).

It is possible that an increase has been masked by isolation strategies affecting victim willingness or ability to seek assistance from police. Were this to be the case, we would still expect the most serious forms of physical domestic violence (i.e. murder and assault resulting in grievous bodily harm) to come to police attention as these offences are not as sensitive to discretionary reporting. The volume of extremely serious domestic violence offences recorded by police in April 2020, however, are comparable with 2019 counts.

Trends in the volume of calls to the NSW Domestic Violence Line, a 24 hour victim assistance service, show no evidence of COVID related increase; while call volumes have been higher in 2020 compared with 2019, the increase preceded social isolation initiatives. Police urgent domestic violence callouts have not increased either.

None of the evidence considered here suggests social isolation measures have increased domestic violence in the first six weeks of operation. This study however is not sensitive to changes in forms of domestic violence that do not result in serious physical injury AND which are not reported to police or victim services.