Original Article


How to cite: Rios AMFM et al. The forensic assessment of domestic violence cases during the start of isolation due to the covid-19 pandemic. Pers Med Legal Pericias Med. 2020; 5(3).


Submitted 09/14/2020
Accepted 09/30/2020

The research has been authorized by the Teaching and Research Sector of the Porto Alegre Medical-Legal Department / General Forensics Institute – RS. The authors inform no conflict of interest.


Angelita Maria Ferreira Machado Rios (1,2)

http://lattes.cnpq.br/9216524646561227 https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8363-4532

Alexia Oro dos Santos (2)


Larissa de Oliveira Silveira (2)

http://lattes.cnpq.br/0677168195955898 –  https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3688-1773

Laura Chies Kercher (2)


Livia Capuano Fogaça (3)


Letiane Montagner Ifarraguirre (2)


Eduarda Pasini Dein (2)

http://lattes.cnpq.br/3364513894095527 https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1661-7094

Martha Rocha (4)


Vanessa Machado Rios (3)

http://lattes.cnpq.br/6033620740956681 https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2123-3677

(1) Departamento Médico-Legal de Porto Alegre/Instituto Geral de Perícias-RS/Porto Alegre/Brasil (main author)

(2) Faculdade de Medicina – Disciplina de Medicina Legal – Universidade Luterana do Brasil-Canoas/RS/Brasil (literature review and translation)

(3) Faculdade de Medicina – Disciplina de Medicina Legal – Universidade Luterana do Brasil-Canoas/RS/Brasil (coordination)

(4) Departamento Médico-Legal de Porto Alegre/Instituto Geral de Perícias-RS/Porto Alegre/Brasil (data gathering and treatment)

(5) Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul – Faculdade de Medicina/Porto Alegre/Brasil (literature review and translation)


Introduction: social isolation is an important resource to slow down the speed of contamination during the COVID-19 pandemic, however it can intensify abusive behavior among couples or family members. Objective: to present demographic and criminal data of victims of domestic violence assessed at the Clinic of Forensics and Psychosocial Service of the Medical-Legal Department of Porto Alegre. Method: retrospective survey of data, which analyzed interviews of 47 victims of domestic violence, between April and May 2020. The sample consisted of 30 cases of intimate partner violence (IPV) and 17 cases of family violence (VF). Sociodemographic and criminal variables and the opinion on the dynamics of violence in quarantine were analyzed. Result: domestic violence predominantly affected female victims (96.6% of intimate partner violence and 58.8% of family violence). The male gender was a victim of family violence in extreme age groups. Women suffered violence throughout their life cycle, but aggressions by intimate partners showed peaks in adolescence and youth. Children were abused by close relatives and victims over 60 years of age suffered physical violence from their children or sons-in-law. In intimate partner violence, 53% of the sample reported aggression by ex-partners, between 15 days and two years’ timeframe. In the opinion of 90.3% of women, quarantine did not change the frequency or intensity of abusive acts. Conclusion: violence in the domestic environment predominantly affects people in vulnerable situations such as children, women and the elderly.

Keywords: gender violence, domestic violence, quarantine Covid-19


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has become an important resource to slow down the speed of contamination. However it has also prompted economic, physical and emotional changes for some families. In this scenario, domestic violence can be triggered or intensified, evolving into serious forms such as femicide or familicide (1,2,3,4). This abusive behavior can occur among a couple (Intimate Partner Violence – IPV) or in a family (Family Violence – VF) (Peterman, 2020). Anyone can be the victim of an abusive relationship, but women and children are at increased risk of physical or sexual violence, while the elderly and people with special needs are often neglected (5).

For many domestic abusers, isolating the victim is a way of controlling and reducing opportunities for disclosure of violence (1). Normally these victims are restricted in the use of social networks, internet and cell phone, not having the emotional support offered by friends, family, schools, churches and other institutions during the quarantine (6,7,8,9). With the closure of pubs, restaurants, bars and other places where alcohol consumption takes place, aggressors often start consuming at home, increasing the risks of domestic violence. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have documented an increase in homicides in the domestic setting (1,10,11).

When analyzing the social impact of major natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis), studies have shown that some crime rates may remain unchanged, but domestic violence rates often increase (8,9,10,11,12). Following the pattern of other high-impact events, domestic violence is expected to continue in dysfunctional families during the pandemic and many years later. Case reportshave significantly increased in Argentina, Denmark, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. In China, for instance, cases have tripled, and in France there has been a 30% increase in reports of domestic violence, an increase ranging from 40% to 50% of cases (11,13), with a 17% increase in the number of calls with reports of violence against women during the month of March, the initial period of social distancing (14). In addition to financial and movement restrictions, women have ended up experiencing an increase in domestic work, care for children, the elderly and sick family members (15).

When notifying domestic violence, mainly in the form perpetrated by an intimate partner (IPV), the victims themselves usually seek help from the authorities, taking advantage of occasions when the aggressor is not at home. However, these opportunities for seeking help diminish during social isolation (14). The same does not happen when it comes to violence against children (VF), where the intervention of neighbors, friends or teachers is relevant for reporting abusive events (9). It is estimated that many cases of domestic violence remain unreported during the period of social isolation, increasing risks to the victims who remain at home with the abuser. (5). Some victims have also reported concerns about seeking medical attention for fear of contagion from COVID-19(1).

Domestic violence has been a growing social problem in Brazil and national research about the social isolation in the COVID-19 pandemic is still scarce. Therefore, the proposed study aims to present demographic data of victims of this type of violence, in the VPI or VF modalities, between April and May 2020 and which were evaluated at the Clinic of Forensics and Psychosocial Service of the Medical-Legal Department (DML) of Porto Alegre. Variances in the data will be evaluated, allowing and establishing a brief epidemiological profile of these individuals, contributing to insert them in the existing social policies.


This cross-sectional study, with a retrospective assessment of data, has analyzed interviews of 47 people with a history of domestic violence, during the months of April and May 2020, conducted by a Social Service technician from the Medical-Legal Department of Porto Alegre. This psychosocial activity was offered to people who were waiting for forensic examinations at the Clinical Forensic, between 8 am and 6 pm, from Monday to Friday;succeeding to the public and private assistance network. The population covered by the Medical-Legal Clinic under study is 2,216,975 inhabitants, considering the population of the capital and eight other cities in the metropolitan region. However, with the closure of some forensic posts in the neighboring cities, people from other cities have also come to the capital for medical and legal examinations. Social distancing in the city of Porto Alegre began on March 17, 2020.

Forms of domestic violence were classified as intimate partner violence (IPV) and family violence (VF). The sample consisted of 30 cases of IPV and 17 cases of VF. The sociodemographic variables analyzed in this study were: sex, skin color, age and origin of the victims. Variables of forensic interest were also researched: prior victimization, degree of relationship with the aggressor(s), type of violence and instrument used in the abusive event. For women victims of IPV, an opinion on social isolation (pandemic COVID-19) in the dynamics of violence was requested and it was verified whether there was a request for a protective measure. The information was obtained through the General Forensics Protocol of the General Forensics Institute, police notifications and interviews with specialists.

The research has been authorized by the Teaching and Research Sector of the Porto Alegre Medical-Legal Department / General Forensics Institute – RS.


3.1. Sex

In this study, domestic violence mostly has affected female victims for both modalities addressed. Violence between partners (IPV) was reported by 29 women (96.6% of the sample) and only one man (3.3% of the sample). In cases of VF, cases involving 10 women (58.8% of the sample) and seven men (41.1% of the sample) were reported.

3.2. Skin color

In our study, it was observed that 78.7% of the sample (37 cases) were caucasian. Both black (5 cases) and mixed (5 cases) skin colors corresponded to 21.2% of the sample. All men (children and adults) who were victims of violence were caucasian.

3.3. Age range

The age groups of victims of violence in the domestic assortment showed a different distribution in the two modalities studied: intimate partner violence (IPV) and family violence (VF). The male gender was predominantly victim of family violence in the extreme age groups: early childhood and over sixty years old (Figure 1). The only male report of aggression by a partner occurred in a 51-year-old individual.

Figura 2. Faixas etárias de mulheres vítimas de violência familiar e por parceiro íntimo
Fig.1: family violence – differences between age groups for men and women

The Figure 2 represents women that have suffered violence throughout their life cycle, but aggression by partners showed peaks in adolescence (15 – 19 years) and youth (25 – 29 years) and the majority of cases of violence within the family occurred between 40 and 55 years old. In this study, IPV and VF in women showed an inverse distribution according to age, with 56.6% of women victims of IPV (17 cases) and 23.5% of women victims of IPF (4 cases) were under 30 years old. Above 40 years of age, 5 cases of IPV (16.6% of the sample) and 6 cases of VF (35.2% of the sample) were observed.

Fig.2: female violence – distribution by age

3.4. Origins of victims

According to Figure 3, most victims who reported violence perpetrated by an intimate partner (IPV) resided in the capital (18 cases or 60% of the sample). Similar data were observed for cases of family violence (VF), where 64.7% of the sample (11 cases) were also domiciled in the capital.

Figure 3: origin of victims of violence by intimate partner and family

3.5. Relationship with the suspect

In cases of family violence (VF), all children and adolescents were attacked by the protection figures – mothers, fathers and stepfather. Likewise, all victims over 60 years of age suffered physical violence from their children or sons-in-law. In the other age groups, domestic aggressors were nephews, brothers-in-law, stepchildren, sons-in-law and brother.

In intimate partner violence (IPV), the aggressors lived with the victims in 11 cases (36.6% of the sample) – husbands / wife, boyfriends or partners. All women under the age of twenty lived with their partners when they made the police report and one was pregnant with the attacker. Three victims (10.0%) were in the process of separation and 53% of the sample (16 cases) were assaulted by ex-partners, ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends. The separation time between the victim and the aggressor varied between 15 days and two years.

3.6. Type of violence

Family domestic violence (VF) was produced predominantly by a blunt instrument through the use of hands in 94.1% of the sample (16 cases). There was a case of sexual assault in an adult victim with special needs.

Intimate partner violence was exclusively by physical aggression in 14 cases or 46.6% of the sample, produced by blows with the hands, bites and hair pulling. One victim reported assault with a knife. Two women were rescued in private prison, where they reported physical, psychological and sexual violence. A single victim reported exclusive psychological violence by his partner. In 43.3% of the sample (13 cases) there was a report of physical and psychological violence, evolving to death threats and stalking. The only male case of IPV involved physical violence.

3.7. Previous victimization

In one third of the victims (33.3% of the sample), there was previous police notification of violence by an intimate partner (current or previous), in the form of physical and / or psychological violence.

3.8. Opinion on social isolation in the dynamics of violence

Women who were victims of violence by their partners responded in 90.3% of the sample (28 cases) that quarantine did not change the frequency or intensity of abusive acts. However, for 3 women between 21 and 36 years of age (9.6% of the sample), the stress related to social isolation contributed to the increase in violence.

3.9. Protective Measure Request

At the time of police notification, 20 women (68.9% of the sample) who were victims of domestic violence perpetrated by their partners requested emergency protective measures at the time of police notification, but none accepted protection in shelters. In eight cases (27.5% of the sample), women had previous protective measures against the aggressor.


In this study, it was observed that there was a predominance of female victims in both types of domestic violence, with 96.6% of women suffering violence by an intimate partner (IPV) and 58.8% by other family members (VF). Domestic violence against men was observed in the extreme age groups: childhood and old age. Although men can also be victims of domestic violence, women are immensely more affected by this type of violence, in the different forms presented: physical, sexual, psychological, economic and stalking. Throughout the life cycle, it is estimated that 35% of women will have experienced physical / sexual violence by an intimate or family partner (8,15).

Children and adolescents were victims of family violence in 29.4% of the sample and 16.6% of cases of intimate partner violence involved girls between 16 and 19 years of age. Studies on previous illnesses and humanitarian crises suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may exacerbate pre-existing risks of domestic violence, especially against adolescent girls (16). With social isolation, many children remained in homes with abusers and without the protection space that schools usually provided (17). In Brazil, efficient public health policies have reduced infant mortality rates in the first years of life. However, young children remain predisposed to intrafamily violence, due to their condition of dependence on caregivers and few interactions in the non-domestic environment (18,19, 20). It is estimated that, every year, one billion children suffer physical, psychological or sexual violence around the world and, in 2017, 40 thousand children were victims of homicide. A survey of 70 murders of girls and adolescents in Porto Alegre, between 2010 and 2016, showed that 72.7% of the victims of femicide (intimate partner) were between 13 and 15 years old (20).

Only a few national surveys address violence in dating and intimate relationships among young people. However, international organizations describe the problem of early marital unions and child marriages, where violence can begin in the early stages of the relationship, mainly affecting girls. This culture of violence in dating relationships, jealousy and possession end up generating violent processes of power and subordination (18, 20, 21). In this study, physical aggression during pregnancy and private prison were described by the adolescents. In quarantine, the presence of pregnant adolescents at home can favor school dropout and encourage early or forced marriages, considering the need for care for the future baby and economic issues. (16)

Young women (less than 30 years old) were more affected by partner violence (56.6% of the sample). Among women who already had some urgent protective measure, 75% of the cases (six women) were in this age group. The notification of the facts in many cases worsened the aggressor’s degree of violence and some women reported a new violent episode or death threat after seeking help. There are reports of two attackers who defied authorities and neighbors demonstrating the feeling of possession over the victim. The literature describes this perverse perception of the male partner of the woman, considering her as an object and not as a person(15). In quarantine, the desires for power, domination and submission can be enhanced and culminate in the maximum degree of violence in the relationship – feminicide (22).

The pandemic brought significant social effects from the forced isolation among family members. Stress factors, feelings of confusion and anger end up generating a tendency to explosive behaviors that can last for weeks or months, increasing the risk of domestic violence (1, 23, 24, 25, 26). In our study, people over sixty years old (3 cases – 17.6% of the sample) were assaulted by their children or sons-in-law. All the elderly were male and, in two situations, were beaten while defending their daughters from violence by their partners.

As a limitation to the study, we observed that the sample corresponded to the portion of victims who underwent an examination at the forensic clinic and, spontaneously, requested assistance in the psychosocial sector. Thus, it does not correspond to the total number of domestic violence cases that took place in the period, and it is not possible to make inferences about the increase in the number of domestic violence cases in the analyzed period.


Violence in the home environment predominantly affects people in vulnerable situations, such as children, women and the elderly. During social isolation, children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to family violence and women to intimate partner violence. The presence of the aggressor at home and the decrease in external activities leave the victims dependent on finding an excuse to be able to leave and seek care. In addition to financial and movement restrictions, women end up experiencing an increase in domestic work, care for children, the elderly and sick family members. For these reasons, it is important to widely disseminate the forms of notification of the various types of violence in the domestic environment, facilitating the victims’ access to the protection systems, increasing the number of professionals destined to meet this demand and offering innovative means for help, such as the code used in pharmacies in Spain, France and Brazil.

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