University of Miami International and Comparative Law Review


Many commentators have referred to domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV) in the age of COVID-19 as a “double pandemic.” Based on results of a mixed-methods study on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on GBV in South Florida, conducted by the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law, in close collaboration with community-based organizations,1 this article offers a proposal for an expanded normative human rights framework to address domestic violence and other forms of GBV. The local study sought to elucidate the pathways that link pandemics such as COVID-19 and GBV, highlight linkages with other social and economic factors, seek greater clarity on the conditions and systems that actually lead to safety, and inform intervention and response options. Study results show just how underfunded and unprepared service providers have been to respond to victims’ needs and priorities during this pandemic.2 This article’s human rights analysis and recommendations offer approaches that respond to the most affected communities’ needs and priorities and insist on improved policy and government responses during the current crisis and its aftermath.
This study built off the fact-finding work of our Human Rights Clinic’s COURAGE in Policing Initiative (COURAGE = Community Oriented and United Responses to Address Gender Violence and Equality), which works with community-based organizations, police departments, and GBV experts locally, nationally, and globally on improving law enforcement responses to GBV. The project aims to increase access to safety and justice for all survivors, with a particular focus on black and brown women, immigrant women, disabled women, indigenous women, LGBTQI individuals, and other underserved populations. In collaboration with partners, the project is developing surveys, model policies, trainings, supervision protocols, reports, online resources, and systems of accountability for improving law enforcement responses to GBV, including research and tools specific to the COVID-19 context. But as the national dialogue transitioned away from law enforcement-centric solutions, and of course, as the pandemic set in in March 2020, the COURAGE project transitioned into a new iteration, which focused on a series of new research questions, namely: (1) How has the COVID pandemic impacted the service providers that interact with GBV survivors in South Florida?; (2) How have service providers responded to the new challenges?; and (3) What are the evolving needs of survivors and service providers throughout the pandemic? The ultimate goal of our research was to produce a series of recommendations that could be implemented across Miami-Dade County and nationwide, to address pressing immediate needs and to better prepare for future public health or other massive crises.
Below, we first discuss the “double pandemic” phenomenon of increased domestic violence and other forms of GBV in times of COVID-19. Next, we explore the intersectional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, as it relates to GBV survivors of color and from culturally-specific or underserved communities. Then, we offer a synopsis of our study results, and propose an expanded normative framework that broadens our understanding of how GBV survivors should be protected under international human rights law as well as domestic law. Finally, this article offers policy recommendations.