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UCSD Survey Indicates Rise in Violence, Drug Abuse In State During Pandemic

A man passes a store that closed as part of efforts to combat the spread of the new coronavirus Thursday, April 9, 2020, in San Diego.
Gregory Bull / AP Photo
A man passes a store that closed as part of efforts to combat the spread of the new coronavirus Thursday, April 9, 2020, in San Diego.

A rise in partner and family violence, substance abuse and online sexual harassment accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic in California, according to a survey of more than 2,200 residents conducted by researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Chicago.

According to the researchers, 19% of respondents reported an increase in violence in their community during the pandemic, 15% reported more partner violence against women, 11% reported an escalation in family violence against children and 35% reported a rise in substance abuse in their community.

The researchers from UCSD and the University of Chicago's NORC research organization interviewed 2,203 Californians in March 2020, then again this March to examine the effects of the pandemic over the course of the year.


Other findings include a 3% increase in reports of physical violence, including threats with a weapon, and a 3% increase in reports of online sexual harassment.

"The outward effects of the pandemic on health and the economy are just the tip of the iceberg," said Anita Raj, director of the Center on Gender Equity and Health at UCSD and lead researcher on the survey. "Less visible effects of the pandemic include more violence, harassment and substance misuse, compounding stress felt in communities across the state. Latinx and Asian Californians are especially likely to witness this increased violence in their communities."

The survey also took into account the rise in political and social activism seen in 2020 and its apparent effects on firearm possession.

One-third of survey respondents attended a political or activism event between March 2020 and March 2021, with 10% of those people reporting they carried a firearm at the events. Among survey respondents, 8% bought a firearm during the pandemic, and 4% of those people said it was their first time acquiring a gun.

"For many Californians, the murder of George Floyd and the contentious election were reasons to demonstrate despite fears of COVID-19," said Nicole Johns, a research data analyst at the Center on Gender, Equity and Health at UCSD. "The number of people saying they carried a firearm to these kinds of events was surprising — and in light of incidents of gun violence seen across the country, this may raise security concerns."