What Can We Do About Domestic Violence During the Holidays?
The holidays are often thought of as “the most wonderful time of the year.” But for victims of domestic violence, the holidays can be a time of isolation and fear.
Listen to the “Sexploitation?” Podcast Episode on Domestic Violence During the Holidays.
Available on iTunes, and GooglePlay.
Domestic or intimate partner abuse (whether it’s physical, emotional, or sexual) is often more likely to occur when stress levels are high, and unfortunately holiday seasons bring their fair share of stress.
Unrealistic expectations for an abundance of holiday spirit or the perfect meal or the best gifts can increase tensions during the season—not to mention the financial strain of added expenses, prolonged close proximity, and increased alcohol consumption.
All of these factors may lower inhibitions to domestic violence during the holidays, but it’s important to underscore that no amount of stress or alcohol can ever cause domestic abuse. Only the abuser causes abuse.
Domestic abuse during the holidays gets cursory media attention every year, and there are always headlines about increased reports of domestic violence during this season.
However, some experts are saying that this is not actually the case.
On Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day the National Domestic Violence Hotline has reported a decrease in calls—by nearly 53 percent.
Why? Survivors may want to try salvaging the holiday, or they don’t want to separate children from family, or they can’t find the private time to call for help or support. Whatever survivors’ reasons, advocates across the board insist that this decline in reports or calls doesn’t mean the violence stopped on those days.
The holidays can act as a mask over domestic abuse. Christmas, Hanukkah, the New Years, can all serve as a thin veneer covering up what’s going on beneath the surface. But just because we might not see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence nearly 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner per minute in the United States. That adds up to more than 10 million women and men in a year.
No matter which national statistic you use, one thing is clear: domestic violence is a problem in nearly every community. Including yours.
So what can we do?
1) Identify abusive relationships:
It can be very difficult to spot an abusive situation. The majority of abusers are only violent with their current or past intimate partners. In fact, one study found 90% of abusers don’t have criminal records. An abusive partner could appear friendly and charming from the outside looking in.
Nevertheless, here are some warning signs that might help you spot a potentially toxic or unhealthy relationship:
- Extreme jealousy,
- Accusing their partner of flirting or cheating on them,
- Blaming their partner for things that go wrong,
- Sabotaging their partner’s ability to work or attend school,
- Controlling all the finances,
- Controlling what the person wears, or who they hang out with,
- Embarrassing or humiliating their partner in front of others,
- Causing an emotional rollercoaster of fighting and then making up.
2) Support those being abused:
If you’re the friend of someone who is dealing with domestic abuse, or if someone confides in you that they are being abused in their relationship, it’s important to remain calm and supportive. Janice Miller, Director of Client Services at House of Ruth—an intimate partner violence center in Maryland—says that the “goal [of that first] conversation is not to get her to leave—the goal is to make sure she feels heard and validated.”
Common suggestions for loved ones of those in abusive situations include:
- Don’t judge the person in an abusive relationship (you are not in their situation,)
- Don’t tell them that the abuser is a horrible person, that you knew they were no good, etc. (While it’s understandable that this may be your visceral reaction, expressing these strong feelings might actually drive them away or make them feel as if they need to defend their abuser,)
- Listen and be a confidant, a safe place to process,
- Affirm that they deserve to be treated with respect, and to be safe.
As your relationship progresses with this person, over the course of time and several conversations let them know that:
- You are afraid for their safety / the safety of their children,
- It’s not their fault, and nobody deserves to be abused,
- Alcohol isn’t the cause of the abuse, most abusive alcoholics will continue to abuse even after they stop drinking,
- You can create a code word for when to call the police or pick the children up from school in a dangerous situation,
- They are not alone. Either offer yourself as a confidant, or connect them with someone who has the capacity to be there for them through this process. Be realistic about the extent of help you can offer, and don’t make false promises. You can suggest professional help in the form of therapists, legal counsel, law enforcement, religious leaders, etc.
Domestic violence is something we need to be aware about during the holidays, but also 365 days a year. Never underestimate the impact one individual who is aware, and invested, can have on others’ lives.
- If you are ever in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
- For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7 call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE)
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog: Safety Planning for the Holidays
- Find domestic shelter near you: https://www.domesticshelters.org/
- If you’re a friend concerned about someone: http://ncadv.org/learn-more/friends-and-family
- List of 25 Ways to Help Those Experiencing Abuse.