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Domestic Violence and the Holidays

Domestic Violence Never Takes Time off for the Holidays

People often ask if there is an increase in domestic violence during the holidays. The data on this is limited because it is often based on call volume to crisis centers between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, rather than the actual occurrence of the incident.

Starting Point advocates have experienced either no change or a slightly lower call volume during the holidays. They have, however, come to understand that this is not because domestic violence isn’t occurring but because victims tend to endure whatever they must to get through the holidays.

It is for this reason that calls to the crisis line typically increase in early January with reports of incidents that occurred during the prior two months, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

Calls for support do increase just prior to and during the holidays. And starting in late October advocates begin gearing up for the seasonal onslaught. Not like your elf-loving great aunt does (although advocates and volunteers do a lot of elfing) but more like a ship captain before a storm.

In the northeast, the coming of the holidays foreshadows for many victims and survivors the coming of cold weather-induced hard times.

For those who have been made homeless due to their victimization, this is a time of scramble to find indoor shelter. To those already living on the edge financially it’s a time of worry about upcoming increases in bills for heat, electricity, and clothing for kids, never mind the ‘Hallmark’ pressure to provide extras.

Women often experience an increase in domestic abuse on or around major holidays, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and even Super Bowl Sunday.

Many victims are unable to escape, despite the holidays being a time of family gatherings, warm conversations, and times of giving. They often don’t reach out for help precisely because the holidays are filled with these warm and fuzzy memory-making occasions because they don’t want to ruin their family time. Victims often take on this undue burden thinking that by reporting the abuse they are the ones tearing the family apart when of course it is the abuser who has done the damage.

According to statistics, domestic abuse increases over the holidays, for several reasons:

  • Stress from holiday shopping, finances, and planning can exacerbate volatile personalities.
  • Abusers are more likely to partake in alcohol or drugs when they don’t have to work. (Alcohol and drugs are an agitator of violence, not the cause. Power and control are the cause.)
  • Additional opportunity for abuse: abusers are more likely to be home alone with their victims than at other times of the year.

Some of the warning signs of domestic abuse are:

  • Bruises or cuts that are worse than their explanations merit (“I accidentally fell”, “I hit my head on an open cabinet”).
  • Undue startle reflex
  • Heavy make-up or unsuitable clothing, worn to cover up marks
  • Being unusually quiet, withdrawn, or fearful.
  • Anxiety or apprehension, especially when away from the abuser.
  • Depression or discussion of suicidal thoughts.
  • Development of a drug or alcohol problem.
  • Being late or canceling at the last minute more often than usual.
  • Avoiding parties or other activities they used to enjoy.
  • Lack of money or access to resources because their partner has control of it.

Some of these personality changes can be due to other circumstances, but when a survivor is experiencing abuse, including sexual abuse, you may notice these occurring in combination or with more frequency.

Red flags about the abuser’s behaviors that the victim explains away or may display can include:

  • Excusing abusive behavior as “moody” or from stress or as being due to drugs or alcohol.
  • Needing to “ask permission” to go out or communicate with friends.
  • Jealousy or accusations of infidelity from the partner.
  • Criticism from the partner.
  • Constant “checking in” via texts or phone calls from the partner.
  • Partner accompanying victim to events unnecessarily.

If you have never experienced the trauma of abuse just assume you will not completely understand the victim’s reactions. Above all be patient and stay available. It takes a lot of courage for victims to ask for help and may take many attempts over many years for them to eventually leave an abusive situation.

If you have concerns for a friend or family member, it’s important to understand that:

  • The violence is never the victim’s fault.
  • They may struggle to ask for help because they are afraid of retaliation
  • They may minimize the extent of the abuse because they are embarrassed or have been normalized to it
  • You should let them know that you are available to listen without judgment.
  • Allow them to tell you what they need, don’t assume leaving is the route they will take right off.
  • Leaving an abusive situation can be one of the most dangerous times in the relationship, with 85% of domestic homicides occurring during or after leaving, sometimes years after even.
  • Have a safety plan for yourself, both physically and emotionally

The best thing you can do is to have the victim call Starting Point. Let them know that the call is confidential and that they can call anonymously.

The Starting Point crisis line is also a place for family and friends to get support.

Domestic Violence doesn’t go on holiday but neither does Starting Point. Advocates are available 24/7/365 days a year at 1-800-336-3795.




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