Domestic violence is a 24/7, 365-day occurrence. It doesn’t take a break for birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. And given the extra family, financial and time stressors over the holiday season — combined with the liberal availability and use of alcohol — it’s easy to assume that there might be a spike in partner batteries over the next few weeks.
What the numbers show
While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from individuals and single shelters showing an increase in domestic violence from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, experts are quick to point out that the available data, though drawn from a small sampling, actually suggests the opposite.
A study performed by the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or the NDVH, that analyzed hotline phone records from 2004 to 2009 shows that not only do reports of intimate partner violence drop over the holidays, but the numbers also decrease significantly. According to the study, there was a 15 percent decrease in calls during the week of Thanksgiving, with up to 60 percent fewer calls on Thanksgiving Day than on other days throughout the year. The same held true for the rest of the holiday season: From Dec. 15 to Jan. 1, calls were down 5 to 25 percent, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day showing a 50 percent decrease. While the NDVH study saw decreases on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, another study conducted in 2005 and limited to the state of Idaho actually showed an increase on these days.
What the experts say
While calls to hotlines may be down during the holiday season, unreported domestic violence is still occurring. In an effort to make the holidays happy for their families and especially the children, many abused partners simply endure violence. “A lot of women will grin and bear it, trying to keep the peace so their children don’t have to spend the holidays in a shelter,” Katie Ray-Jones, president of NDVH, told CBS.
Abused partners may also put on a good face so as not to alert visiting friends and relatives to their troubles. But the brave persona can only go on so long. Experts claim that in the weeks following the holidays, calls to domestic violence centers rise again.
What to do if you’re the abused
If you’re an abused partner, making the holidays safer for you and other family members is paramount. Here, some tips from NDVH President Ray-Jones:
- Identify easy exits from the home. This is especially important if you’ll be staying in an unfamiliar home over the holidays. Know where doors, stairways and safe-to-exit windows are located. Do doors automatically lock or are there keys? If there are keys, where are they kept?
- Avoid, as much as possible, arguments in unsafe areas of the home like the kitchen, where things like knives, boiling water and heavy skillets are within reach.
- Establish a code word with children, who, upon hearing it, can run to a neighbor or relative for help.
Lastly, if you need help, reach out, whether it’s the holidays or not. Call police, a trusted friend, a family member or an abuse hotline. For confidential support, the NDVH can be reached 24/7, every day of the year, at 1-800-799-7233. When you’re ready, you can also contact a domestic violence attorney.