The holiday season is supposed to be a magical time, reuniting family and friends in celebration. However, for many families this holiday season, it can also be a time of great fear and isolation.
Statistically, one out of four women is affected by domestic violence in this country, and more than 25% of children are exposed to family violence. Unfortunately, holiday stress only produces an increase in this violence due to the tense atmosphere.
The pressure of normal holiday activities such as entertaining family, dealing with inclement weather, finding the perfect gift - especially in a time of financial strife - can cause tempers to run high. The increase of events with social drinking can aggravate the problem. In general, times of excessive drug and alcohol use, such as during an event like the Super Bowl, can lead to an increase in domestic violence. Adding the pressure of the holiday season into the mix can be a potentially deadly mix.
Abusers often use the holidays as a time to exercise their power and control over the victim. Many will try to isolate their partner from seeing other family or friends, using excuses of "true love" as justification. Utilizing this isolation, they tighten their grip on the victim, which also causes the victim to feel alone with no one else to lean on and as if the abuse is her/his fault. They may use economic control to further victimize their partner, including controlling purchases of food, decorations, presents, and preventing access to funds. Without access to money, the victim is inevitably trapped and unable to leave, not having any resources to obtain such needs as permanent housing or a lawyer to handle legal matters.
Victims are also more reluctant to leave a dangerous situation during the holiday season. No one wants to ruin the spirit of the holidays, and many victims may associate the violence occurring with the stress of the season and not with an underlying, ongoing problem. Plus, there is so much to do in preparation for the holidays; victims may use the flurry of activities as a distraction. Another reason that victims often do not leave during the holidays is due to the lack of options. When a victim's two choices are to either risk being homeless and on the streets with two children in cold weather or risk a beating once in a while, any human will seek latter for survival.
Watching the news, viewers may notice the spike in domestic violence related crime. This past Thanksgiving, the body of a 16 year-old girl from Prince George's County was found in a barrel in a Washington D.C. alley. Fatally stabbed, Ebony Franklin was reported missing on November 27th. It is believed she was murdered by someone she knew, someone she loved. Her story is only one of many where a woman goes "missing" and often foul play by a current partner or ex is responsible.
This holiday season, make an effort to control the stress and focus on the meaning of the season: family. Utilizing stress management techniques like physical exercise, breathing exercises, meditation, journaling, and counseling are all great methods to help control negative influences and help one stay calm in stressful situations. Keeping things in perspective and removing oneself from conflict can prevent one from becoming a statistic.
In addition, make an effort to stay safe when attending or hosting holiday celebrations. Avoid serving alcohol to those who have a history of becoming violent when intoxicated. When going out, make sure to be conscious of your surroundings, keep your cell phone accessible and let your companions and loved ones know where you are at all times. If you are in an abusive relationship, create a safety word that only people who are close to you would recognize and be able to react to.
As a family member or friend, it is important to be aware of the signs of abuse, such as depression, isolation or unexplained physical injury. If you think someone you love is being abused, speak up. Listen to his or her story, offer to help, and make an effort to create a safety plan together. But remember, you cannot force them to leave the situation - it must be their decision. Just as an abuser strips away the victim's power through control and fear, we cannot force a victim to leave before she or he is ready. While it may take them several attempts to truly leave their abuser, your support, concern, and non-judgment will make all the difference in helping him or her leave permanently.
If you are being abused, don't use the holidays as an excuse to delay seeking help. No one deserves to be abused by the person they love, and as a victim, it is never your fault! Every single person deserves love, respect, and dignity. For more information on the warning signs of an abusive relationship, how to get help, or how to help a friend in need, please visit www.beckysfund.org.
Co-authored by Kimberly Singh, Jeanette Lee, and Becky Lee
Follow Becky Lee on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EndDV