For many of us, the holidays are one of the happiest times of the year. We associate these winter months with family, celebration, and joy, but they can also come with extra helpings of pressure. Whether it’s financial stress from buying presents or the challenge of juggling even more obligations, anxiety is a common side effect of the high expectations of a having a “perfect” holiday. Each year around this time, local media outlets come out with stories about domestic violence spiking over the holidays, attributing the increase to these additional stresses. While building awareness of domestic violence and support for victims is helpful, the data just doesn’t always back up this kind of coverage and it neglects to tell the whole story.
An Overly Simplistic Narrative
It’s tempting to make the connection between stress, financial pressure, alcohol consumption and an increase in domestic violence. These are situations we can all easily imagine since most of us have experienced them, so we think, “sure, that makes sense: more stress, more violence.”
It’s important to remember that abuse is an intentional pattern of behavior used to control and intimidate. While there may be additional aggravating factors over the holidays, it’s naive to think of domestic violence as a reaction to stress and alcohol, or a problem that occurs on certain days of the year and disappears into the background the rest of the time.
The Numbers Don’t Add Up
A 2010 report by the National Resource Center for Domestic Violence states that reports of incidents actually tend to decrease on holidays, and in November and December in general, and then increase afterwards. Subsequent studies through 2015 show the same pattern.
There are multiple possible explanations for this. Holidays are a time of gathering, and abusers may be on their best behavior around friends or family members. It’s also possible that victims simply feel that they can’t report violence over the holidays because of an increased pressure to keep up appearances. Or they may be less likely to challenge or leave an abuser in an effort to maintain peace, particularly if there are children in the home.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a study with tidy percentages to tell us the exact reasons behind the when and why people decide to report domestic violence, and each situation will be different.
The Image it Creates Ignores Many Victims
With this media coverage, we not only make an assumption about why the abuse is happening, we also tend to imagine a specific situation — typically involving a man enacting physical violence on a wife or girlfriend. Intimate Partner Violence takes many forms and does not discriminate by race, gender or age.
What You Can Do
When you see these stories on the news, take a moment to think beyond the coverage and look beyond the numbers. Domestic violence victims and survivors need your support year round. Making a charitable donation to PetsEmpower, or a non-profit in your area creates a support network that exists 365 days a year. Volunteering to foster a pet temporarily is another way to give. One of the top reasons victims don’t leave their abusers is because they don’t want to leave behind pets and/or children. If you’re not able to make a bigger time or financial commitment, consider donating food or your time at a local domestic violence shelter, and help build awareness for these causes.
And finally, if you know or a suspect a friend or loved one is being abused, understand that the holidays are a difficult time, and don’t judge them for not leaving the situation. Leaving an abusive relationship is the biggest challenge a victim will face, no matter the season. Offer your love and friendship, and let them that there are resources available to help if they want to take steps to leave the relationship.
Photo via Flickr user West Midlands Police