Last week, in the blog “The Holidays and Domestic Violence,” we saw some numbers that suggestion abuse calls to shelters and law enforcement actually lessen in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. Obviously, with the prevalence of victims not wanting to or being able to report domestic violence, this does not mean that rates of abuse actually drop. We will likely never know the answer to that question.
While we are confronted with uncertain analytics for the exact levels of violence in the months of November and December, the holiday season does present opportunities to help victims. It is this time of year when many of us see family and friends that we may not see other months. This provides each and every one of us with the opportunity to look for the signs of an abusive relationship.
According to the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are plenty of warning signs to be aware of at the next family function.
“Their partner insults them in front of other people.”
Yes, many couples take cute, little jabs at each other in a joking manner. A constant, relentless assault of defamation is a different story. Most healthy people meeting a significant other’s friends and family for the first time will not want to make a bad impression. Seeing this type of behavior would be a big red-flag, especially when first meeting a new romantic interest for your friend or family member.
“They are constantly worried about making their partner angry.”
There is no way around it, the holiday season is stressful. That being said, if you see someone overly concerned about how a significant-other will react to simple mistakes, that is an important sign. You can simply be on the lookout for the way she phrases her stresses and frustrations.
“They make excuses for their partner’s behavior.”
This is a sign that I wish my family had seen when I was younger. My father being uncomfortable and anti-social at every family gathering. My mother, constantly trying to explain that he was tired; or had to work the night-shift in a few hours; or that it was really important for him to see that particular football game in the other room.
There is a lot of drinking around the holidays, and that can lead to drunken slips. She may feel the need to apologize for the drinking, or to cover up for something that was said during the inebriated haze. Abusers can sometimes let down their guards after a few drinks. Being drunk is never an excuse for abuse, but it certainly lowers inhibitions to allow true colors to show to the world. If she is constantly covering for gross, abusive actions, it may be time to take her aside and say something.
“Their partner is extremely jealous and possessive.”
So many of us have moved away from our hometowns. A visit back to see family can also be a chance to catch-up with old friends from high school. If she gets uncomfortable talking about old boyfriends in front of him, or hearing stories about high school celebrity crushes, that could be an indicator of an abusive relationship.
“They’ve stopped spending time with friends and family.”
The Office on Women’s Health’s list is more comprehensive than this. The final warning sign we will be discussing today is pretty self-explanatory. If that relative who always loved the holidays, and couldn’t get enough of being with family is just not around as much this year, that should set off some alarms. A new, healthy relationship should be an enhancement to the family dynamic. This doesn’t mean that a new relationship can’t lead to a whole separate set of obligations. Still, someone who is mysteriously absent at events that were once the highlight of her year could be trying to avoid showing you something (How to help a friend who is being abused 2018).
What Can You Do to Be an Ally to a Survivor?
Holidays aren’t just hard for those victims who are in abusive relationships. Survivors, who have escaped abuse, also face unique challenges between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The National Research Center on Domestic Violence has some suggestions geared towards shelters in particular, but can be adjusted for all of us who want to help survivors thrive in this time of year(Domestic Violence and the Holidays 2011)
The first tip seems so obvious, but I honestly never would have thought of it, even after growing up in an abusive household. Helping a survivor who recently escaped an abusive situation adjust her holiday routine can be critical to keeping her safe. This can include things like avoiding seasonal events that she would attend routinely with her ex. Maybe it is a bar that has a New Year’s Eve party, or a holiday parade in a small town.
A critical tip is using a P.O. Box, or not including a return address at all when sending out greeting cards. We all would hope that mutual friends would not side with the abuser after a split, but that is not always the case. A simple, kind gesture like sending out a card to the wrong person could give an abuser a dangerous amount of information (Domestic Violence and the Holidays 2011).
If you are meeting up with that friend that you know just escaped a domestic violence situation, switch up the location. Don’t have lunch at that restaurant the two of you have frequented for years. Often, we forget about how much of the information surrounding our friendships ends up in the hands of our friends’ significant-others. That is something an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband would likely know.
Finally, if your family is anything like mine, holidays get repeated with military-like precision. If I had the DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” I could find myself on any Christmas Day from 1985-1998. At eight o’clock in the morning, everybody was at our house for the first present opening. By ten o’clock, we were at my great-aunt’s house for a breakfast of eggs and “Long Johns.” It was noon for present opening at my grandparents’, followed by a prompt, one-o’clock lunch. I could trace this routine all the way to 9:30 at night; sitting in front of the tree at home, and putting together the presents from the day.
Routines like this are great for making holiday memories, but they can be dangerous for a woman just out of an abusive relationship. The ex knows these routines, especially if the relationship lasted a number of years. My mother and I didn’t escape my father until I was in high school. In retrospect, we were just lucky that he never showed up at one o’clock to cause a scene. We were lucky that he didn’t follow my mother home from my great-aunt’s to find out where we lived. Changing around these holiday traditions are a small price to pay to keep a loved one safe.
I love the song “The Twelve Pains of Christmas.” If you are not familiar, the song is a list of stressors and annoyances we all experience this time of year. I always laugh when the man putting the lights on the tree screams, “when one goes out, they all go out!”
Even those of us who are in healthy relationships, and are on solid footing can get overwhelmed by the chaotic nature of the last five weeks of the year. Imagine what it is like for a survivor.
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence states, “Survivors may need additional emotional support from advocates, counselors, and helplines during the holiday season, especially if they are unable to be with their family, friends or faith community” (Domestic Violence and the Holidays 2011)
Making sure that you know of resources that are available to a loved one dealing with the aftermath of a toxic relationship can go a long way to helping make it through until New Year’s Day. Taking breaks to make sure everybody can breathe for a few minutes without rushing to next thing can be good for everybody; not just survivors.
Who Is a Survivor?
It is the season of giving. This doesn’t just mean monetarily. There are some marginalized groups who face abuse at a much higher rate than the rest of society. Survivors in these groups may not have the support-structures needed to make it through the holidays. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence specifically mentions immigrants, those with disabilities, abused military spouses, and members of the LGBTQA+ community (Domestic Violence and the Holidays 2011).
So many LGBTQA+ children find themselves on the streets with families who refused to support them. Abused military spouses can find themselves cut off from a tight-nit community that had been their whole world just last year. Immigrants are often separated from loving families, and put in situations that can lead to abuse. Reaching out to any of these communities could be a great way of sharing the good fortune that you have at this point in your life (Domestic Violence and the Holidays 2011).
Peace on Earth
We are all in this together. So many of us who want to be allies to victims are, ourselves, survivors. We have made it out of the violence, and have found some semblance of that peace that we hear talked about this time of year. We can spread that peace by simply being vigilant. Be aware if a friend or family member is acting out of character. Think outside the box if someone you love just got out of an abusive relationship. Reach out to the marginalized groups in your area. See if there is some way you can make this holiday just a little brighter for someone in a dark place.
Domestic Violence and the Holidays. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. (2011). Retrieved from https://vawnet.org/sites/default/files/assets/files/2016-11/TAGuidance-DVHolidays2011.pdf.
How to help a friend who is being abused. How to help a friend who is being abused | Office on Women’s Health. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/get-help/how-help-friend.