Debunking Myths: DV and the Holidays

By Rebecca Lynn

It is common knowledge that the holidays are stressful. They create expectations and pressure to decorate your yard, get your kids everything on their wish list, and joyfully entertain large groups of friends and family members. But often behind the “Ugly Christmas sweaters,” and crowded eggnog-filled festivities are people who are having a hard time finding the magic of the holidays. The joyful holiday preparations can leave you feeling financially stretched, worried about seeing certain family members and simply exhausted. The time, money, and effort put into the holidays often leaves people feeling “let down,” whether you are in an abusive relationship or not.

One might assume that with the increased stress and expectations of the holidays, domestic violence incidents would rise during the time between Thanksgiving and New Years. Perhaps this would lead to a larger volume of hotline and 911 calls or searches for shelter.

The holidays are frequently seen as a time when a victim is at heightened risk. In typical relationships, stress can increase disagreements and frustrations between couples, so in theory, it should only intensify the relationship between the abuser and the victim.  However, abusive relationships take on a whole new dynamic, one that the majority of the world isn’t aware of, and one that is much different than the typical idea of a relationship.

A domestic violence relationship is not a “typical” relationship, it is one based on isolation, coercion, and a pattern of behaviors that focuses on the abuser controlling the victim. The pattern of violence occurs in a cycle, one that increases in intensity and frequency as time goes on. Generally, the cycle starts with a strain in communication and an increase in tension between the abuser and the victim, one that continues until the abuser is triggered, and the abuse occurs. The victim is frequently accused of causing the abuse, over-reacting to injuries, or deserving them. The abuse is then followed by what is called the “honeymoon phase,” it is during this phase that the abuser gains the most control. The victim is assured that the abuse will never happen again, that they are sorry, and want to change–for the victim and their family. Abusers often give gifts, make promises, and convince the victim that this is the time it will be different. The abuser reassures the victim of their love and that it is best for the entire family if they make it work. Often this manipulation does work and couples make up, spend more time together, and the victim is convinced it won’t happen again…until the cycle repeats.

Domestic violence is not about the abuser losing control, it is about the abuser keeping control of the victim. Incidents don’t happen on particular days, the abuser and victim are always somewhere in the pattern of abuse. Domestic violence is not a one-time occurrence, it is on-going and without understanding the dynamics of abuse, one can assume things that are not necessarily facts. The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence offers a Holiday toolbox to both the community and the victim. The website provides information about the misconceptions surrounding domestic violence and the holidays, including statistics on calls for help, articles regarding domestic violence and the holidays, and general information about the pattern of abuse. The toolbox, also contains support for the victim, anything from tips to handle stress, how to stay safe during the holidays, and community resources in case they need them.

Domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes, with a majority of abuse never being reported. Research is limited to tracking the numbers of people who do report the incidents, either by calling domestic abuse hotlines, entering shelters, or calling the police. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, the call volume on the holidays between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in 2016 decreased, instead of spiking as many assume. It was reported that on an average day the National Domestic Violence Hotline received 829 calls. However, on Thanksgiving, the calls dropped to 486, Christmas Eve had 531, Christmas Day 560, and New Year’s Eve increased to 634, but was still well under average daily call volume. Safe Horizon also reports that there are fewer calls for resources and shelter during this time.   

So, is the abuse still occurring, but just not being reported during the holidays? These are questions that can only be answered by the abusers and victims themselves. However, one of the biggest reasons a victim stays with their abuser is for their children and the family they want for them. Victims have been told and believe that they lack the finances, support, confidence, and resources to raise their children on their own. They also know, unlike a large amount of society, that leaving is one of the most dangerous times for a victim, making a call for help or leaving is less likely during the holidays.

Similar to the majority of society, victims are seeking the magic of Christmas. They look forward to the look in their children’s eyes when they open gifts or sit down for a meal together, as a family, with both parents. Often the abuser goes out of their way to be the kind, loving, involved parent that everyone sees them as when others are around. The victims often feel it is their responsibility to make the holidays go as smooth as possible and they may go out of their way to accommodate the abuser–walking on eggshells to prevent tension. It isn’t hard for a victim to get caught up in the illusion that every day could be like Christmas, only to discover all too soon that the cycle doesn’t end.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

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