The winter holiday season comes packed with many traditions: decorations, gifts, loved ones, gatherings, meals, lights, movies, music. Sparkling cards fill the aisles of every store, depicting messages and pictures of happy families and occasions overflowing with joy and peace. However, for some families, experiencing domestic violence during the holidays is as traditional as hanging the lights and decorating the tree, bringing an unavoidable heaviness for survivors and advocates. In spite of the triggering memories, the manipulation, the feelings of fear, guilt, worry, and panic, the threats, and the violence, the shelters empty out, the hotlines stop ringing, and survivors and their families return home for the holidays, to try to make things work, to create the picture-perfect holiday card ideal, regardless of the cost to their wants, needs, mental health and safety. No one wants to spend the “merry” and “bright” holidays in a shelter.
Popular perception has long held that domestic violence increases during the holiday times, due to increased alcohol consumption, stress, tension, increased anxiety, overwhelming expectations and pressure, financial pressures, and strained family relationships. However, the idea that domestic violence increases because of holiday stressors can create misconceptions and perpetuate myths around the root cause of domestic violence. Although these conditions may make an abusive relationship more complex, impact a survivor’s overall safety and elevate their danger level, be used to justify or minimize the abuse, or may be an aspect of why a survivor stays or does not leave an abusive relationship, they are not inherently the root cause of domestic violence. Claiming that these circumstances alone cause domestic violence shifts the blame and responsibility away from the abuser and onto the stress of the holidays, therefore perpetuating the cycle of violence. Abuse lives inside those that believe they have the inherent right to have power and control over others. Abuse does not come and go like the holiday season. It is intentional, coercive and violent. But it does not have to be a holiday tradition.
As the pandemic and social distancing measures continue to limit access to resources and further isolate survivors and vulnerable people, this holiday season can present additional barriers and safety concerns for survivors seeking help. Thus, advocacy agencies, shelters and 24/7 helplines are more crucial than ever before.
At the YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment, we continue to open our doors and turn on our lights to answer the cry for justice. We continue to adapt the delivery of our services in order to meet survivors where they are, and when they are ready, to provide the safety, support and resources they need. Through the holidays and the pandemic and beyond, we will continue to show up and hold space for survivors, because we believe that everyone is worthy and deserving of the gifts of safety, support, and respect. Domestic violence does not take a holiday, and neither do we.
If you or someone you know has been impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or stalking, we will answer your call – day or night, weekends and holidays – and we will listen, as we have done for the past 43 years. Advocates are available 24/7 to talk to you or a loved one about Safety Planning for the Holidays.
The YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment, formerly the YWCA Battered Women’s Task Force, provides FREE and CONFIDENTIAL services to victims of domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and human trafficking in Shawnee, Jackson, and Wabaunsee Counties in Kansas. If you would like to speak to an advocate, please call our toll-free, 24-hour helpline: 1-888-822-2983.
By Emily Steimel-Handy, YWCA Center for Safety and Empowerment Public Education Coordinator