[This post first appeared on Picking Up the Pieces, December 30, 2013]
Ah, the holidays! Such a festive season! People get time off to spend with their families, stores dress themselves in holiday finery, television and radio programming is upbeat with positive themes of giving, forgiveness, and the joy associated with the season. And yes, people look forward to good food, good company, and good times (not to mention getting presents)! Although I don’t celebrate the holidays, I can well relate to enjoying fun occasions with family and friends. In fact, due to many close associates I know having time off and a particularly cherished semi-annual occasion that happened to coincide with the holiday celebrations, I had extra opportunities to do that this week.
For many, unfortunately, this time of the year is not all sweetness and light. It is downright depressing, even life threatening. I’m speaking of those who are victims of domestic violence. “Why would such an uplifting season cause anyone to suffer?!” you may wonder. That’s a fair question which I’ll try to answer through a combination of statistical and anecdotal references.
Lilani Goonesena wrote an article appearing on Women’s Agenda, an online journal/newsletter that provides “the latest news and views relevant to the career-minded woman.” In it, she quotes Dr. Bruce Redman of the Salvation Army in Australia, who identifies the December holiday season as “truly the most difficult time of the year for families and individuals in need.” The reasons for this are many: financial stress, greater alcohol consumption, and interestingly increased family togetherness. She noted that the Salvation Army assists three times as many people during December than in any other month. She also cites “Margaret” (name changed), who runs a shelter in Sydney. Margaret notes that the holiday season brings hope of change, yet often that hope goes unrealized. “We find…that it’s after Christmas and New Year’s Eve that things go wrong, especially if alcohol’s involved,” she explains.
As an ancillary survivor of DV (children in the household feel the effects as well), I can tell you about the explosive combination provided by the holidays, drinking, and abuse. Dad had a need to impress others, and that often led to extravagant spending. Of course, when you go all out to show off what you have, you tap the well dry pretty quickly. That always led to a short fuse, and drinking was like adding C4 to the naturally occurring dynamite he had hidden beneath his friendly and outgoing exterior. I’m always amazed at the strength of my mother in enduring not simply the physical violence (which admittedly wasn’t as frequent) but the emotional abuse (which was daily) for as long as she did. To think that we had it relatively easy compared to what others go through!
What happens when a situation reaches a breaking point and a DV victim decides to leave an abuser and seek aid at this time of year?
The Straw and the Camel: What Happens When the Back Breaks
We’ve often heard the expression “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” When you push someone to the breaking point, it only takes one more thing to push them over the edge. With abuse victims, however, Margaret noted above makes an interesting point. Though the decision to act (leave) is sudden, the victim lived at the breaking point for a long time. So while it took that final act to push them over the edge, the victims often ride that edge for many months at least, and numerous years in a number of cases. That’s part of what makes domestic violence so insidious. As Margaret notes, we must measure trauma by the length of time the victim endured the violence, not by the form it takes. Therefore you can’t simply look for physical signs to determine the severity of abuse.
When the straw hits and the back breaks, what is a victim to do? Many things must happen, typically involving multiple organizations. This is where things get a little tricky. The immediate need is to get the victim and, if a part of the equation, the children into a safe environment. Sometimes the home of a trusted friend or perhaps a family member provides a safe haven. In many cases, it means going to a shelter (unfortunately, with cuts in funding for some social services, finding shelters is challenging). The victim may need to execute an order of protection. Since access to funds shared with the abuser is often difficult (if not impossible), getting money to pay for basic necessities becomes an issue. Additionally, the victim now faces the process of separating from the abuser, which often presents a lengthy battle with significant legal and social hoops through which the victim must jump. Amy eloquently and effectively examines many of these factors in numerous posts on this blog (see her “Another Side of Domestic Violence” series by typing that phrase in the Search window on the sidebar of her blog). When we consider the diverse and often traumatic factors involved, you can see why Spring Lee feels it takes a community to deal with the problem. In her article, “Domestic Violence and the New Year,” she makes a bold statement:
“When a woman finally reaches the point of calling for help the situation is normally so far gone and so bad that their or their children’s life is in danger. It is an emergency situation that requires the organization to act fast. Removing the family from the home safely and quickly is essential, but that takes money and several organizations to work in unison to make that happen. None of this is possible without the help of the community.” – Spring Lee, http://www.examiner.com/
Thus we all have our part to play. We can do so by contributing to causes we feel worthy. [Note: Do your due diligence and select organizations you feel worthy. Make a determination based on the impact they have on the problem that is Domestic Violence rather than simply the ratio of “overhead” to direct contributions to the cause. A great primer is Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk below] We also contribute by keeping our eyes open and being aware of the signs domestic violence leaves in the lives of its victims. When we notice the signs, be ready to help – but only on the victim’s terms. Being in the situation, they know things about their abuser we never could. So be supportive, be empathetic, and be ready-to-act when the victim is ready to make a move.
The Long-Term Solution
The suggestions above help address the immediate needs of a victim. What about the long-term solution? While additional funding of programs, enforcement of existing legislation in some instances, and a complete change to existing (or introduction of new) laws will help, that’s only part of the answer. The real key lies not in legislation but in education. Abusers need to see what they do as wrong and agree to live by a different set of principles. That’s something no human government can accomplish. However, there are many who chose to live by the guiding principles found in the Bible, and among those people are many who were formerly abusive but who now follow the Christian law of love. You can read about the experience of Valerie and Troy, and see how the application of Scriptural principles produced a profound change in Troy’s personality. This led to a loving, secure home environment for Valerie, as well as their children Desiree and Daniel. That type of education can and is producing amazing results around the world. Eventually, we’ll see the effects of such divine education earth-wide. In the meantime, let’s do all we can to be supportive of victims of domestic abuse as they struggle to survive “the most difficult time of the year.”
What are your experiences regarding the holidays and domestic violence? How were you able to cope? What advice would you give to those going through similar experiences now? Join the discussion on “Picking up the Pieces” by clicking here.
- Domestic violence set to be targeted by tough new law (theguardian.com)
- PEER study says Mississippi held back $1.6 million from domestic violence shelters (gulflive.com)
- Increased domestic violence on Christmas (wptv.com)
- Bid to make domestic abuse a crime (standard.co.uk)
- Male domestic violence victims need more support (smh.com.au)
- Another Side of Domestic Violence: Intimate Partner Violence in the LGBT Community (sweetmarie9619.wordpress.com)
- Holiday effects on domestic violence (wyff4.com)