Domestic Violence and the Holidays: What to Know, and How to Be Safe
While most of us like to think of the holiday season as the happiest and most joyous time of the year, for many of us, it can also be one of the most stressful. According to studies, nearly 40 percent of us report an increase in stress during the holidays. Unfortunately, stress can also be a trigger for domestic violence among vulnerable families. Between a hotly contested election, economic woes, and the ongoing pandemic, this year’s holiday season promises to be more stressful than most.
All of these factors may strike a note of concern for you, especially if you’ve previously been arrested on domestic violence charges or have general trouble with anger management. What can you do now to keep your stress manageable? What steps can you take proactively to keep any holiday tensions from escalating into a very bad situation?
Looking at the Numbers…
First things first—let’s take a realistic look at family trends around the holidays, especially when it comes to domestic violence. There’s been a long-running narrative that assumes domestic violence increases during the holiday season, often attributing the stress factor as a trigger. In reality, though, the numbers send a mixed message here. While a couple of studies have suggested a spike in domestic violence particularly around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, a broader trend over time researched by the National Domestic Violence Hotline shows that the number of domestic violence calls doesn’t actually increase overall—and may actually decrease.
That being said, these statistics shouldn’t make us feel we can let down our guard. What these reports don’t tell us, and in fact can’t tell us, is how many domestic violence incidents go unreported during the holidays. (They can only track reported incidents.) Additionally, they don’t speak to holiday stress levels within families who may already be prone to domestic violence or who have a past history with it.
The main takeaway here: The good news is that given the statistics, you should not assume that domestic violence is inevitable around the holidays. You have more control over that dynamic than you think. On the other hand, it shouldn’t give you a false sense of security, either, because stress around the holidays can still trigger those who are already prone to letting tempers get out of hand.
Additional Risk Factors
Another matter to consider: While statistics may not point to a spike in domestic violence over the holidays in previous years, that fact may not be a good predictor for 2020. This year has seen much more than its share of stressors, many of which are carrying over into the holiday season. These include:
- The ongoing pandemic. Between rising infection rates, the threat of more lockdowns, and the uncertainty of when a vaccine will be available, the pandemic is still keeping many families in tight quarters under stress, where tensions can flare easily.
- Economic stresses. The pandemic has also caused a major dip in our economy, throwing record numbers of people out of work and causing financial hardships for many others. These concerns may carry well into the holidays, causing further stress.
- Natural disaster threats. Between an extremely active hurricane season in some areas and catastrophic fires in other areas (like here in California), many families are facing their own brand of PTSD, either from losing a home or living in constant fear of it.
- A volatile political process. This election cycle has been extremely contentious, and now with the prolonged uncertainty over election results and the next administration, many families are experiencing even more stress and uncertainty.
Even with all these stressors in play, you can still avoid further disaster over the holidays by taking steps now to avert family tensions from escalating into violence. Some tips to help:
- Acknowledge (and deal with) holiday stress before it becomes an issue. Simply admitting that the risk exists is a first step in minimizing it.
- Remove unreasonable expectations. Expectations tend to cause stress, but remember that this holiday season may be different than most. It may be okay to change some traditions for this year just to keep the peace.
- Take steps to avoid or defuse high-stress situations. If certain family traditions tend to cause you heightened stress, for example, now may be a time to try something different. If one of your relatives tends to push your buttons, this year may not be the best time to go there for Thanksgiving Dinner (especially considering COVID risks).
- Establish a “cool off” period when tensions get high. If you do get into a disagreement with your partner or spouse, get in the habit of walking away—not to avoid important issues, but to give yourself time to cool down your temper.
- Talk to a professional if you need to. Many mental health resources are available to families at risk—and the best time to take advantage of those resources is before violence breaks out, not after.
If you find yourself facing domestic violence charges, you need an experienced, compassionate attorney who can represent your interests and help guide you through what comes next. Call our office today for a free case evaluation.