A not-so-happy holiday: Domestic violence in Hampton Roads

For some families and couples, the holidays can also mean something else: domestic violence. (Courtesy photo/West Midlands Police)
For some families and couples, the holidays can also mean something else: domestic violence. (Courtesy photo/West Midlands Police)

As the holiday season dies down, there are those who might not have had such a cheery and bright celebration behind closed doors.

“Society does often paint a beautiful picture of what families should look like during the holidays and what we see is that it isn’t necessarily the case,” said Jessica Wilson, contract and compliance manager at the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. “People keep up with traditions but behind the scenes there is a different story.”

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, families are spending time together celebrating a variety of occasions. But all of that time together can cause stress and tension which might boil into violence, Wilson said.

“Usually there is already power and control issues within the relationship and the holidays can exacerbate that,” said Juanita Graham, director of outreach services for Avalon.

Avalon is a local nonprofit that works with survivors of domestic violence and abuse.

In York County, there were 27 domestic assault reports between Thanksgiving and and New Year’s Day in 2018, according to data from the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office.

Wilson said domestic abuse is defined as intimate partner violence where one partner is trying to hold power and control over the other. While domestic violence calls to police are usually in relation to physical altercations or threats of violence, abuse can also be through non-physical means such as intimidation and emotional abuse.

Domestic violence during the holidays could be a result of more alcohol consumption, Wilson said. While domestic violence happens year-round, Wilson said that with the more alcohol consumed the more likely it is for a partner to become violent.

“It’s all a choice to gain power over one’s partner,” she said. “Even though there are people who can drink and still respect their partner, there are those who see alcohol as an excuse for their actions.”

According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, there is limited research on whether domestic violence increases during the holidays, but there is no doubt it is a time when family and friends might have a chance to see evidence of it.

“It’s important to pay attention to your loved ones during the holidays because they could need help and you might not even realize,” Wilson said. “This time of year presents a unique opportunity to be able to spot red flags.”

Warning signs of possible domestic abuse include a partner’s controlling behavior, whether a person becomes quiet or shy when their partner enters the room or if there are any unexplained injuries.

“It’s hard because the signs of domestic abuse might be similar to those of an unhealthy relationship,” Graham said. “But in both situations it is good to be mindful.”

During the holidays, Wilson said their number of calls goes down but immediately following the holidays they experience a spike of people calling, either those that have noticed abuse or those that experienced it.

When a family member notices these signs, it is important to take a course of action that won’t intimidate the survivor, Wilson said.

“A lot of people think that an intervention will help, but really that just makes people feel overwhelmed,” she said. “It’s good to approach the survivor one on one and create an open dialogue about the situation. Don’t badmouth their partner, because that can put them off. Make that person feel safe and supported.”

If you or a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800−799−7233.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in December 2018.

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