Calm Before The Storm!
Ever since I have worked in the Domestic Abuse sector, it has always been the case that Christmas time is generally very quiet at work. Whether you work in a voluntary domestic abuse organisation or a statutory agency, this tends to be the case. But it is not the case that the abuse is not happening more. Invariably, it is! But victims of domestic abuse will not feel able to report the abuse to the police, social services, or the many other organisations and agencies out there that can offer support and advice. Yet, come the New Year, we can always be sure that we will be run off our feet. I have always called it the ‘mass exodus’ – the calm before the storm!
Data from the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV), where I work shows a 10% rise in the number of referrals during January 2022 compared with December 2021, an increase on the six per cent rise from the year before. Women’s Aid, one of the leading domestic abuse organisations in the UK, confirmed that they see a rise in domestic abuse victims asking for help in January.
I can totally relate to this! As I mentioned in my last blog, I left my abusive ex-husband on the 4th January. But I had desperately wanted to leave on Christmas Day. Not just that Christmas Day but every Christmas Day that I was with him! Christmas is always a time when we are socially conditioned to do certain things, behave in a certain way, be happy! The whole act of pretending to be this happy little family, at a time when I had been conditioned that I needed to see family and close friends – conditioned to be happy when I was anything but. I had to do this pretty much all the time I was in the relationship but it was so much harder to act out at Christmas time, and trust me, I was a very accomplished actor! It would have been unthinkable to have called the police, spoken to anyone about the abuse or god forbid, left the relationship at Christmas. I spoke about the events of Christmas morning 1987 in my last blog and how I had planned to leave but on returning home to the Christmas tree, the fairy lights and the presents under the tree. How could I do this to my daughter? How could I do this to my family? How could I do this to HIM!!!??? Because, Yes, you do feel guilty. You do feel ashamed. You do feel it is all your fault.
Don’t get me wrong. Christmas doesn’t cause domestic abuse. So why does it increase? Because perpetrators know that there are fewer services open to contact over the Christmas period. But more than this, they know they can use the spirit of what Christmas represents to most people, or the shame of having ‘daddy taken away’ at Christmas to perhaps be more abusive than many other times of the year. Domestic Abuse perpetrators consistently hide behind excuses when they are abusive – stress, alcohol, mental health, lack of money. All these things exist throughout the year but they are all exacerbated during the festive season. Perhaps, even more so this year when we are all experiencing the cost of living crisis.
For me, that Christmas Day 1987, I thought if I could just hold out until the New Year. Until he went back to work, I would leave. And I did! And so too, do many many thousands of people. Yet all too often, services are not prepared for this ‘mass exodus’. Most domestic abuse organisations are but many of the other services that victims rely upon such as social services, housing, the courts, the police – they never seem to be prepared. Why not! This happens every year. And it isn’t just people leaving abusive relationships. We know that post separation abuse is very common and so of course Christmas is going to be an opportunity to ramp up the post separation abuse isn’t it? “How can you not let me see my children at Christmas?” or “Please, just let me see them to give them their presents”. When we know all this why are services not more prepared? It is a bit like how, we in the UK, wait for it to snow before the roads are gritted! We know it is going to cause problems but we don’t do anything about it until it is too late!
So this year, if you subscribe to and are reading this blog, if you work for any of the services that come into contact with victims of domestic abuse. If you know anyone that you think could be experiencing domestic abuse – be ready. Be prepared for the calm before the storm and the resulting mass exodus. Because if you are, you may just make someone’s decision to end an abusive relationship and escape, that little bit easier. You may even save someone’s life.