Abuse gets worse at Christmas
The Christmas period can be a time of danger and fear for women experiencing abuse in their relationship. In December 2009, the Womens Domestic Violence Crisis Service handled:
- 2338 calls from Victorian women needing help, and
- 247 calls from police seeking urgent refuge accommodation for victims.
In December 2009, Victorian police were called to:
- Christmas Eve: 125 incidents of family violence
- Christmas Day: 108 incidents
- December 28: 144 incidents
- New Year's Day: 142 incidents
Many other incidents went unreported, with victims fearful of the consequences.
Trigger points at Christmas
There are trigger points that heighten violence at Christmas. Tensions are high as household budgets are stretched, separated families come together and women are easy targets for abusive partners. Abusive men also spent more time at home in the holidays. Often more alcohol is flowing than usual, which can intensify abuse.
Not all abusers use physical violence. Emotional abuse includes when someone:
- verbal abuse like name-calling
- constant criticism and makes you feel bad about yourself
- humiliation, including in front of others
- makes threats
- keeps tabs on you and checks up on you
- controls your money
- uses guilt trips to manipulate you
- tries to cut you off from friends or family
- controls your body and decisions about pregnancy, or
- pressures, tricks or forces you into sex.
What an abusive relationship feels like
- You may feel confused about whether it’s really abuse because sometimes the other person acts nice and is fun to be with, or because the abuse isn’t always obvious.
- You find yourself ‘walking on eggshells’, being careful that you don’t upset them.
- The abusive person’s needs and opinions dominate, and you feel controlled by them.
A plan to stay safe
No matter whether you decide to stay in the relationship or leave, there are things you can do to make yourself safer. As Jane Ashton of Womens Domestic Violence Crisis Service said:
All women in this situation need to develop an escape plan. They shouldn't just stay for Christmas for the sake of the children, they should be looking for support.
My sister tried to escape without any support and paid the ultimate price.
Ways to stay safe
Tell people what’s happening
Tell friends, your parents, family, teachers or your workmates what’s happening. Ask them to help protect you, for example, by being around when your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner is there. You could use a code word to let them know you need help.
Try not to be alone with your ex
If you can, try and keep other people around. If you are out, arrange another way of getting home rather than going with them.
Stay sober and alert
Stay aware of what’s going on when you are around them. For example, try not to drink or use other drugs. Listen to your feelings – if something doesn’t feel right, get away as soon as you can.
Be prepared: mobile, money, keys, papers
Have an excuse prepared so you can leave quickly if you feel uncomfortable or threatened. Always have a mobile and extra money handy for a taxi or phone call if needed. Plan where you will go if you need to leave in a hurry (eg a friend’s or family member’s place) and how you will get there. Gather together any special things and important documents so they are ready if you need to take them in a hurry – like your (and your children's) birth certificate, bank cards, passport, immigration papers, Health Care or Medicare card, or any medication you might need. Put them in a safe place. Keep children safe Let your children know what to do in an emergency - where to go and who to telephone. Give them the numbers for the police, neighbours, relatives. Have in mind a place to which you and your children can go quickly, if necessary. Have an excuse prepared so you can leave quickly if your partner becomes threatening Leave pets with friends or family Research shows that 70 % of female domestic violence victims say that their abuser has threatened to, or has actually harmed a pet. 54% per cent reported that their abuser had killed a pet, and a quarter of victims say they have delayed leaving their abuser because of concern for their pet's safety. (The Age 2010)
Keep a contact list
Make sure important phone contacts are in your phone - and your bag. Important numbers might include:
- friends and/or family members you can trust
- a domestic violence service (Victoria: Womens Domestic Violence Crisis Service on 9322 3555 or toll free 1800 015 188 (24 hours)
- a taxi service.
The police The police can help protect you from any more violence. For example, you can apply for a court order that tells your abusive ex to stop coming near you or harassing you. In Victoria, this is called an Intervention Order. Most people get nervous about calling the police. But if you are in danger, they are there to protect you. Police are used to dealing with violence in relationships or families. If you need immediate help, call 000 and the police will come. Or you can go to a police station to report violence.
Talk to someone about the abuse
Don’t go through this alone – talking to someone can help you to work out what to do. Don’t feel ashamed – the abuse isn’t your fault. Tell a friend, a family member, or talk it over with someone outside the situation, like the national domestic violence hotline (24 hours, free, confidential) 1800 200 526
If you are in danger
Call the police on 000.
- It's not ok - what now? from Love: the good, the bad and the ugly
- Should I call the cops? from Love: the good, the bad and the ugly
- Services that can help: Victoria
- Find your nearest police station in Victoria
- Is someone you know being abused in a relationship?
- For mothers and others concerned about children who witness family violence
- The Age online reports: Season of fear for abused women and For many women, 'tis the season of fear, not joy