WILLIAMSON - Seeing family around the holidays is something many of us look forward to, but for victims of domestic violence it can be a time of turmoil and fear.
The pressures of celebrating the holidays sometimes causes tempers to flare, energy levels to soar and arguments to ensue, culminating in an explosion of domestic violence and abuse. Parties, celebrations and festivities are everywhere and the temptation for excess can be intoxicating. Alcohol, drugs, heightened emotions and the wrong combination of family members are very often contributing factors in violent holiday explosions.
In fact, the holiday season can be an exceptionally tough emotional period for many domestic violence victims, even children. Most loving mothers will do whatever is necessary to create a fun and festive holiday environment for their children. However; for children living in a home where violence occurs, very often Christmas represents a prolonged period of trepidation due to the anticipation of violence.
It is quite logical that domestic violence will increase during this holiday season because every possible risk factor is in play; the struggling economy, the jobless rate, home foreclosures, the rising cost of necessities and the stress of gift giving.
According to experts, during the holidays, when many people are home from work and spending unusually long periods of time with an abusive partner, there can be a greater sense of anxiety and stress that results in a violent situation.
Domestic violence does not only affect husbands and wives and cohabitating partners. Domestic violence is a purposeful intimidation, assault, sexual assault, mental abuse, threat or other abusive behavior perpetrated by one family member, household member, or intimate partner against another. Children in homes where there is domestic violence are more likely to be abused and/or neglected and are, by definition, victims of domestic violence. Even if a child is not physically harmed, they may have emotional and behavior problems as a result of their unfortunate, traumatic life experiences.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It is as prevalent in higher-income families as it is in lower income ones. The abusers and victims are minimally educated, as well as multiple-degree holders. The faces of domestic violence represent the entire spectrum of races and cultures.
Researchable data indicates that one out of four households are affected by domestic violence. However, those who passionately engage in domestic violence awareness and eradication know that these numbers do not fully, nor accurately, represent the incidences of domestic violence. Many occurrences are not reported to the police. The millions of calls made to local and national hotlines are anonymous and, thus the content of the calls is not reported to the police or government agencies for statistical purposes.
Although the national statistics are inconclusive as to whether domestic violence increases on Christmas Day, convincing statistics indicate that, during the two-week period following Christmas and Thanksgiving, calls to domestic violence hotlines and local police departments increase.
“One of the things that often happens is that people don’t reach out (initially) because they think it’s a family time and they should to be staying together during the holidays. But we know that if you’re staying together and it’s a violent situation, that’s not the best thing for the family and the children,” said Mingo County Sheriff James Smith.
The sheriff said he feels that financial strains during the holiday season and the declining economy play a large part in the increase of domestic violence cases they have already investigated over the last month.
Joe Smith, chief field deputy for the Sheriff’s Department, told the Daily News that victims of domestic violence need to remember that the promises made to them that this was a one-time occurrence and that it will never happen again are only words - and easily forgotten.
“During my years as an officer, I have heard guys promise women over and over that they won’t be abused again, but seldom did I see anyone stay good on that promise,” Smith said. “It usually escalates and gets more intense and more dangerous with each occurrence.”
“Only the victim of domestic violence can break the cycle. We can assist them in getting an EPO (emerency protective order) against their abuser, we can get them in the Tug Valley Recovery Shelter - we can do everything possible to help them, but the ultimate decision to stay away from the person hurting them is theirs and theirs alone. Sadly, a great majority of women abused will become repeat victims because they choose to stay in the situation and will go back for more.”
“Every time you give an abuser another chance, you’re simply giving them a permission slip to do it again, they have the belief that you will continue to take it and do not believe you will leave or file criminal charges,” the sheriff said. “Do not allow yourself to be a punching bag for anyone, and that goes for the mental abuse as well.”
“Take a stand for yourself, reclaim your life and end the cycle,” Smith said.
In some regions, there is a measurable increase in domestic violence. According to the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence website, December traditionally is the worst time for domestic violence in most states, and last year a third of domestic incidents reported to the police that month occurred between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. National statistics say that researchers have found that, while domestic abuse increases by about 22 percent on Thanksgiving, it is really New Year’s that is the biggest holiday of concern. Domestic violence rates increase by an incredible 32 percent during this holiday. Christmas ranks third with a 17 percent increase.
If the holidays are less than cheerful and domestic violence ensues, stay as calm as possible, ask for help and make your exit, officials say. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, call your local law enforcement agencies; West Virginia State Police (304-235-60000, Mingo County Sheriff’s Department (304-235-0300), or Kentucky State Police (606-433-771). You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for yourself or someone you care about.