The holidays should be a time of joy and laughter. But for survivors of domestic violence, the holidays often represent anything but. How can survivors stay safe this holiday season? And how can family and friends best support their loved ones who are experiencing abuse?
Domestic Violence and the Holidays
Some reports indicate that incidents of domestic violence increase during the holiday season (between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day). While research on this topic is limited, many law enforcement agencies say they see increased reports of abuse and violence this time of year.
The reasons are varied. Perhaps it’s the increased stress during the holidays. Maybe it’s the free-flowing alcohol. Or maybe it’s the uninterrupted time together in close quarters.
No matter the reason, the holidays can be a dangerous time for those living in abusive relationships – both for the survivor and their family and friends.
Start with Communication
Communication is key to staying safe during the holidays. Both the survivor and their family and friends should strive to keep lines of communication open.
If you are in an abusive relationship or still have ties to your abuser, identify someone (or several people) with whom you can be honest about the abuse. Let them know how to best communicate with you (phone, text, social media, etc.) and plan what day and times you will connect.
As a family member or friend, you can keep your loved one safe by communicating about her needs during the holidays. While you might want to disinvite the abuser from any family gatherings (which is entirely your right), that might worsen matters for the survivor. Instead, talk about ways to avoid conflict, such as not having alcohol in the house, keeping the abuser seated away from the survivor, or changing sleeping arrangements as needed.
It’s also important to check in on the survivor throughout the holiday season to assess her situation and offer your support.
Safety Tips for Survivors
Anyone living in an abusive relationship or who has recently left an abusive relationship should have a plan to keep themselves safe during the holidays – and all year, for that matter.
The holidays can be stressful. That added stress, accompanied by expectations of togetherness and family time, can heighten tensions between abuser and survivor.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline recommends considering the following:
- How will you travel to holiday gatherings, and what will you need to feel safe during that travel?
- Are there specific triggers that tend to escalate the abuse? How can you avoid those during holiday gatherings?
- If you are no longer with your abuser, but you will still see one another during the holidays, how can you ensure a peaceful interaction? Will you need to meet in a public place to swap children? Bring a trusted friend along to the holiday gathering?
- Will your children be staying with your abuser for extended periods? If so, start by creating a safety plan for your children.
Click here to learn more about safety plans and how you can create one.
As a survivor, you should also focus on self-care, particularly during the holidays. Find time to be alone when possible, get plenty of sleep, enjoy some time outdoors, or read a book. We’ve got more self-care ideas on our website if you need ideas.
Safety Tips for Families and Friends of the Survivor
When your loved one is living in an abusive environment, it can be difficult to know how to help or what to say. The holidays can be tricky, especially if the abuser is still in the picture.
Start by asking the survivor what they need. If they are still in the abusive relationship, they might not be ready to talk about the abuse or heed your suggestions. Let them know that you are there to listen when they are ready – and that they have your full support.
If your loved one is willing to discuss the abuse, be ready to make a plan. Discuss strategies to help her stay safe. Find ways to get her out of the house alone, such as inviting her to go shopping, work out with you, or attend a local event. And consider creating a “code word” that she can use with you if she feels unsafe or needs immediate help.
Finally, remember to take time for yourself when you need it. Seeing someone remain in an abusive relationship can be frustrating, but you cannot make their decisions for them. You can only be there to offer your love and support.
Need more advice on helping a friend or family member who is being abused? Read this blog from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.