Why Domestic Abuse Spikes Over Christmas
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999.
A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking to a colleague who lives in New Zealand. It was the night the rugby-mad country lost the semi-final of the World Cup to England. My friend, who is a social worker commented “I know this sounds depressing, but this [the loss] will mean Monday will be crazy busy”. When I asked her why, she told me that when New Zealand loses a big rugby match, domestic abuse skyrockets.
Correlation between domestic violence and sporting games is controversial. However, there is some evidence to show that in England, domestic violence incidents increased when England won or lost a game in the FIFA World Cup in 2012 (interestingly, there was no change in domestic violence events if England drew).
Christmas is also a time when domestic abuse increases. For many, rather than being the most wonderful time of the year, it is the most dangerous.
Reasons for the increase in domestic abuse at Christmas include:
Tis the season to be merry. But for some, excessive drinking leads to a loss of control and the unleashing abusive behaviour on their partner and/or children. However, recent research shows that although there is a consistent link between alcohol consumption and intimate partner violence (IPV), whether alcohol plays a causal or contributory role is debated among researchers. A 2006 study based on women’s opinions on the IPV they had suffered showed that the victims:
“do not blame alcohol for their partner’s violence—they hold their partners, not the alcohol, responsible. Furthermore, although the women recognized that alcohol has disinhibiting effects, they also recognized that these effects alone are insufficient to explain their partner’s violence and abuse of them.”
What studies show is that alcohol can exacerbate pre-existing stressors and tensions, causing a perpetrator of domestic abuse to explode with more intensity and frequency. And one of the biggest tensions at Christmas is money, or the lack of it.
A 2018 study showed that in the UK, women experiencing poverty are more vulnerable to domestic violence. Research from 2004 concluded that women living in households with an income of less than £10,000 were three and a half times more likely to report experiencing IPV in the previous 12 months than those living in households with an income of over £20,000, while men were one and a half times more likely.
Christmas can strain low to middle-income family budgets to their limit. In our 24/7 media/internet exposure society, parents face immense pressure to provide their children with presents similar to what their peers are receiving. Add to that the cost of food, drink, outings, and socialising that occurs across December, and fraying tempers can lead to episodes of violence, emotional abuse, and coercive control increasing.
Christmas is a time for family. Not only can spending time with relatives cause arguments between couples, but perpetrators of abuse are likely to be in the home more, due to having time off work. A woman who used the name Claire told The Guardian in 2017:
“We’d spend Christmas walking on eggshells because he would always lose it over something – the presents, the Christmas dinner – he’d shout and throw things.”
Tragically, domestic abuse victims often struggle to find shelter during December because safe houses are usually bursting to capacity.
What can domestic abuse victims do?
Victims of domestic abuse can apply to the Court for a Non-Molestation Order and an Occupation Order. A Non-Molestation Order can be used to keep your abuser away from you and your children. It will also prevent them from using violence, threats of violence, harassing, intimidating, or molesting you in any way. If the perpetrator breaches the Order, they will be committing a criminal offence and can face prison for up to five years.
An Occupation Order states who is legally permitted to reside in the family home and may prevent the abuser from entering not only the property but also the surrounding area of the home Occupation Orders are normally granted for six months initially, allowing you and your partner to sort out permanent living arrangements.
A Non-Molestation Order and an Occupation Order can be applied for at the same time and without the other party knowing (known as applying ex-parte). It is important to note that an Occupation Order is not handed down by the Court lightly, especially if the application is made without notice. This is because forcing someone from their home and the consequences which can follow is a serious step. Therefore, it is advisable to speak to a family law Solicitor to get advice on making a strong argument for the granting of the Order. Likewise, obtaining legal advice for a Non-Molestation Order can make the process far less stressful.
Christmas should be a time of great joy, but for victims of domestic abuse, the fear and control can be unbearable. If you are a victim of IPV the most important first step is to reach out to a support agency or a family member who you trust. Help is available and you and your children have a right to be safe and secure, regardless of the time of year.
Support services for domestic abuse victims
National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) – 0800 970 20 70
Refuge – 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)
Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)
ManKind – 01823 334 244
Galop LGBT Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
If you require advice on any of the issues mentioned in this article, please call us on 020 3372 5125 to make an appointment.