The Dark Side of the Family: Why Domestic Violence Increases During the Holidays and Pregnancies
If there are two events that should be guaranteed times of warm, fuzzy, family closeness, it’s during the holidays and when a woman is pregnant. But for 25 percent of women in America, and 33 percent of women worldwide, domestic violence takes the upper hand. In families where domestic violence is present, pregnancy and holidays are often times when women and their children experience more beatings and abuse.
1. Number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614:
2. Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the US: 11,766
3. Number of people per minute who experience intimate partner violence in the U.S.: 24
4. Estimated number of children, worldwide, exposed to domestic violence everyday: 10,000,000
5. Percentage of homeless women with children reporting domestic abuse: 92
6. Average number of times an abuser hits his spouse before she makes a police report: 35
7, No. 1 and No. 2 causes of women's deaths during pregnancy in the U.S.: Domestic homicide and suicide, often tied to abuse
The reasons why men, and sometimes women, beat their partners boil down to two words: Power and control. For whatever reason, the abuser’s need for absolute power and control over his partner drives him to violence. The event that makes him snap could be anything that he determines makes him seem “less” in his partner’s eyes or in front of his children.
- During the holidays, when financial stressors climb, families crowd into close quarters, alcohol is abundant and children tend to take center stage, some abusers take their frustrations and irritations out on their families, especially if substance abuse is involved or the abuser feels guilty he hasn’t contributed to holiday events.
- During pregnancy, some men feel powerless against the developing child, frustrated at increased responsibilities, stressed about impending birth and resentful that their wife and baby are getting more attention than they are. The Pan American Health Organization reports that according to a household survey, pregnant women are 60.6% more likely to be beaten than women who are not pregnant. They’re four times more likely to experience increased abuse if the pregnancy was unplanned or unwanted.
While no excuse justifies abusive behavior, the explanations above might provide clues as to what the hell is going on in the mind of a man who’s beating his pregnant wife or his girlfriend on Christmas Eve. Michelle Kaminsky, a domestic violence prosecutor, recently published a book about her experiences prosecuting these crimes entitled, Reflections of a Domestic Violence Prosecutor: Suggestions for Reform “Kaminsky says, “If you say there’s one specific stressor it’s like you’re giving an excuse for the abuse. It could be anything that’s bothering him that starts it. ‘You spend too much. You were doing this. You went there.’ If you have domestic violence in the home and it’s the holidays, families spend more time together because they’re supposed to be happy and that’s what you do. But in homes with domestic violence it isn’t going to be a happy carefree time. There’s drinking going on, fighting going on, throwing, pushing, shoving…”
The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence says that while violence may increase during the holidays, calls to emergency lines and shelter resources may actually decrease between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. Data from the National Domestic Violence Hotline indicates hotline call volumes drop by approximately half on Thanksgiving Day, 53 percent on Christmas and by 30 percent on New Years They begin to rise dramatically though after New Year’s Day. Experts speculate that women with children might try to keep the family together during the holidays to preserve children’s holiday memories or hope that increased family presence will provide protection. By New Year’s day however, they’ve had enough.
Domestic violence spreads across all socioeconomic statuses and is as likely to occur in wealthy homes as poor ones, urban homes as rural ones. Kaminsky says in the court system, however, she sees more women from poor and lower middle class incomes. Kaminsky says, “When you have limited amounts of money. You’re stuck. You can’t get out. When you have money, you have more options. Without resources where are you going? You need a bed, and food on the table, it’s not so easy to pick up and leave, especially once you have children. He’s the father. The children have a relationship with him. Who is going to pay to support the kids? The children are in school. It becomes so much more complicated once children are involved.”
Kaminsky shared a holiday story from her book about a case she prosecuted. “The whole event took place on Christmas Day. The victim and her boyfriend spent Christmas with some of her children at the victim’s daughter’s house. That’s where the fight started. When the boyfriend decided to leave, the victim worried he’d return to her house where her teenage daughter was. She went with him, because she didn’t want him alone with her daughter. She hoped he settle down once they got back to her apartment, but instead, he assaulted her, forced her into the bedroom, punched her in the head and raped her. This is her Christmas day. Eventually, he lit her apartment on fire and she lost everything. She got out and pressed charges.” Even though the abuser had a history of violence and arson with other women, he was found not guilty.
What should women (and men) do if they’re in a violent relationship?
- Start creating a safety plan by reaching out to a trusted friend.
- Research resources including shelters, hotlines and friends’ houses, but be very careful to do your research on computers and phones your abuser has no access to.
- Study the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s Safety Planning site.
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE(7233).
- Call the Police and press charges
- Get out of the house and go to a neighbor.
- Tell your doctor or midwife you’re being beaten.
We wish you a safe and healthy holiday season and encourage you to seek help if any of the above resonates even in the slightest way. You’re not alone. In fact, there are countless women out here going through the exact same thing. There are at least as many out there who are trained and ready to help you take the steps to safety that you and your children may need and be ready for. The first step is this: share your story with someone. Then you will be on your way to safety.
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