Holidays should be a time when we want to be close to our families and experience the joy of the season with them. Often women who should leave unsafe situations choose to stay in order to make the most of the Holidays for their children and family. The Holidays can be a very stressful and emotional time for people and between COVID-19, increased financial pressures, and isolation volatile personalities may be especially aggravated. There are differing opinions on whether or not Intimate Partner Violence increases over the Holidays, but one thing we do know is that abuse doesn’t stop.
Violence against women is more than physical, sexual, or psychological harm. It is rooted in gender inequality through messages we receive from the media, politics, workplace, religion, and culture. These messages, whether clear or subtle, often covey women as being ‘less than’, and as being responsible for the crimes and abuse that is targeted towards them. Violence against women is recognized as a public health problem and human rights violation on a worldwide scale, but the experiences from individual to individual are entirely unique. The impacts of the current pandemic have left women in abusive situations more isolated than ever and have led to an increase in reported domestic violence.
While abusers might be on their best behaviour in front of friends and relatives, they can behave much differently behind closed doors. Often the abuser goes out of their way to be the kind, loving, and involved parent when others are around. The victims often feel it is their responsibility to make the holidays go as smooth as possible and they may go out of their way to accommodate the abuser; walking on eggshells to prevent tension. It isn’t hard for a victim to get caught up in the illusion that every day could be like Christmas, only to discover, all too soon, that the cycle doesn’t end.
HOW TO MAKE A SAFETY PLAN
If you are in an abusive relationship or related situation, have a plan to guide you and your family to safety.
Inform neighbors and family members of a potential situation. Provide them with code words so that you can communicate the danger clearly when the abuser is present. Teach your children how to call 911, and what to say when the call is placed.
Having a savings account of your own is a priority. This will allow you access to funds whenever you need them. Leave personal belongings with a person you can trust and where you can have instant access to them. Make arrangements for a safe place where you can go that only a few key members of your family know exists. Keep a set of phone numbers with you. In the cell phone age, it is too easy to rely on your phone for contact info.
Practice the best route to get out of your house. Pack bags in advance for you and your children, keep them in a place where you can get to them easily and swiftly. Review your safety plan often with your children.
Your safety kit should include these items:
- Cash and banking information
- Identification (driver’s license, birth certificates, passports)
- Important documents (vehicle registration, property deeds, insurance certificates)
- A list of phone numbers
- Keys to car and house
- Personal items (toiletries, clothing, warm weather gear)
If you have already left an abusive partner you will need to be cautious to protect yourself and your children. The importance of safety planning around the holidays should not be underestimated.
Help keep the season safe by following some holiday-specific safety tips, including:
- Starting new holiday routines
- Let someone you trust know where you are at all times
- Meeting family and friends in new locations unknown to the abusive partner
- Avoiding shopping areas and/or holiday parades and events where survivors may unexpectedly see their abusers
- Using a P.O. box address, or no return address at all, if sending out holiday cards
HOW TO REDUCE STRESS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON
- Set realistic expectations and realize that things may not go as planned.
- Create a budget and buy gifts that you can afford to relieve financial pressure.
- Don’t overserve alcohol at gatherings and stop serving an hour before the end of the evening.
- If you or your partner struggle with alcohol or substance abuse, consider attending and Alcoholics Anonymous or an Al-Anon meeting.
- Talk to someone who can help to give you some coping strategies, such as a therapist.
- Get outside, take a walk or build a snowman to get some fresh air and take a break.
HOW TO BE AN ALLY
Make a conscious effort to challenge the messages you are being told about women. Call out your family and peers when you hear derogatory or discriminatory language about women and girls. If you did something hurtful or offensive, apologize and educate yourself to understand the gravity of your words or behaviour. Call your local shelter for more information.