For many people, Christmas holds the worst of the year: the busiest period of work in the service industry, the time when financial strain is brought to the forefront, childcare is needed, and family are everywhere. For some, this means abuse reaches its annual pinnacle.
According to government stats from 2012, assault and domestic murders increase by 25% during the festive period, and by a third on Christmas Day. Across the UK, this is the pattern: in Humberside, 54% of calls to the police in December are domestic violence related (up by 16% from the rest of the year). While women are twice as likely to have experienced domestic abuse, suffering the majority of partner/ex-partner abuse, women and men are similarly likely to suffer from family abuse. So perhaps, for some people, being surrounded by family is the worst thing imaginable.
It’s so difficult, when the large majority of people can’t wait to go home for Christmas, to understand that home is the most dangerous place for millions of people. Despite the fact that, in general, more cases of domestic abuse are being reported, and 76% of these resulted in conviction in 2017/18, this does not always align when it comes to the festive season. Mothers don’t want to traumatize their children by finally having daddy arrested for beating her black and blue, children don’t want to ruin Christmas by speaking out about a family member who is hurting them, a family member who everyone else is excited to see.
Obviously this is not always the case, obviously there are many situations where multiple people are aware of abuse and are incapable of preventing it. Throughout the year, two women are killed a week by a partner, or ex-partner, and 2 million people become victims of domestic abuse. At Christmas, when alcohol is flowing, people are cramped in rooms with those who they perhaps try to avoid for the rest of the year, money is tight, and everything is hung out to dry, victims are at their most vulnerable.
It’s undeniably a good thing that statistics are increasing due to more people reporting, due to more convictions, more trust in being believed. But it’s not enough to have abusers called out and prosecuted – with minimal punishments, might I add. They will pay their fines, serve their time, or be ‘good’ and serve even less, and then they are free to repeat their abuses on someone else. This kind of violence towards those they claim to love is not something that can be made up for by a suspended sentence. The victims are scarred for life, or lose their lives, and the mentality of an abuser does not just disappear.
In order to make Christmas a safe, happy time for everyone in the UK, we have so far to go. Support must be put in place for families who cannot afford childcare, funding must go to women’s shelters and safe havens for victims, and the culture of violence, rape, toxic masculinity, must be educated out of people, to the point where we no longer even need women’s refuges. We also must not put so much pressure on the idea of a family Christmas, because family does not always mean safety, and Christmas is not always an escape. You do not have to spend time with those who have hurt you, or your loved ones. You do not have to suffer in silence because you don’t want to ruin Christmas for everyone else. Your suffering at the expense of someone else’s happiness, will result in no happiness at all.