Leaders of charities offering support to women experiencing domestic abuse have said that they fear this Christmas could be worse than usual, with financial pressures brought about by the pandemic exacerbating the impact on those who are at risk.
The Christmas period often brings with it an increase in the incidence of domestic abuse, with people spending more time with abusive partners, higher alcohol consumption and worries over money.
Lisa Johnson, manager of direct services at Women’s Aid, a leading domestic abuse charity, told The Independent: “Perpetrators of domestic abuse will be abusive throughout the year and this doesn’t just stop over the festive period.
“If anything, perpetrators may escalate abuse and use the lack of support services available to their advantage. With schools, workplaces, GP surgeries and other ‘safe places’ closed or running on skeleton staff, it is much more difficult for survivors to access help when they need it.”
She noted that while extra pressures during the festival period can “escalate” domestic abuse, it is imperative to bear in mind that these external factors do not actually cause it.
Ms Johnson, whose charity will be running a service for victims to speak to support workers online over Christmas, said: “There are plenty of families who face these additional pressures around the festive period who do not react abusively.
“The perpetrator of the abuse should always be held responsible for their own behaviour and there is no excuse for domestic abuse.
“Many perpetrators will excuse their abusive behaviours on additional pressures over Christmas, or more often than not, blame the other person for the abuse: ‘The food wasn’t cooked right’ or ‘You’ve not kept the children quiet enough’, for example. The perpetrator is choosing to act abusively; this is a choice they make.”
A survey carried out by the UK’s largest family law firm found that one in six of those who took part said they were more likely to suffer emotional or physical abuse from their partner over the Christmas period.
The results of the poll, shared exclusively with The Independent, also found that four in 10 of those who responded were scared that the Christmas period would lead to the end of their marriage.
Around a third of people polled by Stowe Family Law said that money was the chief cause of strain on their relationship, while two in 10 said that “spending time with the wider family” was likely to trigger tension with their partner.
Sarah Jane Lenihan, a partner at the firm, which surveyed 440 people, said: “Christmas is often a joyous time for many, getting to spend extra time with their loved ones, but for others it can be a time they dread. Sadly, during the Christmas period, we see an increase in domestic abuse.
“Domestic abuse charities report they see an increase in calls during the Christmas and New Year period by as much as 50 per cent. Alcohol-infused violence is something I hear a lot of and sadly Christmas is a time when many overindulge.”
Charlotte Kneer, chief executive of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuges in Surrey, said Christmas was the most difficult time of year when she was being abused.
The leading campaigner, whose violent partner was jailed for seven years in 2011, added: “You don’t have any rights as the victim in an abusive relationship; even if that right is making Christmas nice for your kids, you don’t have that right.
“It also is a pressured situation as you are under the same roof. There is a world of ways your abuser can make your life a misery over Christmas, and you are just like a rag doll, being thrown from one situation to the next with no control.”
Between two and three women are murdered each week by their partners or ex-partners in England and Wales, while one in four women will suffer domestic abuse at some point during their lives.
Ruth Davison, chief executive of Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, said: “Christmas is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, but we know that for women and children experiencing domestic abuse it is far from this and can be a frightening and isolating time.
“We know that for women experiencing economic abuse, the run-up to Christmas with its expectations and additional expenses can be particularly hard, and after a challenging financial year, with lockdowns, furlough and the impact of the pandemic on personal and family finances, this year does come with additional pressures.”
Ms Davison, whose charity has launched their Christmas appeal for donations and parcels, added: “Refuge wants every woman experiencing abuse to know – if you need help, you are not alone.”
Anyone who requires help or support can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline which is open 24/7 365 days per year on 0808 2000 247 or via their website https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/
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