The holiday season can be a time of joy, celebration, and a chance to spend time with loved ones. Festivities are frequent and family gatherings are common in communities all over the country.
But for survivors of domestic violence, the holidays can also be a time of added stress and danger. There are many things about the holidays that can heighten the frequency or severity of domestic violence incidents, including but not limited to:
- The stress of spending so much time with family and friends
- Financial stress
- Increased traveling (limiting a victim’s resources and/or freedom to escape)
- Increased time spent together due to having time off from work
- Increased alcohol or drug consumption
There is limited research to say whether or not domestic violence increases during the holiday season. Some research from the National Domestic Violence Hotline reports a dramatic drop in the number of crisis calls they receive during the holiday season (from the week of Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day).
However, this may be because victims are unable or unwilling to disrupt family time or to get away from their abusers. Nevertheless, this time of year can be stressful and dangerous for any victim of domestic violence. The importance of safety planning during the holidays cannot be overstated.
What Is Safety Planning?
A safety plan is a plan of actions you develop to keep yourself and other victims (such as children or elderly family members) safer from an abuser. A safety plan may include items such as an escape or exit plan, strategies to protect children from harm, ready-made excuses to leave the home if the victim believes the abuser is about to get violent, or even a restraining order.
A safety plan is highly individual. Strategies that work well for some victims may create more danger for others. For example, one victim may choose to keep a bag of clothes in her car in case she needs to exit the house quickly. Other victims may avoid this strategy if their abuser closely watches their actions and may be more likely to find out about the hidden clothes and become violent.
No matter what, your safety plan should be designed to keep you and other victims as safe as possible from your abuser. Any strategies that might place you in more danger should be excluded from your safety plan. Trust your instincts and get help from a trusted advocate like those at Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley if you need it.
Tips for Safety Planning Around the Holidays
If you’re a survivor of domestic violence, you know better than anyone what will make you feel safer during the holidays. The following list includes tips for safety planning around the holidays, but remember that not all of them will apply to you and your situation. Choose only those tips or strategies that will truly make you safer.
Communicate With Loved Ones
If you feel comfortable doing so, communicate with a trusted friend or family member about the abuse you’re experiencing. Asking for their emotional support may help you to feel less isolated and afraid, especially during the holidays. They may also be able to help you review your safety plan or help you think of other ways to protect yourself when necessary.
If you’re afraid your abuser will find out that you’ve told someone about the abuse, you may want to be selective about who you tell. And if you do decide to reach out to a loved one for support, remember that they cannot (and should not) tell you what to do. All decisions are still in your control.
Limit Alcohol Availability if Possible
If alcohol worsens your abuser’s tendency toward violence, try to limit the availability of alcohol at holiday gatherings or in your home if possible. You may have to draw on the support of friends and family members who will attend holiday gatherings to keep the alcohol to a minimum.
Brainstorm Valid Reasons to Leave if Necessary
There may be times when you recognize the signs of violent behavior before it begins and need to exit the home immediately. Prepare a list of valid reasons for why you could reasonably need to leave the home at any time.
These reasons might include needing to run an errand, checking on a sick neighbor or family member, shopping for gifts or groceries, helping someone with holiday decorations, etc. If you can, see if a neighbor, friend, or family member can be on standby to act as your excuse if necessary.
Protect Yourself Financially
You never know exactly when you might need to leave the home, so you may want to hide some extra cash to use for emergencies such as a ride service or book a hotel room. You can also purchase a prepaid credit card that can’t be traced back to you.
If hiding money isn’t a safe option, think about who you could call to loan you money temporarily and make a plan with them in advance.
Keep Important Documents and Other Necessities Readily Available
Similarly, you may want to start gathering important documents that you would need to take with you if you decide to (or have to) leave your abuser. These documents might include:
- Financial records and bank account numbers
- Car registration/insurance
- Driver’s license or ID card, passport, Social Security card, green card, immigration papers, or work permits
- Important papers for you and your children (e.g., birth certificates, school and medical records, etc.)
- Government benefits cards
- W2s, pay stubs, or tax returns
- Protection orders, divorce papers
- Police reports and custody orders
- Journals, images, or anything else that documents the abuse
Additionally, you may want to set aside a few pairs of packed clothes in a place that is hidden but easily accessible to you. Make sure to also pack any items of sentimental value, as well as items needed for any children or pets. And finally, don’t forget to organize any needed medications so those are easily accessible in case you need to escape quickly.
How Loved Ones Can Support Survivors Around the Holidays
If you know or suspect a loved one is a victim of domestic violence, there are things you can do to help support them around the holidays. First and foremost, remember that you cannot make any decisions for them and that all decisions about what to do are in their control.
One of the best things you can do to support victims of domestic violence is simply to listen to them and let them know that you are there for them. If you’re able, let them know how you can help them, such as offering a place to stay if they need to escape or connecting them with available resources, like the services at Safe Shelter.
You might also be able to help them create or go over their safety plan and offer ways to support their strategies if possible. For example, offer to be available by call or text throughout the holiday season (and after!) if they need physical or emotional support. You can also volunteer to be one of their “excuses” to go on shopping trips or visits if they need to exit a situation quickly.
Above all, checking in with your loved one regularly and letting them know that you’re there for them will go a long way to help them feel supported.
Create a Holiday Safety Plan with an Advocate at Safe Shelter
At Safe Shelter of St. Vrain Valley, we are here to serve you or your loved ones who are experiencing domestic violence. Our advocates are trained in safety planning and can help you make a custom safety plan for the holidays to keep you and your loved ones safer from abuse.
If you or someone you know needs help, do not hesitate to get in contact with us. You can call our office during business hours at 303-772-0432, our 24-hour crisis line at 303-772-4422, or click here to fill out our online question form at any time. All services are free and available in both English and Spanish.