Why Christmas can be the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence, says expert

A “perfect storm” of pressure is how Hayley Foster describes what the Christmas period can be like for victims of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse.

For crisis helplines, this can see usage rates increase by 25-30% on Christmas Day and Christmas Day alone, while crisis relief programs and d ’emergency housing can see peaks of 40%.

That’s according to Ms Foster, who is the CEO of Full Stop Australia, an advocacy group that campaigns against domestic, gender and sexual violence.

“It’s a time when people are very much at stake,” he says.

“There is a lot of pressure, there is a lot of expectation and there is a lot of disappointment.

“As a society, there are so many expectations around the perfect pin-up family and because of that, emotions and stress levels are very high.”

Additional financial pressures and an environment where families spend more time together in confined spaces can also lead to an increase in violence and sex crimes.

“The nature of intimate partner abuse and coercive control is that the onus is usually on the victim to consistently meet the needs of the person who uses this violence and abuses power,” adds Foster.

50 women lost to violence in 2022

The devastating statistics come as 50 Australian women lose their lives to violence in 2022. Reported via Destroy the Joint’s Counting the dead women project, the numbers exceeded the 43 deaths recorded last year.

The death of 31-year-old Sydney teacher Dannielle Finlay-Jones dominated the headlines recently, after her body was discovered at a friend’s home in Cranebrook on Sunday afternoon.

Ashley Gaddie, a 33-year-old man she had recently started dating, has been arrested and charged with her alleged murder.

However, in just two days after Dannielle’s death, the lives of two more women have been claimed by violence.

At around 11pm on Sunday night, while police were investigating Dannielle’s death, the body of 37-year-old Monthana Khantherat was found badly injured in a unit at Albion Park Rail in the region of Illawarra of NSW.

While paramedics tried to save her, she died at the scene. A 28-year-old man has been charged with his alleged murder.

On Tuesday night, a 28-year-old Darwin woman also died after being taken to hospital with multiple stab wounds. A 31-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with murder, intent to cause grievous bodily harm and unlawfully causing harm.

However, the 50 women – some recognizable by name, while others faceless victims in an epidemic of gender-based violence – represent only the tip of the iceberg.

“We can talk about individual cases, but for us it is general. This happens throughout the community,” Ms Foster says.

“We know how prevalent it is, so people have to stop thinking that this happens to other people’s families, it happens to everyone’s families and communities.

“We all have to watch out and make sure we’re doing our part. We don’t want to be on the other side of this and wish we had done something.”

Life saving question to ask at Christmas

For concerned loved ones and family members, being able to identify red flags and reach out to support is paramount. Ms Foster says if someone is in an abusive relationship, the holidays provide an opportunity where friends and family can identify behaviors and intervene.

This includes behaviors where one partner is acting very jealous, in constant contact with the other person, or limiting their finances. Restrictive or controlling behaviors around who someone sees, where they go, what they are doing, or constantly asking them to do things for them is another telltale sign.

“Some of the more subtle things are around whose role it is to take on certain tasks,” Ms Foster adds. “If someone has a partner who has really rigid ideas about stereotypes and gender roles, they are more likely to use violence and abuse in their relationships.”

Simply reaching out and offering support to friends and family could also save lives. Foster says the “biggest barrier to overcome” is knowing that stopping domestic violence is everyone’s business.

“The standard we pass by is the standard we accept,” he says.

“We have to think about the message it sends to our family and friends who might be experiencing this when we don’t do or say anything.”

As for how, this can be as simple as asking someone the question, “Are you okay?” or simply offer support. However, it is important to recognize that the victim is “the expert on his own situation” and allow him to dictate the pace and degree of assistance provided.

“I think a lot of people take the role of trying to fix it and telling the person who cares what to do,” Ms Foster adds.

“We know that the point of separation is the most dangerous time for someone in terms of escalating violence and even deadly violence, so we have to trust that they will know the right time to walk away and the right way to address- it”.

Confronting the aggressor

For people in the position of supporting a family member or friend who is exhibiting controlling or problematic behaviour, Ms Foster says it’s important to let them know that their actions are not okay, while trying to “not be too critical.”

“You want to keep the lines of communication open, so you can say things like, ‘You’re okay, I’m worried about you and some of your behaviors and that things are okay.’ I really want to support you with what you’re going through, but this behavior is really worrying,” he says.

“Most people who use violence, abuse and coercive control in relationships will see themselves as the victim, so it is very important that you do not associate with them or collude with them if they say that the fault lies with the victim”.

It can also be helpful to share services that offer support in how they relate to their relationships.

This includes helplines such as No to Violence and Mensline Australia.

Originally published as Why Christmas can be the most dangerous time for victims of domestic violence, says expert

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