Christmas for most of us is a time of festive cheer, family get togethers, too much mulled wine and general epicurean excess. And so it should be. Nevertheless, those get togethers can also be a fraught, fractious time and, indeed, a dreaded event for many families.
Every year police forces and social work teams around the country are alerted to increasing domestic violence around Christmas and New Year. The number of police call outs to break up family arguments, violence and domestic abuse spike dramatically during the festive period.
If you Google the statistics a sorry list appears from around the country; for example, 35 incidents of domestic violence call outs in north Manchester division in 2013 on Christmas day alone – compared to almost half that on a normal day.
And so it goes in other cities and rural areas.
Dorset Police, for instance, recently launched its Christmas campaign to reduce the huge rise in the numbers of sexually-motivated domestic abuse cases that happen around Christmas and the New Year in communities on the south coast.
All this abuse is brought on by Christmas money worries, tensions within larger family gatherings and excessive alcohol consumption, to name a few reasons. Often family feuds spill into neighbouring streets and involve families next door. Mundane arguments can spiral out of control – one recent instance recorded a man charged with a breach of the peace when he was caught publicly fighting with his wife after she locked him out of the house accusing him of not helping with the Christmas dinner.
The even sadder truth, of course, is that serious domestic violence takes place all year round and goes largely unrecognised by the general public. It’s a sobering fact that two women are killed every week as a result of domestic violence. The police and social services do what they can to create awareness of this by encouraging women to reach out for support every day rather than just at Christmas.
Elsewhere, organisations such as Refuge support thousands of women and children escaping domestic violence throughout the year. At Christmas it publishes particularly poignant stories of abused mothers and asks for donations to help keep these mums safe. You can read Esther’s story here.
It’s worth remembering, however, that domestic violence is not only a result of Christmas disagreements gone out of control, it’s an abuse of power – it is the repeated, habitual use of violence and intimidation to control another person. We cannot blame domestic violence on Christmas, on alcohol, drugs, unemployment, stress, money worries or ill health. These are just excuses for an abuser’s behaviour.
Intervening early improves outcomes for children, young people, adults and families and enables them to live full and happy lives. A whole family approach to early intervention and prevention joins up support from the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub environment (MASH) and the support therefore provided by the partnership gives all vulnerable people the best life chances and is vital for early identification of need, harm and risk.
Working in partnership and sharing information is at the heart of this approach. See the Shared Vision blog here.
We intend to continue to push the agenda for information sharing and early interventions to the heart of central and local government in 2016. We’d like everyone to join the debate and will be running a live streaming interactive video and Tweetchat on Thursday Dec 17 at 7.30pm. This Christmas – and throughout 2016 – women and girls should be able to live their lives free from violence and intimidation at home. Free to enjoy themselves like everyone else and, yes, to indulge in some epicurean excess during this festive season.