Serious as Sandy Hook: Domestic violence and New Year’s Eve
SAN DIEGO – December 27, 2012 – Pardon me for repeating myself. But until we get the problem of domestic violence under control in the United States, I’m going to repeat myself in the hope that even one family might be spared the horror of being hurt by someone who was supposed to love them.
While the rest of us look forward to the fun and revelry that comes with saying goodbye to an old year and welcoming a new one, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are the two most dangerous dates on the calendar for women and men at risk of domestic violence.
The statistics aren’t changing for the better, even though more of us are talking about the problem. According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, domestic violence reports increase as much as 30 percent on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. This comes after lower than average reports of domestic violence between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
People feel the pressure to make things nice during the holidays, even when there are serious threats or a previous history. So they will try to keep things together and under control so they don’t “ruin” Thanksgiving and Christmas. Moms especially will do just about anything to make Christmas nice for their children. Abusers are also known to tighten their grip on their victims over the holidays. They extort promises of “good behavior” with the excuse of making everything nice for the children.
The sadness, fear and enormous stress of living with this type of dangerous tension and control can come to a head at the start of a new year. Filings for separation and divorce skyrocket in January. Fueled by alcohol consumption on New Year’s Eve when it is more socially acceptable to overindulge, the powder keg can blow up.
Violence is the reason for one in five divorces in the United States. Announcing a separation or starting divorce proceedings is a significant trigger for domestic violence. The two weeks after a woman files for divorce is the time she is at greatest risk. Women who leave their batterers increase their risk of severe injury or death 75 percent over those who stay (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Three-quarters of all emergency room visits by battered women occur in this two-week period after a separation.
These statistics are all too real in my community. In San Diego County, 16 victims including seven children were killed in family murder-suicides in 2011. Another 16 people were murdered in other types of family violence situations. This is the highest number on record by far and more people than were killed at the horrible Sandy Hook shootings.
The past 12 months didn’t slow down much, including the recent stabbing on December 18. In this instance, a man with a prior history of domestic violence killed a woman he’d known just a few months. He also tried to kill her eight-year-old daughter, who managed to survive being stabbed 22 times.
We need to get angry with this. We should be just as upset about this situation as we are with acts of mass violence such as Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook, Connecticut this past year. We should be having a “national discussion.” But we aren’t.
In the meantime, knowledge is power, and knowing the increased risk for domestic violence doesn’t mean anyone should stay in an abusive relationship, or subject their children to violence in the household. What it does mean is making smart plans and smart decisions based on this knowledge.
Some tips for staying safe from domestic violence over the New Year’s holiday:
- Don’t isolate yourself with a possible abuser
Go to a public event, a gathering among a safe group of family or friends, attend religious services or “First Night” events where no alcohol is served. Plan to stay overnight with family or friends outside your home. On New Year’s Day, get out of the house early, and be among crowds. Let people know where you will be.
- Go to safe neighborhoods
Stay away from neighborhoods and trips to places that will increase the chances of being found or followed by your abuser, caught alone, or spotted and identified by someone he or she may know.
- Remove alcohol and drugs from the home
This may not stop someone determined to get intoxicated or high, but it could force him or her to go elsewhere for his or her “fun” and allow you some time to get away.
- Should you leave before New Year’s Eve?
If you are living in fear that you or your children may become victims of violence, get to safety. Find an organization that can advise you on finding safe shelter. Contact a family law attorney that can assist you with putting together an exit strategy. In any emergency do not hesitate to call law enforcement, and call 9-1-1 anytime you are subjected to violence or witness violence.
- If you decide to remain in your home
Make a contingency plan if you think you might have any need to get out in a hurry. Put together a get-away bag with some basics including a change of clothing for you and your children, toiletries, cash and credit or debit cards, and any necessary medications and supplies or toys for your kids. Store it somewhere safe, perhaps leaving it with a neighbor or friend. Keep your car keys with you. Keep a full tank of gas in the car. Have your cell phone charged, and an extra battery if possible. Know how to exit your home quickly.
Work out in advance who you could contact to help you: friends, neighbors, your church or synagogue, domestic violence shelters, or law enforcement.
If you cannot leave during an argument, identify a safe place to go and secure yourself and call for help. Ask a neighbor to call police if they hear fighting, yelling, or any unusually loud noises. This could be a challenge on New Year’s Eve, so don’t count on being saved.
Talk to your friends and family. Reach out for extra support from counselors, advocates, and help lines. For a start, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-SAFE
It is never easy to talk about domestic violence, and it seems particularly sad at a time so many of us look forward to the start of a new year. But bringing this problem out of the shadows, removing the shame of being a victim and supporting the brave women and men who take difficult steps to end the violence is a powerful and hopeful way to look forward not just to a new year but a wonderful new life.