The festive season is coming. A time of permissible overindulgence, sunny days, warm nights and massive spikes in family violence.
Emily’s* father made Christmas a terrifying time for her whole family.
Children will see increased amounts of family violence happen over the holiday period. There are ways to try to head it off. photo credit shutterstock
“It was hot and us kids were all home all day. Any time we made any noise he’d take it out on mum," she recalls.
"Christmas was always about mum crying and us being terrified. I left home more than ten years ago but I still hate summer because of him.”
Emily’s experience is tragically common. Family violence across Australia increases by anywhere between 25 and 40 percent from winter to summer.
In Victoria alone, this works out to roughly an additional 50 reports of family violence incidents every single day over December and January.
"We used to get a lot of men calling 1800 RESPECT to ask how they could help friends or family they suspected were in danger."
Reporting to police is never simple. The insidiousness of family violence is that it comes at the hands of someone you care about, and the combination of fear, guilt, love and pain can make it very difficult to report them to police.
At the same time, leaving your partner or parent, or banning an abusive family member from holiday celebrations can feel almost impossible.
Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner of Family Violence Command Dean McWhirter says the holiday period “has the potential to create a number of stressors on relationships that may increase the possibility of family violence”.
He also says police have come a long way in their responses to family violence, which now include referring victims to support services and a far greater understanding of the complex ways in which family violence can present itself.
“We know that family violence does not discriminate and knows no boundaries. It affects all communities, all backgrounds, ages, sexual orientation and genders and it is not confined to couples.”
Karen Willis, executive officer at Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia says the holiday season also provides opportunity for family members to step in and help.
“We used to get a lot of men calling 1800 RESPECT to ask how they could help friends or family they suspected were in danger.”
She says the holidays can offer an opening to start conversations with men who might use violence and persuade them to get help or even just take them away from a potentially dangerous situation.
“There was one family where the blokes all knew about the one man who would always blow up at Christmas. So they organised a fishing trip to get him out of the picture.
"It might not fix the problem but at least it gave her a break and some time to think or reach out for help.”
While the general public understanding of violence against women is improving, around 40 per cent of people still say they would not know where to find help for someone experiencing family violence, and more than 40 per cent think women going through custody battles often make up or exaggerate domestic violence claims (despite the fact such claims are rarely false and don’t help women who’ve experienced family violence).
A further 32 per cent believe women are partly responsible for relationship violence if they do not leave a violent partner.
"Summer should be a time of relaxation and fun but for far too many Australian it won’t. It will be a time of fear and pain."
While the improvements are encouraging it is concerning that so many people don’t know how to help, or might not believe someone if they talked about experiencing violence.
Friends and family can be an invaluable first step for someone starting the exhausting and painful process of escaping violence.
If you think you might know someone in this situation but you’re not sure, or you don't know how to approach them if it is true, there are many resources available to help you.
The first and most obvious is to call the police (dial 000) if someone is in immediate danger. This doesn’t just apply to friends and family but also neighbours you’ve never met or even people out in public where violence is imminent.
Family violence is not a private matter and police would always rather be called to a false alarm than not be told about a dangerous situation which could even turn fatal.
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone else, you can call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). They provide advice and referrals for people experiencing family violence as well as support for people concerned about others.
All states and territories have crisis support and specific services for at risk groups like women from cultural and diverse backgrounds, women with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and people from the LGBTIQ community. 1800 RESPECT can provide referrals to the appropriate service.
Almost all the state and specific services have websites with a quick escape button that wipes the history from your browser. These websites allow you to find out more about what family violence looks like and how to find assistance. Many of them provide online chat as well as telephone support.
Six women killed in five days, you need to engage with this crisis
For men who are looking for support either to escape family violence or to help change behaviour they know is hurting or scaring their family, Mensline provides free online or phone counselling and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Summer should be a time of relaxation and fun but for far too many Australians it won’t. It will be what it was for Emily: a time of fear and pain.
Reaching out to someone at risk of violence is not interfering. It’s recognising that family violence is a whole of community issue and saving lives is never something we should hesitate to do.
* Names and details changed
1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
Story originally appeared on the SMH website on the 6th December
Journalist: Jane Gilmore