As children around the nation doze off on Christmas Day, the lucky will be left with happy memories of a visit from Santa.
But far too many others will remember smashed beer bottles and raised fists.
Sadly for many families in Australia, Christmas is far from being the most wonderful time of the year.
It’s a time when high stress levels, alcohol consumption and deep-rooted tensions can exacerbate abusive behaviour.
Last year, between December 28 to 30, contacts to national family violence service 1800RESPECT shot up by 24 per cent compared to the eight weeks prior.
Throughout the whole of December, the number of calls from frightened people seeking help was 16 per cent higher than the month before.
This alarming trend of domestic violence rates spiking around Christmas happens almost every year.
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The workload for counsellors at No To Violence, the peak body for men’s referral services, more than doubles around Christmas time, largely because the family courts and other essential services are closed for the holidays.
Many of them are tasked with calling men named in police reports to give them strategies to help them avoid using violence before the big day.
No To Violence counsellor Denise, who did not want her surname published, said it was challenging trying to keep up with the extra demand.
“You can imagine being here at Christmas and over New Year when everyone else is on holiday and every day you’re coming in and reading these sometimes very, very graphic police reports,” Denise told The New Daily.
She said a combination of factors made Christmas a “particularly volatile time” for Australian families.
“This time of the year can be the perfect storm for men,” Denise said.
“You’re talking about the end of a very busy working year … and all that pressure to be with people in your family who you don’t get along with, and unrealistic expectations about what the day should be.
“If you add alcohol, heat and ‘I couldn’t afford to buy my kids what I wanted to buy them’, then it makes a bit of a powder keg.”
So far, 55 women have been killed by male violence this year, according to anti-violence group Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women tally.
Robyn, a direct services manager at No To Violence, said many people compared their families to those depicted in unrealistic Christmas advertising, which further inflamed tensions.
“There’s this view of what Christmas Day is for families – that it’s supposed to be like a Woolworths ad,” Robyn said.
“That’s a big external pressure because you’re set up to feel bad if you’re not fitting the Christmas card picture of what a family is.”
While acknowledging the extra strains around Christmas time, Robyn also said using violence was “still a choice”.
“There is nothing loving about having power and control over the other person,” she said.
“If your children and your partner are walking on eggshells around you, that doesn’t mean they love you; it means they’re doing what they can to keep themselves safe.
“You need to ask yourself, what memory does that leave your children on Christmas?”
Strategies to keep calm during Christmas time
- Pay attention to your body and check in with how you are feeling e.g. If you have a clenched jaw or you feel yourself getting hot under the collar then take some time out
- Think about your children and how they can have a great memory of the day
- Take time out when you need, but let people know you are working something out and you’ll be back
- Think about your alcohol intake if you’re worried about managing yourself on the day
- Call Men’s Referral Service for support and encouragement and to talk through your options.
- Emergency: 000
- Safe Steps 24/7 family violence response line: 1800 015 188
- No To Violence men’s referral service: 1300 766 491
- 1800RESPECT family violence response line: 1800 737 732.