Most domestic violence shelters are a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year operation. So while activity can slow down around Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is still double the workload for advocates working during the holidays. Every year, The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women—which publishes research and resources on domestic and sexual violence—teams up with the National Resource Center on Domestic violence to publish technical assistance guides filled with useful information, statistics, and tips for those working in shelters over the holidays.
“There is so much to keep in mind. How are you keeping kids engaged? Are you baking cookies? Are you helping to prepare meals? Are you decorating? If so, are you using religiously themed decorations? Are you overseeing the influx of volunteers around this time of year? Advocates are always juggling all these things around the holidays, and all the while, they’d like to be at home with their families too,” Fairley said.
For those survivors just trying to have a pleasant holiday with their loved ones, it is often a test of “always putting on a happy face for your friends and family,” said one survivor at District Alliance for Safe Housing, who asked to remain unnamed. “You are always just trying to protect the person who is hurting you.” Another survivor emphasized the need to “not act up around my family.”
If the increased media scrutiny around violence against women has helped survivors leave bad situations this year, the recovering economy has also had a hand in the steady increase in calls and walk-ins to shelters. “People were staying in bad relationships because they couldn’t afford to not be in them,” Pentico said. “A better economy is better for everyone. Yes, more women than ever are seeking shelter, but at least she’s leaving that situation.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline has also recently added online chat and text capabilities. There’s no hard data on how many people are using these resources and when they’re using it yet, but the hope is the information will be ready in the coming year. “We don’t want to post a few months worth of data from the text/online chat service, with varying hours of operation, along with years worth of data from phone calls to the Hotline which operates 24/7/365,” Fairley said.
Even without hard numbers, Fairley says the text/online chat option has made reaching out easier. After all, calling a hotline requires having a verbal conversation, which can be dangerous for some victims. “They may find some privacy to text back and forth with an advocate to explore options for help,” she said. In any case, advocates will have their hands full this New Year’s.
This is a bit of a double-edged sword for advocates. While it is disheartening to see shelters fill up and hotlines ringing off the hook, women are realizing more than ever they shouldn’t have to put up with abuse and are in positions to leave bad situations. “We’ve gotten to a point where things may plateau after a while, but we’re never going to see the level of activity we saw, say, two years ago," Farley said.