While Christmas may be a time of joy and fun to many, for some the festive period has far more serious consequences.
For domestic violence is the most hidden of all violent crimes with the average victim suffering 35 incidents of abuse before they report it, and over the last three years South Yorkshire Police has seen a steep increase in the number of reported incidents over the Christmas holidays.
According to police figures, over the last three years reported incidents of alcohol-related domestic abuse in Doncaster increase by an average of 28 per cent over the festive period, compared to November.
Like many, deciding to leave her husband after a decade of marriage, and nine years of abuse wasn’t an easy decision for Louise*.
As a mother of two with financial responsibilities, it wasn’t just a case of leaving an abusive partner, it was a choice that would mean starting a new life alone with no job, home or idea of what she would do next.
Doncaster-born Louise knew leaving would mean disrupting her children’s lives and telling loved ones the secret she had hidden from them for years.
She says: “The first time I actually said it out loud, I told my counsellor, and it was like speaking an alien language. When you’ve been bottling it up for so long, it’s a hard thing to come out and say.”
“My former husband was physically, mentally and financially abusive.”
What started with occasional instances of shouting and shoving soon escalated into serious violence, and during the course of her ten year marriage Louise experienced countless attacks of physical abuse from her husband, which included repeated kickings and attempts to strangle her.
“He would tell me that he was worried about what he would do next,” says Louise.
“I had 10 years of that, and then I decided it was enough.
“It took me so long to speak out because I wanted my marriage to work. I didn’t want to tell my family because I wanted them to like him.”
In June Doncaster Council said that over the last year there were more than 7,500 recorded domestic violence cases in Doncaster - a rise of more than 16 per cent on the previous year.
Louise says her ex-husband manipulated those around her in an attempt to isolate her, and make coming forward more difficult.
“When we were out together he was caring and loving, but no-one ever saw what he was really like. He would even tell my family that I was wonderful when I wasn’t there.
“He was sneaky, and they didn’t suspect a thing. He would tell our friends that I was off my head.”
It took Louise nine years to come forward and tell someone about the abuse she had experienced. And despite being scared and having to start again she says it was the ‘best decision’ she could have made, and now feels like a new woman.
She adds: “I’m an example that you can do it, and I really want to put that out there.
“I was very lucky to have Women’s Aid and Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy (IDVA)
“They came to court with me and helped you through all of it.
“I spent so much time doubting myself, and so to go and talk to someone who believed you and supported you was great.
“Everyone at Women’s Aid was wonderful. And it was good to meet other women who knew what you were going through.”
Louise says she could never predict when the next attack would happen, and while her husband’s behaviour didn’t become worse over the festive period - for some people living in an abusive the financial strain and family stress created by Christmas presents a very real and present danger.
She said: “Some men are worse over Christmas because they blame drinking or stress for what they do. They blame the victim or other reasons, but really it’s something in them that makes them do it.”
Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, Polly Neate says that the charity knows how many women ‘hang on’ in their relationships in the run up to Christmas, keeping themselves busy with the festivities and desperately trying to hold everything together for the sake of the children.
She said: “Christmas can be particularly difficult as the stresses we all can feel are particularly bad for families experiencing domestic violence.
“For children living in a home where there is violence, Christmas is not a time of excitement and celebration, but one of terror and trepidation, as the family comes together for an extended period of time.”
In a bid to tackle domestic abuse, both during the festive period and into 2014, Doncaster Council has launched a new helpline to provide confidential advice, support and information to victims of domestic abuse aged 16 and over.
Bob Sanderson, strategic lead on domestic abuse for Doncaster Council said: “Domestic abuse is very high on our agenda right now and we hope that through our new approach we will allow early access to help and support and focus particularly on early interventions to prevent escalation.
“We want to remind people that domestic abuse is not acceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated within our communities.”
South Yorkshire Police has also prioritised responding to reports of domestic violence this Christmas.
Supt Peter Norman said: “Everyone deserves to have a safe and happy Christmas. No one should be living in fear due to victimisation from someone who is supposed to love and care for them.
“Victims and their families do not need to suffer in silence. There are many excellent services across the county that can offer support if they do not feel comfortable reporting abuse to police.”
“South Yorkshire Police will never tolerate domestic abuse and we want to help people escape violent and abusive relationships.”
Doncaster Domestic Abuse Service can be contacted now on 0800 4701505 or you can visit the website at www.doncasterdomesticabuse.co.uk
*Louise is a pseudonym used for the person quoted in this article, to protect her true identity.