While the holiday season is widely thought of as being joyful and a time to be with family, for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, it’s often a time of sorrow and loneliness.
Advocates at DOVE Center — Southern Utah’s 24-hour agency that provides a variety of services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and sex trafficking — say it’s typical to see a decrease in requests for services from survivors experiencing domestic violence during the holidays. This is often due to being overloaded with stress, financial pressures, a deep desire to uphold family traditions, and the expectation of the holidays being the “happiest season of the year.”
However, just because survivors aren’t reporting doesn’t mean domestic violence isn’t happening. Overall, DOVE Center has seen an increase in demand for safe shelter and services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 300 individuals seeking shelter since March.
“Survivors, our clients, do indeed struggle during the holidays,” said Clinical Counselor Susan Ann Stauffer. “The holidays are loaded with expectations and dreams. Even people who are not domestic violence survivors can find the holidays challenging. For survivors, however, grief is ever present.”
Loneliness also accompanies survivors during the holidays, Stauffer said, due to living arrangements being drastically altered.
“Often survivors are without their children as ex-husbands or partners have visitation rights on the holidays,” she said. “This makes for lonely hours spent alone.”
In addition to isolation and financial stress, the holidays can be a time where trauma and grief resurface. Stauffer said trauma resurfaces when survivors are reminded that the reality of their lives isn’t where they want to be.
“Survivors who are seeking wholeness and healing are presented with the images, sounds, smells, tastes and meanings of the holidays,” she said, “and these impact survivors with a sense of loss.”
Although the holiday season can be difficult, there is hope because it’s also a time of giving.
“Our community is amazing,” Stauffer said. “They do help, and they do care.”
Stauffer also said survivors can find comfort by learning about local resources and creating a plan for the holidays that focuses on their emotional needs.
“Survivors can be determined to create new traditions and find activities that will enliven their creativity,” she said, “and allow them to feel that they have choices in life. They have the power to make new memories.”
If you are experiencing any form of domestic violence, call DOVE Center’s 24-hour helpline at (435) 628-0458 to speak with an advocate, or visit our Get Help page to learn more. All services are free, confidential, and inclusive.