Domestic Violence Spikes Over Christmas – I Know First-Hand How Festivities Can Escalate

For thousands, the holidays will only offer more of the same domestic violence they must endure all year round, journalist Catherine Renton writes.
Woman sitting on sofa, holding cup of coffee by the fireplace at Christmas day
Woman sitting on sofa, holding cup of coffee by the fireplace at Christmas day
fotostorm via Getty Images

Many of us see the festive period as a chance to eat, drink and be merry with our favourite people. But for thousands, it will only offer an escalation of what they must endure all year round: domestic violence and abuse. I know because from the age of 17 to 20 I lived with an emotionally and physically abusive partner and I dreaded Christmas.

When I first met Connor*, he was everything I was looking for in a mate: strong, funny, intelligent and charming. He showered me with affection and attention, which was flattering at first but later suffocating. He also had a jealous temper, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced before or since. We were in a relationship for a year before he became violent but, in that year, he began to manipulate and control every aspect of my life in ways that were almost imperceptible at the time.

We lived together and shared a bank account but I kept “losing” my debit card, so Connor persuaded me it would be easier for him to give me a weekly cash allowance. He would subtly belittle me in front of his friends, picking on my insecurities and reinforcing every negative thought I ever had about myself. He poisoned me against my family (who quickly realised he was not a great guy) causing an estrangement that would take years to heal. When my friends invited me out, he would guilt me into staying home. After months of rejection, friends stopped inviting me out altogether and I became more and more reliant on Connor.

As this was my first serious relationship, I had no frame of reference, no idea that his behaviour was troubling. I didn’t realise abuse could take place without violence. The media depiction of partner abuse still focuses on violence because it’s attention-grabbing, but I will never forget the way Connor gently eroded my confidence, my personality and my self-worth.

The first act of violence happened at Christmas. I’d decided to go to my office Christmas party on a whim and after a few drinks was having the most fun I’d experienced in months. When I got home, I discovered I was locked out. I battered at the door for Connor to let me in, but when he opened the door, I saw his face twisted into a shape I didn’t recognise. I knew immediately that he was going to hurt me. A flash of rage saw me thrown down a flight of stairs, followed by a weeping apology and assurance this would never happen again.

But it did.

We lived together peacefully for months at a time then, as soon as he’d drank too much or had a hard day, the violent rage would return. I tried to leave, called shelters and my local council but was turned away. According to Women’s Aid research, 60% of all referrals to refuge services in 2017–18 were declined and one in six of these referrals were declined due to a lack of space or capacity to support the survivor.

I lived in a state of fear and hyper vigilance, barely talking in case I said anything that would trigger Connor’s rage. I lived in shame, not telling anyone about the abuse because I believed what was happening to me was my fault. I sunk into a deep depression and would often feel disappointed to wake up in the morning, to face another day in torment.

Women stay in abusive relationships for many different reasons, and it can be very difficult for a woman to leave an abusive partner – even if she wants to. I had no money, no friends and nowhere to go and never felt more isolated than during the festive season. My office closed for a fortnight at Christmas and I would feel sick with dread at the thought of spending every day indoors with a man who would monitor my every move and could explode at any moment.

Christmas time goes hand in hand with large quantities of alcohol – a common trigger of physical and verbal abuse – meaning attacks can spike at this time. At the same time access to services can be limited during the festive season, leading to a real feeling of isolation. When you consider that an estimated 2.4 million adults in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the last year, it brings home just how many people will be living in fear this Christmas.

It was during our last Christmas together that I realised I needed to leave Connor. I was rebuilding my relationship with my family in secret and remembering the person I used to be. It would take three attempts before I actually left for good, with one final flash of violence that left me physically scarred and with post-traumatic stress disorder, which would last more than a decade.

When I hear Christmas music now it doesn’t remind me of happy times, only living in fear. My skin prickles as I remember the festive hits that I’d hear playing in neighbours’ homes as Connor raged at me. Bruises fade but psychological abuse takes much longer to heal.

Catherine Renton is a freelance writer.

If you need support, call:

  • National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
  • The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
  • The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
  • Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123
  • Rights of Women advice lines, there are a range of services available:

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