While some have a perception that domestic violence incidents increase around the holidays, experts tell ABC 17 News that's not the case--they are fairly consistent year round.
"For our domestic violence programs across the state as well as when your looking at the arrest and incident reports from highway patrol--we see people constantly reaching out," Jennifer Carter-Dochler, adjunct faculty member at MU's School of Social Work and Public Policy and director at Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, tells ABC 17 News. "There might be a couple months of the year that there's an increase but for the most part our programs are constantly at capacity."
However, Janelle Williams, executive director for Audrain County Crisis and Intervention Services says she often finds that domestic violence victims are less likely to reach out during the holidays.
"We actually see a decrease over the holidays. It's not a decrease in incidents--we still see the same number of incidences reported...the actual number of domestic violence cases and sexual assault doesn't change but what does change is that people want to keep their families together over the holidays. They don't want to make a big deal about things they don't want to, kinda, stir the pot...," Williams says, adding, "You want to have a good Christmas for your kids or you want to have a good family gathering for Thanksgiving...so people may not seek services as much during the holidays but it's not saying that things happen any less frequently than they normally would."
Williams says the holidays can be a stressful time, and that, coupled with an uptick in alcohol use and added financial stress, can sometimes cause a situation to escalate much faster.
"All those things together can lower inhibitions and make domestic violence more severe. It's not that it's going to happen more often, but when it does happen, the situations may be more noticeable or you may see physically that play out more," she says.
There are a number of resources in Mid-Missouri for victims of domestic violence, including the national domestic violence hotline (1-800-799-7233), ACCIS in Audrain County (their hotline, 1-800-246-2280, is available 24/7 and their office at 103 West Monroe is open 8-5, Monday through Friday), True North in Columbia, MEND (for abusers wanting to seek help), MU's local campus program RSVP and more.
Carter-Dochler says deciding what steps to take is up to the individual--there's no easy formula for everyone.
"The remedies we have available in our criminal justice system, whether it's arrest or orders of protection are critically important and yet they aren't a good fit for everyone," she says. "People who are abusive--some of them respond very well to court orders and it really does help remedy the situation. For some, it escalates. And for others, it's a way for law enforcement to hold them accountable at a higher level."
The bottom line, Carter-Dochler says, is that it's not the victim's fault and there are a variety of resources available.
"There is help available--whether it's through friends and family or whether it's from a domestic violence program, there is help available the they're [the victim] is not alone."
ABC 17 News will have more on this story in our evening newscasts.