explainer

Why today is one of the busiest days of the year for reporting domestic violence.

Just before 9am this morning, hundreds of thousands of parents across New South Wales, South Australia, and the Northern Territory dropped their children at school after two weeks of holidays.

As those students prepare for a new term, domestic violence advocacy groups are making preparations of their own.

From 9.15am, the calls begin.

The executive officer of the NSW Rape Crisis and Domestic Violence centre, Karen Willis, told The Daily Telegraph their phone lines go “ballistic” the day school returns. The trend is so significant, staff at the centre are scheduled to do extra shifts to respond to the increased volume of calls.

“(Callers) say the last two weeks or six weeks have been horrendous, they just can’t take it any more,” Willis told the publication. “Those who call us, usually they have gone through a gradual process and the holidays have been the last straw.”

While it has long been assumed domestic violence itself increases over holiday periods, it is unclear whether this is the case.

Speaking to the Canberra Times in February 2017 about the rise in domestic violence reports between November and January, ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service executive director Mirjana Wilson said, “I don’t think we can ever say it’s happening more, it’s just being reported more.”

She said during school holidays there’s often a pressure “to do family a certain way,” but the end of holiday time, or the beginning of a new year, can encourage reflection among victims, urging them to take action.

Domestic violence victims, however, are less likely to reach out for help during the holiday period. Karyn Walsh, the chief executive officer of Micah Projects which operates the Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, told The Catholic Leader, “We know that one of the prime reasons why people stay in abusive relationships is their children.”

“During the holidays, there might be a lot of pressure to keep the family together, to have everyone there for a meal.”

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There also appears to be an increase in calls after high-profile stories of deaths from domestic violence. Last week, Mamamia, Rendezview and Sydney Morning Herald published stories highlighting the statistic that six women had been killed by men in five days. In four of those cases, partners have been charged with the murders. Two are still being investigated.

SMH‘s Jane Gilmore described the “compassion fatigue” felt by the Australian public when it comes to violence against women. But these stories, describing a ‘national emergency’ that had been completely ignored, were received with anything but fatigue. Readers online appeared to be galvanised, commenting and sharing the articles in striking numbers.

The names and faces of these women were widely circulated, and the circumstances of their deaths reported.

We know that in the wake of Luke Batty’s murder by his father in February 2014, there was an identifiable ‘Batty effect,’ as the number of children seeking shelter from family violence surged.

Perhaps the renewed public interest in the death toll of domestic violence will encourage even more victims to reach out for help at this time of year.

Karen Willis told The Daily Telegraph she sees a spike in calls to domestic violence hotlines not only after the two-week school holidays, but also on the Tuesday after long weekends and after the Christmas break.

It’s important to remember, however, that domestic violence isn’t caused by situations or seasons – but by controlling, abusive individuals.

If this article brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

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