CLEVELAND — The holidays are a time for family, friends and spreading love. But it can also be stressful and dangerous for some families.
While national data shows domestic violence calls drop dramatically during the holidays, Ohio agencies say they experience an uptick in calls for help as men, women and children remain at risk.
“During the holidays, definitely we have seen an increase in numbers and calls on domestic violence and even child abuse,” said Laura Cowan, Resident Services Liaison with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA).
From July 2021 to June 30 2022, 112 Ohioans died of domestic violence by homicide and suicide, according to the Ohio Domestic Violence Network. Twenty-two of them were among young people.
Right now is a stressful time for many as some are dealing with financial worries and others are isolated at home with their abusers, who may even be heavily monitoring them in person and on social media.
“The holidays tend to be a disruptive time where an abuser may try to exert more power and control through abuse — financial, verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, every kind of, any kind of abuse,” said Melissa Graves, Chief Executive Officer at the Journey Center for Safety and Healing. “Over the holidays, we do tend to see an increase in alcohol consumption for some people. So, all of those things contribute to a stressful environment.”
Graves says now is the time to keep a closer eye on loved ones. She suggests pulling them aside to comfort them and listen without judgment.
“It's hard to watch somebody you care about struggle, so the holidays can be a really great time to have a reason to be reaching out as much as you can…find reasons to spend together," Graves said.
She suggested some things you could say to connect with loved ones who may be in abusive situations over the holidays.
"'Can you come and help me with these holiday errands? Can you come in? You know, I’d love to do this holiday prep with you. Come shopping. Let's go for a walk. Let's get out and get some fresh air,'” she said. “Anything where you can kind of have some one-on-one time with that person away from the abuse so you can really gently ask and get a sense of how they're doing and what's going on.”
As for those struggling at home, Cowan, who is herself a domestic violence survivor, said they are not alone. With various resources, wrap-around CMHA services and trained CMHA officers available to respond to DV calls, she urges those in vulnerable situations to make a safety plan.
“Try to get a bag together when that time comes. Maybe a little secret code they can use amongst them and kids [and] a neighbor they can trust,” she said. “I just want to see them to have a better quality of life. They deserve it.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. You can also text the word "START" to 8-8-7-8-8.