Melissa (not her real name) says that since her relationship ended three years ago, her former partner has displayed controlling behaviour each December by failing to pay child support.
“He doesn’t pay at that time of year — he cuts it off,” the South Australian woman said.
She said he also competes on gift buying for the children.
“If [he] finds out what you’re going to get [them] for Christmas [he’ll] race out and get it first,” she said.
“[He] just uses everything against you at that time of year because [he] just doesn’t want you to be able to celebrate in your own way or have your own ideas.”
The national sexual assault, domestic family violence counselling service, 1800 RESPECT, said the number of people seeking domestic violence support spiked by about one quarter during last December compared with other months.
Police data across the states and territories also indicated the incidence of domestic violence was higher over summer.
“We will usually see about 1,000 more reports … compared to what we receive in the middle of the year,” a Victoria Police official said.
Domestic violence survivors, such as Melissa, blamed their ex-partners’ higher alcohol consumption over the festive season for some of the troubles they faced.
“Whenever there is alcohol involved he would get worse, and during Christmas did drink a lot more because [he] didn’t have work,” Melissa said of the man she was no longer with.
Everybody happy ‘just not realistic’
Support providers said there was also the stress of people trying to achieve family harmony over the festive season.
“There is a lot of pressure on everyone really that this is perfect time of year, everybody is supposed to be happy … and that’s just not realistic,” said Louise Miller Frost, the chief executive of Catherine House, a homelessness centre in Adelaide.
“For a relationship or family that is already under pressure or that already has violence, that increase of stress — there might be financial issues — tends to escalate the violence.”
Researcher Sarah Wendt from Flinders University said victims sometimes chose the holiday period as a time to leave relationships.
“Women use that time to reflect and leave safely or might look to create stability,” Professor Wendt said.
“But it also presents moments of heightened risk and so crisis at the same time could be running alongside that.”