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Holidays during the pandemic may worsen domestic violence situations

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Staying at home during the holidays is the right thing to do according to health experts, but it can spell danger for too many people who are trapped in abusive relationships.

"The kitchen can be the most dangerous room in your house," said Shannon Barry, executive director of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services in Madison.

She says between the holidays, the economy and the cold weather moving in, domestic violence will get worse.

"I would expect that we're going to be seeing more people experiencing violence and more severity of violence," Barry said.

When the pandemic hit, Barry says abuse didn't go down -- though calls to the DAIS 24-hour helpline did.

"That makes sense, because people were trapped at home with their batterers," she explained. "They weren't able to make private, confidential calls to us."

The holidays are also one of the only times a year when many people see their extended family members and are able to pick up on any warning signs that they may be in dangerous relationships or situations.

With many gatherings not happening this year, that becomes much more difficult.

"It's really difficult in the age of Zoom because, often times, you may be on a Zoom call and not know who else is in the room," Barry said.

She says it's still important to look out for friends and family members as best you can, which means figuring out a way to talk to them privately.

"If you're concerned about someone, try to reach out to them in the most confidential manner possible -- whether it's text messages or phone calls when they can do that," Barry suggested. "To have conversations about, 'Are you safe? If you weren't safe, how could you signal me?'"

Barry says some kind of verbal cue or safe-word could be used to let someone know when things have gotten dangerous.

And when that happens -- reach out for help.

"Our 24-hour helpline is available for anybody," she said. "Not just those who are experiencing domestic violence directly, but concerned friends and family members."

The number for that helpline is 608-251-4445. There are also resources, including safety plans, on the DAIS website at abuseintervention.org.

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