It’s long been reported that over the holiday season, there’s often an uptick in domestic violence cases. But is that true?
Spike in Domestic Violence During Holidays
Do Domestic Violence Incidents Spike Over the Holidays?
It’s a claim boldly asserted in the media every year: Domestic violence increases over the holidays. While this idea seems to make sense – the holiday season is filled with the stress of family tension and the endless amounts of alcohol at various gatherings and celebrations – is it really accurate to make such claims?
According to experts, this theory is completely unfounded. In a report released by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, a study was unable to “find any reliable, national study linking the holidays with an increase in domestic violence.”
Additionally, data from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the country’s confidential, 24/7 helpline shows that the call volumes on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day was far lower than on an average day.
This might be due to the fact that victims are less likely to reach out for help during the holidays due to the pressure of keeping their families intact around the time of year.
If the holidays have been stressful and you’ve been misjudged and accused of domestic violence, you’ll want to work with a criminal defense attorney.
Our Stereotypical Images of Domestic Violence
In spite of the stereotypical images we might have, the truth is that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. They can be of any age, sex, race, culture, religion, education, employment, or marital status. Most victims are women, but men, too, can fall prey. Women tend to be wary of strangers, but it is those closest, like a husband, a lover, a boyfriend, or another family member who is most likely to victimize them.
One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Three to four million women in the United States are beaten in their homes each year by their husbands, ex-husbands, or male lovers. One woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds in the United States.
A critical juncture is often reached when a woman attempts to leave a relationship, no matter how abusive it has been. Women who leave relationships often have to opt to live in poverty, a very difficult choice to make. There are many social, cultural factors that contribute to encouraging women to stay and try and make the situation work. All too often, violence is a familiar pattern for the woman, as well as her partner.
Listening to men who abuse their wives, they often speak of how terribly inadequate their wives are. “She’s too lazy and doesn’t do what I tell her!” It is also incredibly evident that these abusive men are tremendously dependent on their partners. Fears of rejection, emotional withdrawal, and/or abandonment are major factors that actually cause these men to be violent. Men who batter women are often psychologically incapable of leaving the relationship.
We often think of domestic violence largely in terms of women, but abuse of men happens far more often than we realize. Though men are usually physically stronger than women, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they always escape violence in their relationships. An abused man, in particular, faces a shortage of resources, skepticism from police, and major legal obstacles, especially when it comes to gaining custody of his children from an abusive mother.
Male victims must deal with issues that most female victims don’t have to contend with. Victims of both genders are reluctant to report abuse because they are embarrassed, or they are afraid of making the problem worse. Male victims have to contend with their identity as a man, thinking of what their friends and family will think if it is discovered that they “let” a female partner abuse them. Statistics, gathered by the ManKind Initiative which campaigns for male abuse victims, show that a surprising 38 per cent of domestic abuse victims are male.
California’s Domestic Violence Laws
In effect since 2000, California’s Domestic Violence Laws have been called a patchwork of statutes that attempt to provide help for domestic violence victims. The laws, however, still leave untouched some of the biggest obstacles victims face. In general, California’s domestic violence laws are an honest attempt to prevent violence in familial or intimate relationships.
The state starts by identifying domestic violence as when an individual commits a criminal act within one of the types of relationships specified by the California Penal Code. These relationships are defined as a spouse or former spouse; cohabitant or former cohabitant in a home; a parent with whom the individual has a child; or a partner in a dating relationship. These classifications are adequate for most domestic violence situations.
The Penal Code criminalizes domestic violence under Section 273.5. It is a crime when an individual’s willful conduct leads to a “corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition” suffered by a person with whom the individual has one of the familial or intimate relationships specified by the domestic violence laws of California.
The Penal Code also criminalizes battery within one of the specified familial or intimate relationships. A prosecutor can choose to charge a defendant with battery under Section 243(d) if the defendant “inflicted serious bodily injury” on the victim. Battery under Section 243(d) reflects a greater degree of harm suffered by the victim of domestic violence.
As would seem likely, domestic violence often occurs in tandem with child abuse. To address this situation, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with a crime based on domestic violence, under several sections of the Penal Code that apply. A prosecutor chooses which criminal charges to pursue based on the severity of the conduct and harm to the victim, along with other circumstances of the case.
Pursuant to Penal Code §836, there are mandates for arrest when a defendant violates a restraining order. This law recognizes both the potential consequences of restraining order violations and the casual treatment these violations too often receive from police. California police are now mandated to arrest offenders who violate domestic violence restraining orders. There is a shortcoming in this legislation in that there is no equivalent obligation on a district attorney to prosecute cases of restraining order violations sent to them by police.
The Role of Prosecutors in Domestic Violence Cases
Despite opportunities presented by circumstances over the years, one critical aspect of crimes like rape, domestic violence, and child abuse has not been addressed by legislators. It is the district attorney’s absolute power to refuse to file charges no matter how solid the evidence. Though a district attorney may refuse to file charges on a whole crime category, there is no legal remedy for victims. The results of this unrestricted prosecutorial discretion was notably demonstrated in Sonoma County where the district attorney’s rate of conviction on domestic violence was one of the lowest in the state, and where cases of violence against women and children were systematically undercharged.
Though, overall, California does a fair job in domestic violence law enforcement, there is still considerable work to be done to make domestic violence laws effective in protecting victims and their children. The American Bar Association (ABA) recommends that states make legal assistance more available and affordable to victims of domestic violence and their children by encouraging lawyers to do pro bono work in domestic violence cases, expanding legal services programs to represent parents and children affected by domestic violence, establishing specialized legal clinics, and requiring abusers to pay court costs and attorney’s fees. Better education and training for judges and law enforcement personnel are also needed.