story by Jamie Smith
NORTHWEST ARKANSAS — It is a common belief that the holidays is a time that is not so jolly for some families, in fact it becomes even scarier as domestic violence in some homes is believed to escalate during the holiday season.
Anecdotal evidence supports this theory in some cases in Northwest Arkansas, but not in others.
Melanie Palmer, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Shelter, said there is usually a surge of people seeking help at the shelter between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then through mid-January.
“Many will stay in the home for the holidays,” she said.
On Nov. 14, the Rogers location had a record 43 people in shelter.
“This holiday season there has really be an increase in people who are seeking our services,” she said.
In general, the shelter has seen a sharp increase in the last four years. Some of that is attributed to stress from the economy, it is also simply because there are more people living in the area, she said. In 2008, there were 250 people served in the shelter and so far this year, there have been 500.
Stress is a common factor in many domestic violence situations, including financial stress caused by the bad economy or the extra needs that are presented at Christmas. Sometimes even stress from having relatives stay in the home during the holidays has been a trigger for incidents right after the holidays, she said.
“Any time there is a break from the routine, it increases stress,” she said.
Teresa Mills from Peace At Home Shelter said that statistical data does not confirm the idea that there are higher numbers around the holidays.
“Back to 2007 we have had similar numbers of both callers and shelter nights regardless of the time of year,” she said.
Mills said that while stress can trigger problems, it is in homes where there is already a problem.
“There are some indications that situational factors like stress can increase violence in a home that already has tension from power and control,” she said. “However it is unlikely that an individual who has never illustrated violence would suddenly hit a loved one simply because of an increase in situational stress (like the holidays).”
While there is some anecdotal evidence that domestic violence might increase over the holidays, that does not necessarily translate to more children needing services from local agencies for violence or other situations where they are removed from the home.
Greg Russell, spokesman for the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, said there is not a significant spike in referrals or admissions during the holidays.
“The only time we see significant changes in census is in the summer time,” he said. “We have been told that is because school is out. Teachers are the primary reporters for abuse or neglect. So even if domestic violence reports go up, they are not reporting (child abuse) as much.”
Statistics are also down during the summer at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County, much for the same reason, said director Beverly Engle.
“Children aren’t going to self report,” she said. “We won’t know about (the abuse) until they get into the schools.”
The center has seen a sharp increase in the number of cases, she said. In January 2011, there were 39 cases compared to 67 in January 2012.
“That’s almost double,” she said. “But in both years, the real increase was in February. In 2011 we had 51 to the 73 in 2012.”
The highest month so far for the center in 2012 was May, with 85 clients.
WAYS TO HELP
Each agency lists ways that the community can help serve those who each agency serves on their website.
At Peace At Home Shelter, opportunities listed include helping answer crisis hotline calls, providing childcare for mothers participating in the support group activities, creating hand-crafted items for winter weather, clerical work or helping at the thrift store.
At the NWA Women’s Shelter, opportunities include donating toiletries, volunteering at the thrift store or several other volunteer opportunities.
At the Children’s Advocacy Center of Benton County, volunteer opportunities include clerical, event support, special projects, fundraising, and child advocacy.
At the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter, multiple opportunities are available for groups or individuals helping both directly with the children or “behind the scenes” including fundraising and maintenance at the shelter.
All of the agencies accept financial donations to support their efforts.