New Zealand has the worst rate of family and intimate-partner violence in the developed world and over the Christmas and New Year period the number of incidents spikes dramatically. Less than 20 per cent of incidents are reported to the police - so what we know of what we know of family violence in our community over the festive season is barely the tip of the iceberg. Today we have a simple message - every Kiwi has a right to a safe, fear free and happy holiday. We are revisiting our campaign We're Better Than This, and over the next few days we want to raise awareness, educate, and give an insight into the victims and perpetrators. We want to encourage victims to have the strength to speak out, and abusers the courage to change their behaviour.

A few weeks ago Aarti Prasad was on the phone to a woman. The woman was terrified, she was screaming down the phone, begging for help.

She was running from her partner, he'd just given her a hiding and she feared for her life.

She ran out into the street, telling Prasad that her partner was chasing her.

The woman was terrified, frantically trying to find someone to intervene. One neighbour looked out of her window, then pulled her curtains.

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Minutes later two teenage boys stepped up, called police, and comforted the traumatised woman until officers arrived.

To many people, this is a shocking incident.

But to Prasad, it's part of her day - and gets even worse over Christmas and New Year.

READ MORE:
Family violence survivor: 'Christmas was HELL'
Police: we wish you a harm-free Christmas
Family violence: When a loved one chooses to stay
Family violence: 'Why don't women leave? We hope they will change'

Prasad works at Shine's crisis line, responding to calls for help from people experiencing family harm and abuse in one way or another.

The calls range from panicked women in immediate danger to others secretly plotting their escape from a violent home, to concerned friends and neighbours who have seen something not quite right and abusers seeking help for their behaviour.

It's a grim job at times but one Prasad would not give up - even on Christmas Day and over the holidays.

With her own family safe at home, she heads into the office and mans the crisis line.

While so many other Kiwis are sitting down to excessive festive meals, heading off on holiday, taking the kids to the beach - Prasad is sitting in an office in suburban Auckland answering the phone.

Superintendent Tusha Penny has worked on the front line for many years so she has seen it all —the wives beaten beyond recognition, the girlfriends strangled almost to death and the countless women lying dead in their own homes.

In the lead up to the holidays the calls begin to surge.

"We start seeing more financial factors contributing to domestic violence and then we start seeing alcohol related crimes rising," Prasad explained.

"Drugs and alcohol are usually part and parcel to many people's Christmas and New Year celebrations.

"We hear of children being affected by neglect because of a lack of money there may be less food and groceries in the house."

She said petty crime like shoplifting went up to, with people calling the help line to seek advice after an arrest.

"Their husband wouldn't give them any money to spend on presents or food, or their partner spent all the household money on drugs and alcohol," she said.

"Over the holidays the kids are home a lot more too and that can escalate the stress.

"It is a bit of a relief for some people when they are at school - they are not home all day, you don't have to spend anything to entertain them, they take a packed lunch so they eat less food during the day and there's less financial stress."

Prasad worked on December 25 last year, as she has done many times before. Women still call on Christmas Day for help, just like any other day of the year.

"They might call to ask about counselling, all of the family is there and there has been a big argument; some people are lonely, they might have lost access to the kids and they are talking about self-harm and suicide; other women call and want to talk about leaving, or there has been serious violence and someone has been injured.

When that happens Prasad can, if the woman is ready and fits Shine's criteria, get her moved to a safe house.

"There is always a high demand for our refuges, and that does not change at Christmas," she said.

"I live with my dad and sister and I always tell them 'you guys don't know how fortunate we are'.

I see the other side and people just have no idea what it's like - it's heart-breaking.

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Prasad's advice for anyone struggling over the holidays - women experiencing abuse or fear, men worried about their behaviour or anyone else who had concerns about a family member, friend or neighbour - was simple.

"Pick up the phone. We can change someone's life forever," she urged.

"Pick up the phone and talk to us, we will work with you, we can help.... We will listen. We will meet you where you are at, where you are comfortable.

"I'd really just like people to look out for each other. If you've got a neighbour who you know isn't doing well, pick up the phone and call us. You can be anonymous, you can tell us as little or as much as you like."

She said every New Zealander had a duty to keep their eyes out and be vigilant when it came to family harm.

"If it's not happening to us we think it's not really out there At Christmas time people are generally happy, celebrating - but that is definitely not the case for everyone.

"We have to get away from that thought that 'if it's not happening in our home we don't want to know'.

"But it is happening."

If you're in danger NOW:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you
• Run outside and head for where there are other people
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you
• Take the children with you
• Don't stop to get anything else
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay

Where to go for help or more information:

• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz

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