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.

Christmas and New Year can be the worst time of the year for some New Zealand families - and some women are already reaching out for help in anticipation of violence and abuse in their homes.

Calls for help to Shine and Women's Refuge crisis lines have already started to surge as it gets closer to the festive season.

Family violence spikes over December and January every year.

Victims are not only women, but statistics show that women and children are the most harmed in family harm situations.

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At a time of year when people in "normal" domestic situations people feel the stress and strain of the season, it's no surprise that some families are subjected to abuse, harm and violence.

READ MORE:
Family violence - not 'just another domestic' for police
Family violence survivor: 'Christmas was HELL'
Family violence: My fear-free Christmas
Better than this: How to leave an abusive relationship

"We know basically what sits in behind domestic violence, it's a matter of gender, power and control," said Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury.

"But there are a whole lot of things that encourage and give it permission to appear. and those sorts of things all come together in this delightful little soup at a time like Christmas.

"Things like alcohol, things like spending a lot of time with your family in close proximity, having children home, having financial stress, having family around that aren't necessarily helpful.

"People are on leave, they are having a few more beers, they are deciding to spend a million dollars on Christmas presents which they can't afford but they do it anyway - it all leads them into a place that can be pretty miserable."

New Zealand has the worst rate of family violence in the developed world. It gets worse every year over the festive season.

Jury said Christmas was also a time of year when women started to make hard decisions about their situations.

"This sort of time is supposed to be about family and love and kindness but it's also a time people look at what they have got in their life and they think 'oh my God, this is not how it's supposed to be'," she said.

"That often precipitates women making the decision about what it is they are going to do. It's a reflective time of the year."

Jury said women should not fear asking for help, or worry about spending Christmas in a refuge.

"Our safe houses are pleasant suburban homes and our staff go out of their way to try and inject a sense of Christmas and celebration into the house. So they will have Christmas trees and the women and children will get gifts," she explained.

"We absolutely and utterly recognise that it isn't easy to go from your own home to somewhere totally new where there's often other people who you don't know, to living in a communal environment - that can be frightening - but it's safe and you will be looked after."

"Being in a safe house over Christmas is perhaps not the ideal situation that people would choose, but our staff go out of their way to make sure that people do have a bountiful Christmas.

"Some kids in the safe houses would have a better Christmas there than they would if they were at home, which is really, really sad. But it's true."

Jury urged people living with family violence to make a move as early as possible, rather than waiting for a situation to escalate out of control.

"If something feels wrong, it probably is. If you feel that there's something wrong, that it's not working, that you are not feeling safe - actually reach out for help sooner. Don't leave it until life turns to absolute custard," Jury encouraged.

"Reach out sooner and it may not get to the safe house level, we may be able to help you figure out ways for your family to be together at Christmas where you are all safe. It's entirely possible."

She said a lot of abusers would also be reflecting on their behaviour at this time of year, and her encouragement extended to them.

"Make a positive choice rather than the choice to abuse - because that is a choice," she said.

"Your kids will love you for it. And your partner will certainly love you for it."

A very Shine-y Christmas

They're not decking the halls with boughs of holly at Shine, but they are helping women living with family violence plan their safety strategy for the holiday season.

A long-time advocate who works with victims said the crisis line was already extremely busy, and staff were also working hard to make sure existing clients were safe for the holidays.

"It's a high stress time with a great deal of stressors that can potentially escalate the violence and make things worse for her," said the advocate, who did not want to be named because of the nature of her job.

"We want to make sure that all of our current clients have a really good plan in place to keep themselves safe. We talk about how to manage an incident when it's happening, or what she can do when she can see things escalating towards an incident. There's a separate safety plan for the children if they are old enough.

"We just want to make sure that she knows what resources are available to her over that time period."

Christmas at a Shine refuge was similar to other safe houses, with staff working hard to make it a happy occasion.

"Christmas in a safe house is about celebrating and relaxing without the fear that the victim would experience at home," the advocate said.

""It's about having the freedom to do the holiday exactly how you want to do it, buy what you want to buy, spend your money how you want to spend it - for many women it's the first time they have been allowed to spend money on their children, on gifts.

"It's about being free to have your own Christmas instead of his Christmas, instead of a Christmas in fear.

"It might be the first time she's been able to provide presents for her children because she's been cut off from the family finances, or the finances are being used on whatever he wants to use them on, things like alcohol, drugs."

The advocate said it may seem scary to make the call for help - but no one in her many years of working with victims had ever regretted the decision.

"It's absolutely worth engaging, you'd be surprised at how beneficial it is both in an emotional and a practical sense," she said

"Everyone that engages with our advocates expresses their relief at finally finding someone who understands and their happiness at what support we are able to provide them. They are extremely happy that they finally got around to making the call.

"We're very aware of your safety concerns and we're very cautious, we are not in any way going to put you at risk, we know you might have to hang up on us in the middle of a call because he's come home. We get it, we really understand what you are going through."

She said Shine was there to help the victim - not tell them what to do.

"We're in no way coercive - we help you create a plan that you want to move forward with," she explained.

"Whatever you want, wherever you're at, we will meet you there. It is your plan, we just help you to create it and back you in it. It's your plan, it's your life.

"You don't have to say anything you don't want to say, the call can be as long or as short as you want it to be. You don't even need to give your name."

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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