Contrary to popular myth, domestic violence incidents do not increase during the Christmas holidays. But as three recent domestic violence-related murders underscore, the potential for violence is always present in strained relationships.
Last week, a man in Bethlehem, Northampton County, was arrested and charged with shooting and killing his wife in front of their three young children. The victim had obtained a protection-from-abuse order against her husband earlier in the day.
“I want my mom,’’ cried the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, according to a newspaper report.
Earlier this month, on Dec. 7, two Dauphin County women were murdered within hours of each other. First, a 53-year-old Williamstown man was arrested and charged with fatally shooting a man then assaulting his wife after finding the two together in the male victim’s trailer.
Then, a 27-year-old Harrisburg man was charged with strangling to death a 32-year-old woman who was the mother of his daughter.
Police said they found the suspect on a bedroom floor after he apparently attempted suicide by drinking bleach, liquid detergent and nail polish remover.
These three murders contradict the fact that December is typically one of the least violent months of the year, according to reported cases. A 1997 Department of Justice study found that only 8 percent of domestic violence-related injuries were reported during December, while a 2007 study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that there were fewer reported homicides on Christmas day than on most days in December.
In addition, researchers at the National Domestic Violence Hotline say that there was a drastic decrease in call volume on Christmas eve and Christmas day during 2004-10.
Statistics compiled by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), of which the Women’s Help Center is a member, also indicate that December is typically a less violent period than the summer months of June, July and August.
Last year, for example, of the 141 Pennsylvanians who died in domestic violence-related incidents, only 10 occurred in December.
Domestic violence experts say there are many reasons for the holiday decline. Some quarreling couples try to hold their families together until after the holidays have passed, while others seek to avoid feeling isolated or alone.
There is, however, one way in which these three recent murders fit a familiar pattern. In each case, the perpetrator was a man. According to PCADV statistics, in 85 percent of the 1,100 domestic violence-related deaths in Pennsylvania from 2003-12, the perpetrators were men.
But men aren’t just perpetrators of domestic violence. During those same years, 38 percent of the victims killed in Pennsylvania were men. Often, they were killed by other men, as is alleged in one of the Dec. 7 murders.
As these grim statistics illustrate, domestic violence is not just a women’s issue; it’s a men’s issue, too.
Encouraging men to get involved in helping to reduce domestic violence is one of the major goals of a new statewide campaign that PCADV is conducting in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. It’s called PA Says No More, and it’s aimed at getting men actively involved in reducing domestic violence and sexual assault in their communities.
We are asking fathers to speak to their sons about respecting women. We are encouraging men to denounce their friends’ negative comments or disparaging jokes about women. And we are enlisting community leaders – clergy, police and coaches – to be positive role models for male youth and to educate them about proper conduct and healthy dating relationships with women.
While the reported incidents of domestic violence may take somewhat of a holiday during December, there nevertheless are thousands of domestic violence victims in the commonwealth still seeking assistance during the Christmas season. They should know the Women’s Help Center will provide free, confidential services 24/7 on Christmas day and everyday.
Call for help.
Susan S. Shahade is executive director of the Women’s Help Center of Cambria and Somerset counties.