While for many the holidays are a time of celebration and sharing, they can also be an incredibly stressful period.
According to Anne Hodge, executive director of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, that stress can cause tensions to escalate, sometimes poring over into domestic violence.
‘We often have women and children residing with us at Christmas. It’s not unusual for us to have a family walk in on the night of the 24th,’ she said.
‘There is more alcohol consumption; there is more tension in general. For a lot of people is a very stressful time. All of that can lead to violence.’
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the centre is the only shelter for abused women and children in the Cayman Islands. The centre also has a 24-hour hotline for abused women and is heavily involved in community outreach work to raise awareness about domestic violence and child sexual abuse.
This year, women and children at the shelter enjoyed a big Christmas lunch, prepared by past-residents that wanted to give back to the centre and those living in it. Community donations also ensured there were presents for all the women and children at the shelter.
Speaking before Christmas Day, Ms Hodge explained what was planned: ‘We’ll have the trees and decorations up. Gifts will be put out on the night of the 24th. The kids will open their presents and it will be a pretty festive time,’ she said.
‘We function like a family and basically it will be a big family celebration.’
For some children, it may be the first time in a while they have been in an environment free of violence, Ms Hodge pointed out.
‘There are often very strong bonds created between the women and children staying in the shelter. Particularly for the kids, if they have a whole lot of other kids their age around, they have a whole lot of friends around. So it can be a whole lot of fun, despite the other things going on in their lives.’
Ms Hodge said the centre has braced itself for a spike in admissions following Christmas Day.
‘Often what happens is that women are trying to keep the family together through Christmas; they want to make Christmas special for the kids,’ she said.
‘Often the shelter is not as full at Christmas, but right after Christmas, in the first week of January, it will fill right up.’
The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service recently said 165 cases of domestic abuse involving a female victim were reported to it this year; a 17 per cent increase.
But domestic violence experts say the real number is sure to be much higher. In the US, domestic violence has been found to be the most under-reported crime, despite it being estimated to occur in 25 to 33 per cent of all intimate relationships.
The Cayman Islands Crisis Canter’s abuse hotline is open 24-hours a day on 943-2422.