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British Columbia Police, victim services see spike in domestic violence during holidays

Christmas bills.

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The holidays are supposed to be a time spent with family, sharing laughs, exchanging gifts and revelling in festive cheer. But stressors associated with major holidays are blamed for an annual spike in domestic violence – a disturbing trend reported around the world.

Constable Tracy Wolbeck of the Upper Fraser Valley Regional RCMP says it is an issue her detachment sees every year.

"I can't say percentage-wise, but I can say definitively that there is a spike at this time of year compared to other times of the year in domestic violence calls for service," said Constable Wolbeck, who was spurred to issue a news release on the matter this week.

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According to law enforcement agencies and victim services organizations, finances, family pressures and over-scheduling are among the biggest triggers of domestic violence during the holidays. "There are a number of reasons, obviously, but the most that we've seen, that people involved in these situations share with us, is under-budgeting, over-committing time and differences in opinion about where time should be spent," Constable Wolbeck said.

Not surprisingly, increased alcohol consumption also plays a major role.

"Alcohol doesn't cause violence – alcohol doesn't cause people to belittle and abuse their partners – but what it does is it acts as [a disinhibitor] to people who are already abusive," said Tracy Porteous, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of B.C. "So if you have a lot of people engaging in high-stress times, where there are high expectations for tradition, for family, for things to be a certain way … and then you mix that with alcohol, which is a disinhibitor and a depressant, you have sometimes what can be a very deadly mix."

Last month, the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline told CBS News that calls to the hotline actually drop dramatically on major holidays – but only because many victims want to "keep the peace" during the holidays. That is followed with an increase in requests for service afterward, hotline president Katie Ray-Jones told CBS.

It is a familiar tale to Hilla Kerner, a front-line worker and spokeswoman for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter. She says that while the shelter receives a fairly consistent rate of between 100 and 120 calls each month, including the holiday season, she has heard from victims who "try to tolerate the violence as not to ruin the holiday for the family," she said.

"There are always women trying to be resourceful and strategic about when best to leave, how to [ease] the transition for the children, how to minimize the risk for them leaving."

Families are also often travelling over the holidays, Ms. Porteous added, and victims may feel help is not as easily accessible.

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According to a 2010 Statistics Canada report on family violence, there were more than 102,500 police-reported victims of intimate partner violence, including spousal and dating violence, that year. This is 2.5 times higher than the rate for violence against a child, parent or other family member.

Police-reported rates of intimate partner violence were highest among female victims between the ages of 25 and 34, and dating violence was more prevalent than spousal violence, the report stated.

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