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“It’s the hardest time of year”: why domestic violence spikes over Christmas

Many women fear the festive period. Not a year goes by when we don’t see a seasonal rise in incidents reported to the police.

For most of us, Christmas conjures up images of crappy cracker jokes, sickly mulled wine and a haze of Christmas parties. But for others, Christmas is the most feared time of the whole year. Domestic violence rises significantly during the festive period. Not a year goes by when we don’t see a seasonal spike in incidents reported to the police.

As you’d imagine, the combination of financial pressure, free-flowing alcohol and being cooped up in closed quarters, exerts additional burden on relationships. In an abusive relationship, this pressure is manifold.

Like many victims of domestic violence, Charlotte Kneer, 45, dreaded Christmas. “It’s the hardest time of year. The violence is so much more poignant. Everyone ran around to make sure he didn’t get upset. Hyper-vigilant to whether he was going to lose it,” she explains.

With booze on tap, things spiralled out of control. “He would drink to enable himself to lose his temper, it was deliberate. Alcohol was an excuse to use violence. He would drink all day and where most people would have dropped unconscious on the floor, he’d carry on. The lights would be on but there would be nobody home. He’d just end up beating me up”.

Unsurprisingly, their kids picked up on what was going on. “Regardless of whether they saw anything, the likelihood is, they were hearing things. Stress was underlying everything,” Kneer tells me. “At one point, I got protection orders placed on him but when I went back to the property a few days later, he had smashed the whole place up, smeared blood all over the walls and smashed the kids toys”.

As with many abusive relationships, the violence was cyclical. “Usually every six months, something completely random would trigger it. On one occasion, I had folded up his clothes and put them on his pillow instead of putting them away. He got on top of me and started strangling me. He was repeating over and over again, like some crazed mantra, ‘I’m going to kill you’”.

Crouched in the corner naked, Kneer had nowhere to turn. “The kids were in the house. Even so he got a bag off the wardrobe and started throwing presents that the kids had wrapped up for me at me”.

Like many perpetrators, Kneer’s partner would go into apology mode after a violent incident. “He’d go into what he called ‘creep mode’. He was so calculating and manipulative that he even had a name for it. People often think ‘why didn’t you leave?’ There were so many reasons”.

In the end, Kneer finally gained the courage to leave him. After pressing charges, going into hiding and waiting 14 long grueling months for the case to come to court, he was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. “But the effects echo down the years. I met him 21 years ago. I’ve got two children with him and my daughters lost their dad”.

Kneer now manages a refuge in the South of England and is currently supporting a number of survivors over the Christmas period. “There’s a definite spike in incidents at Christmas time and ex-partners are a lot more likely to get in contact so we provide extra support,” she tells me.

Kneer is not alone. Across the country, refuges and police forces are currently preparing for a rise in domestic violence cases and referrals. Take Humberside Police Force where 54 per cent of calls to the police relate to domestic violence during December. The figure is just 38 per cent for the rest of the year.

“The amount of calls we receive about domestic violence in December is frightening. We know that this is a tough time of year. Things escalate,” reflects Laura Gawthorpe from Humberside Police. “At this time of year, we check on victims who are still in an abusive relationship but have decided to drop the charges. We also check on our current and previous perpetrators”.

Across the country, the picture looks equally bleak. Last year Sussex Police arrested 262 people in connection with domestic violence  double the previous year. What’s more, according to UK government figures from 2012, assault and domestic murders increase 25 per cent during the festive period and incidents go up by a third on Christmas Day itself.

Bombarded with images of the perfect nuclear family gathered around the gold baubles of a Christmas tree, it can be easy to forget that Christmas is a time of coercion, punishment and violence for many women. Instead of being a time of year to be happy or to be grateful, it becomes a time of year to be on edge. After all, the slightest deviation from perfection – burnt pigs in blankets or the wrong gift choice – can quickly escalate.

On top of this, Christmas is often the only time of year that isolated women are around friends and family. This gives rise to the additional angst of hiding injuries from loved ones.

While incidents of domestic violence rise at Christmas, calls to the National Domestic Violence Helpline actually decrease during the festive period. According to Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, this is because, “Many women want to keep it together for the children and so they wait until Christmas is over to call. Plus, if they are in close quarters with the perpetrator, they are probably being monitored very closely.”

Although phone calls die down, significantly higher numbers of women join the Women’s Aid Survivors Forum during December than any other time of year. This is because women are able to get online but can’t risk their safety to make a phone call.

While Christmas has always been a difficult time for victims of domestic violence, sustained cuts to services mean this year could be even harder. In a country where a third of local authority areas have no specialised support services left, women are being left with literally nowhere to go.

To put this into context, nearly a third of referrals to refuges were turned away because of a lack of space last year. In turn, we are left with a dire situation where women are routinely being housed in wholly inappropriate temporary accommodation and may even be surrounded by ex-offenders.

With two women killed every week by a partner or ex-partner in England, it is clear that cutting services is endangering women’s lives and damaging children’s lives. For many women, this Christmas will be harder than you could imagine. What starts as a row can quickly become deadly.

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear