By CRISTINA JANNEY
Most families feel extra pressure during the holidays, but for victims of domestic and sexual violence, it can be a minefield both physically and emotionally.
"The holidays are a difficult time for victims of domestic violence in particular," Jennifer Hecker, Options Domestic and Sexual Violence Services executive director, said. "There is a lot of pressure from family members to not leave and 'ruin the holiday.'
"I would counter that and say the best gift you can give yourself and your family is the gift of safety."
Options has already seen a 25 percent increase in services between May and September, Hecker said.
Sexual assault victims often also struggle during the holidays if they attend a family gathering and are forced to see the person who abused them or their child.
"Families often minimize that violence, and it is very hard to come to grips with," Hecker said. "They feel that pressure. That can be very difficult for clients.
"Do I put myself at risk emotionally and see this person or do I spend time with my family? Does that mean I can't see my mom and my other family?"
The normal tension of the holidays is amped up in domestic violence relationships, Hecker said.
Holidays are also financially stressful, especially this year, she said, with the way the pandemic has impacted the economy.
"Now you are walking on eggshells even more through that holiday season," she said, "because the abuse cycles tend to cycle through faster when there are added stressors with the holidays — the financial pressure and the pressure to make it as perfect as you can for your family."
Alcohol can also be a contributing factor to abuse during the holidays. Although alcohol is not a cause or an excuse for abuse, if a person has an abusive personality, it can lower their inhibitions. This can result in escalated or more frequent violence, Hecker said.
Holiday gifts for survivors
Options is seeking monetary donations and gifts for victim and their families this holiday.
Both victims in shelter and those who have received services from Options during the last three months are eligible.
Those wishing to donate can contact Options's business number at 785- 625-4202. Gift cards are also requested. Gifts or donations need to be returned to Options by Dec. 16.
Hecker said survivors often believe their needs are burdensome to others and can be reluctant to ask for help.
"We want to let people know it's OK to voice your needs," she said. "There is an entire community of people in Ellis County who want to help, who want to reach out and who want to make a difference and want to make people's holidays as bright as possible to give them that hope that things are going to get better."
If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence, you can seek Options's services through its mobile advocacy (see the Options's website) or walk-in service at the Options's Hays office, 2716 Plaza Ave.
Survivors can also talk with an advocate via Options's 24/7 helpline at 1-800-794-4624, chat with an advocate through Options chat feature, or text through Options's mobile app, downloadable for free on Google Play or the Apple Store.