Holidays are the time when families get together for some good fun, but for many women and children, it is a time of fear and violence.
David Schneider, M.D., chair of family and community medicine at Saint Louis University, stated that the stress of the holidays combined with increased alcohol consumption creates a perfect storm for domestic violence.
"There's a lot of stress associated with the holidays, from pressure to provide for the family and money issues to spending more time with distant family. Domestic violence often revolves around high stress times," Schneider, who is nationally recognized for his work with the Academy on Violence and Abuse, said.
"Additionally, people tend to drink more alcohol around the holidays, and about half of all domestic violence occurs when either the perpetrator or victim is under the influence of alcohol," he stated.
He said that while men can be the victims of domestic violence, in the vast majority of domestic disputes women are the victims.
And too often, women do not realize how serious the issue is until it becomes very dangerous or even fatal.
"When a partner is threatening suicide or there are guns in house these are very dangerous situations. If you find yourself in one of these situations you need to find a way out," Schneider said.
Schneider says it's important that family members be aware of signs of abuse.
Bruises, cuts and broken bones are the most obvious signs, but not the most common.
Schneider recommends being on the lookout for people who frequently skip family gatherings and provide excuses and stories that just don't add up.
Low self esteem, fear of conflict and excessive self-blame are other red flags.
If you suspect that a family member or friend is the victim of domestic violence, Schneider says the most important thing you can do is offer support and encouragement.
"The most important thing you can do is let her know she's not alone and there's a way out. Help her find a local battered woman's shelter, get a restraining order or arrange transportation," Schneider added.