Valentine’s Day? It’s A Trigger For Domestic Violence Survivors
For survivors of domestic violence, Valentine’s Day is often a reminder that love isn’t always flowers and chocolate.
As a volunteer for Chayn I interact with a lot of survivors of domestic violence, almost daily. We chat about everything, from the intricacies of divorce law in their country to how their beautiful kids are doing at school. A week before Valentine’s Day I asked survivors how they planned to spend the day and if they will treat themselves, as a sort of self-love mantra. Valentine’s Day always elicits two basic responses: a cynical groan or starry-eyed excitement.
For survivors of domestic violence, the emotions surrounding the garishly over-commercialised holiday can be confusing, overwhelming, and simply too much to bear. Most of the survivors who responded loudly and proudly preached self-love: “Why should I let them get in the way of me celebrating myself and my loved ones?”, they sassed. Others cynically derided the commercialism of V-Day – they hadn’t cared about it before, so why start now?
But a few brave women, in between the confident and indifferent voices, quietly and plainly just confessed that “it hurts”.
Some survivors feel more alone on Valentine’s Day than ever, because it reminds them they’re single and alone because of abuse. If they still love and miss their abuser, which is perfectly normal (and more common than you think), these feelings can trigger depression and anxiety.
For women who have children with their abusers, things can get very complicated indeed. One woman in the United States was upset because she knew her ex-husband would spend Valentine’s Day with his new girlfriend and her kids – and not with his own children.
For the first time ever I realised that the holiday celebrating love and affection has a direct and proportional relationship with domestic violence. By now we all know that abuse can take many forms. One woman, with a pragmatism that I found a little disheartening, said it didn’t mean much to her because her ex always ruined special occasions. Other ex-partners had little to no interest in expressing anything on the Day of Love. While the rest of us chant the mantra of “love doesn’t need a single day to be celebrated”, these abusers obviously held the opposing view of “why celebrate it at all?”.
Valentine’s Day can also be used as a harassment or intimidation tactic when abusers try to mask sinister intentions with teddy bears and chocolate. Receiving a beautiful bouquet on 14th February would make any woman feel like a queen – but when it’s from your abuser it only brings up painful memories and fear when you’ve been working so hard to move on.
Finally, the most obvious connection: Survivors mentioned increased violence from their partners on or around Valentine’s Day. The reasons for this are unclear, but the fact that the date 14th February is a trigger for survivors is a significant enough to look at. One woman was beaten so severely on Valentine’s Day that she lost the baby she was carrying. She now spends the day with her children. One woman is reminded of her sister, who was killed on Valentine’s Day by an intimate partner. Reeva Steenkamp was shot and killed on Valentine’s Day by partner Oscar Pistorius.
As a domestic violence charity, we must remember that a simple holiday for most can be a painful trigger to some. Keeping the lines of constant communication open and creating our tools and platforms with significant input from real survivors keeps us grounded and on the right path towards empowering the women we want to help. Not every woman is at the stage where she is 100% comfortable with herself and celebrating that self.
Self-love is a practice and is a long, sometimes terrifying rollercoaster ride. But on this Valentine’s Day 2016, Chayn wants you to celebrate you! That’s why we asked 100 women around the world to tell us how they practise self-love and what is really important to them. Watch the surprising results here!