Domestic violence increases over the festive season – here’s how to get help

The founder of Tears, Mara Glennie. Picture: Supplied.

The founder of Tears, Mara Glennie. Picture: Supplied.

Published Dec 10, 2023


As we approach the end of the annual 16 Days of Activism, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that violence against women and children continues, unabated, 365 days a year, and spikes over the December festive season.

This is according to Mara Glennie, Founder and CEO of TEARS Foundation, which offers a free, 24-hour, national, abuse assistance service.

“Throughout the year, our intervention specialists receive a minimum of 400 calls a day from victims of abuse who are then referred to counsellors for psychosocial support, emergency shelters or hospitals via USSD technology. Over the festive season, we typically receive over 40 000 calls for help. This year, we expect this number to increase due to the operational challenges that the Gender-Based Violence Command Centre (GBVCC) are currently experiencing,” says Glennie.

The majority of calls the TEARS Foundation receives over the festive season period are related to domestic violence, which increases due to the spike in alcohol consumption, financial pressures and the fact that during December, families are often cooped up together for longer periods of time which exacerbates stress, tension and conflict.

Glennie notes that while TEARS experiences an overwhelming increase in calls for help, there’s also an increase in the number of dropped or missed calls over the festive season.

"This is because during this time, victims are more likely to be in close proximity with their abusers. Due to this proximity, it becomes harder for people to step away or find a safe space to find help. Similar trends were noted during the Covid-19 lockdown, when there was an increase in domestic violence and child abuse cases due to people being confined in their homes for extended periods,” says Glennie.

Seugnette van Wyngaard, Head of 1st for Women, a long-time partner of TEARS, says that this is why the TEARS USSD functionality is so important as help can be accessed discreetly and free of charge. TEARS can be contacted by dialling *134*7355# and selecting option 2 or via

“This year, 1st for Women and TEARS launched another abuse intervention called SPEAK UP® . This digital tool offers a series of short, interactive and animated videos, with subtitles, in case the user needs to watch the video in private. The videos, which are available free of charge on zero-rated sites, can be accessed by dialling *134*7355# and selecting option 3,” says van Wyngaard.

For victims of GBV who say enough is enough, TEARS offers the following advice:

  • It is not your fault: When you are in an abusive relationship, you might find you blame yourself for it, because your partner manipulates you into believing it is your fault. Abuse is never your fault. There is nothing you could do or say that would make it okay for someone to hurt you in any way.
  • Do not feel guilty: Feeling guilty about the abuse can also make you feel shameful about opening up to others about it. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You did not choose to be in a relationship with an abuser. It is not your fault.
  • Make notes: Write down everything you can about the abusive incidents when your abuser is not around. Take screenshots of any abusive messages they send to you. If you are being physically abused, take pictures of the marks on your body, and go and see a healthcare practitioner. The evidence can help you when you need to file a report with the police or get a protection order. Even if you have not written anything down before, write down what you remember from previous abusive episodes. You might already have messages as proof, keep those too. Just remember to keep those notes and images out of your partner’s sight.
  • Safety planning: This a crucial step for someone involved in an abusive relationship.
  • Do not tell your partner that you are leaving them.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Practice how to get out safely, with your children.
  • Teach your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent. Tell them that neither you, nor they, are at fault or are the cause of the violence, and that when anyone is being violent, it is important to stay safe.
  • Put together an emergency bag with money/credit cards/debit cards, extra keys, medicine, and important papers such as birth certificates. Keep it somewhere safe and accessible.
  • Consider speaking to a trained domestic violence counsellor to create a detailed safety plan.

During the holiday season TEARS will remain open 24/7.