FOR MANY families the holiday period is a time to celebrate, spend time with loved ones and all around spread joy.
For some families, sadly, it is the most dangerous time of year.
More than two thirds of all assaults reported last Christmas Day and New Year's Day were family violence related, according to latest figures from the Crime Statistics Agency.
The number of domestic violence assaults spiked on both days, up almost 40 per cent than in the days before and after the two major holidays.
Bendigo's Annie North Women's Refuge chief executive Julie Oberin said this year was shaping up to be even worse.
"We've been seeing a real increase (in family violence) all last month and very much this month," Ms Oberin said.
"And it's getting worse already and it's not even Christmas.
"More children are coming into crisis centres, mostly under the age of five.
"At any age that's bad but when they're so young they are so vulnerable."
Ms Oberin said factors such as increased alcohol consumption, school holidays, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic fall-out would be contributing to this year's spike in domestic violence cases.
"None of these things cause family violence," she said.
"But they can certainly make it worse and can be the triggers for escalation."
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Jointly funded by the federal and state governments, the refuge is at its limits - and it's not even Christmas.
"We've had to increase the staffing," Ms Oberin said.
"If we're full in our refuges, we have to use hotel and motel accommodation - and at the moment we're usually full.
"We really could do with some more refuge space."
Centre for Non Violence's (CNV) chief executive Margaret Augerinos says that gender inequality is the key driver of domestic violence and until it is addressed, cases will continue to rise.
"It is important we do not place the burden on women to protect themselves and remain safe," she said.
"We must also continue to hold perpetrators to account and place the onus on them to change their attitudes and behaviour."
According to No to Violence chief executive officer Jacqui Watt, police referrals to the Men's Referral Service spike at this time of year and she encouraged men who are concerned about their behaviour to seek help and keep their loved ones safe this holiday season.
"Everyone has the right to celebrate safely," she said.
"The festive season should never be used as an excuse for violence. It doesn't have to be like this and we can support you to change your behaviour."
Crime Statistics Agency and No to Violence Men's Referral Service figures show that on Christmas Day, 67 per cent of assaults are family violence related.
On New Year's Eve, 58 per cent of assaults are family violence related and on New Year's Day, 65 per cent of assaults are family violence related.
In December 2020, police referrals to the Men's Referral Service were 20 per cent higher than any other month in the year.
Victoria Police Family Violence Command Assistant Commissioner Lauren Callaway said she knew there would be people who would be worried about what the holiday period would mean for them.
"They will be thinking about whether there will be violence, whether it will be safe to stay at home, whether there is any money to fund leaving, or whether they can put on a brave face again in front of family and friends," she said.
"My message to everyone is Victoria Police is here to stop family violence.
"We don't go on holidays for a reason - we know it's a high-risk time of the year and we are here 24 hours a day to make you safe."
If you or someone you know is experiencing family and domestic violence, help is available, contact:
If a life is in danger, call Triple Zero (000).
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