With the World Cup approaching, as predictable as a catastrophic metatarsal fracture or an unfathomable miss by Lampard, the police have issued warnings of a sudden spate of domestic violence incidents coinciding with every England game.
Equally predictably, voices from the manosphere shout “HOAX” and suggest that such claims are a fabricated, bogus defamation of men and their (ok, our) harmless hobbies. The rebuttals tend to recite the well-known case of the Superbowl domestic violence myth or, slightly more pertinently, an article by Christina Hoff-Sommers published at the time of the last World Cup.
As someone who loves drinking, loves football, and especially loves drinking my way through the World Cup, I would love to be able to reassure everyone that all these stories about drunken British football fans beating their wives (or, on occasion, their husbands) are an urban legend. Sadly they are, with a few caveats, very largely true.
Since Hoff-Sommers wrote her piece last time round, this research was published by Kirby et al which does demonstrate a large and significant effect. Yes, it is drawn from a localised sample, which can raise issues, but otherwise it seems sound and does address many of the problems which have cast doubt over previous claims in this area – for example controlling for seasonal variations in domestic violence rates.
A few years ago, a Scottish football supporters’ webzine investigated claims by Strathclyde police about a spike in violence on Old Firm match days (that’s the Glasgow Rangers-Celtic local derby, overseas guests). They requested the figures and, with great fanfare, proclaimed the police to be either mistaken or dishonest. There was no noticeable difference in DV incidents on Old Firm match days.
I submitted my own FOI request and got the raw data. At first glance, they appeared to be correct. There was no match day effect. However something peculiar happened – while there was not a significant rise in DV reports on match days, there was a very large rise the day after match days.
After a few phonecalls with a helpful Strathclyde Police data analyst up in Glasgow, we established that there was one data set drawn from the informal daily incident log, which ran with police shifts, ending at 5am. However the data released on request was the official recorded incident data, which ran midnight to midnight. A large proportion of the “match day” domestic violence incidents were happening between midnight and 5am, and were not showing up in the daily statistics. It was a salutary reminder that not only do we have to keep a close eye on those who release and act upon official statistics, we have to keep a similarly close eye on those who seek to debunk official statistics, even through such channels as the Freedom of Information Act.
As I mentioned however, there are caveats. We should bear in mind that there are more police on duty on match days. They may, therefore, be more likely to catch couples who are brawling / assaulting each other in public. These cases will show up in the statistics. It is also possible that the publicity and warnings surrounding domestic violence on match days is, to an extent, effective. It might encourage victims to call for help when otherwise they would not have done.
Most significantly, however, we should bear in mind that it is not only football matches that cause such spikes in domestic violence. The figures also rise a lot on bank holidays and (of course) occasions such as Christmas and New Year. Last month Manchester saw its worst weekend for domestic abuse this year, worse even than New Year. Why? Apparently for no other reason than the sun came out and people got thirsty. An exercise I have always wanted to undertake (remind me sometime) would be to access domestic violence data for occasions such as royal weddings or the Queen’s Jubilee, when a national holiday and street parties are actively encouraged. I strongly suspect we would see the same effect, although for some reason the media seems reluctant to highlight those risks.
There is one final point that must be made about this research. A couple of recent papers in medical journals by Zara Quigg and colleagues (here and here) have examined emergency department injury data on World Cup match days. Once again, the effect is there – a significant rise in admissions should be expected. What is less often mentioned is that the great majority of injuries are to men, with young adult males (18 -34) alone representing more than half of all admissions. The gender difference in hospital admissions which exists every weekend does not narrow on big match days – it increases.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I do not doubt that this is overwhelmingly men’s violence against men. From a male point of view, this is our problem. However there is a widespread assumption that such casualties are self-inflicted – lads going out, looking for a fight and coming off worse. That can happen, but research into street violence shows that a lot of incidents are unilateral or the result of several assailants attacking one victim. No level of violence is a tolerable level of violence.
I support and endorse campaigns which highlight the increased risks of partner abuse around football matches. The myths on this score are propagated not by police and charities, but by denialists. Having said that, I’d like to see a little more acknowledgement that the risks are not only faced by women.
On that note, I wish you an enjoyable, successful and above all, safe World Cup. It’s Samba Time!