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Euro 2016 Is No Excuse for Domestic Violence

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Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Police are sending out a clear message to football fans across the UK, as incidents of domestic violence are expected to rise during the current Euro 2016 tournament.

That's right. Dismally, televised major sports events are known to represent a significant trigger for violence against partners and children. A study led by criminologist and former police officer Stuart Kirby, from Lancaster University, found that attacks were 26% more likely if the national football team won or drew, and 38% more likely if they lost.

Analysing the cases reported to the police across three World Cup championships, from 2002 to 2010, the team of researchers also revealed that incidents became more frequent at each new tournament, meaning the problem is getting worse, and the latest Euro 2016 cup is potentially on track to mark a record high in domestic abuse cases.

“It’s really important to say that football doesn't cause domestic violence,” clears up Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, a national charity for abuse survivors. But, together with alcohol, it can be an aggravating factor within an ongoing situation, she explains.

Since the last football World Cup, in 2014, Women’s Aid have been running Football United Against Domestic Violence, a collaboration with high-profile football clubs, the Premier League, media, players and supporters to take a firm stand against violence towards women, and call out many overlooked attitudes and behaviours that underpin it.

It shouldn’t be any more tolerable than racism,

Polly Neate, Chief Executive, Women's Aid
“[Everyone involved with football] needs to have the confidence and the belief to challenge sexist behaviours towards women when they see them at football matches. It shouldn’t be any more tolerable than racism,” says Neate.

Across the country, police are raising awareness of the increased risk of domestic abuse and urging people to act responsibly throughout the month-long European football championship, that will go on until July 10th.

In Northumbria, a new police campaign aims to encourage victims, but also witnesses, to come forward and get help. At the launch, last Monday, local police and crime commissioner, Vera Baird, described domestic abuse as a “24/7 experience” that involves intimidation, isolation and emotional abuse, as well as threats and physical violence.

“So – if you see or hear abuse 'blow the whistle' and get advice’,” she urged.
The commissioner’s views echoed what Neate had already pointed out: “Let’s be clear – sport does not cause domestic abuse and neither does alcohol. However, for those who have abusive tendencies, major sporting events can provide conditions of heightened emotion and increased alcohol consumption – a toxic mix that can result in violence and abusive behaviour.”

Initiatives similar to the one from Northumbria have been introduced in other counties, as well. According to the Nottingham Post, police in the city launched a campaign in pubs and they opened a new 24-hour helpline for women, while in Lancashire and North Yorkshire, officials have been publicly speaking out, to raise awareness.

In West Yorkshire – where during the 2014 football World Cup, reports of domestic violence almost doubled, according to the BBC – a number of special operations led to the arrest of more than 400 domestic abusers in a nine-day run-up to England’s Euro 2016 debut, on Saturday 11th June.
According to Women’s Aid, two women are killed every week by their current or former partner in England and Wales alone and, on average, every 30 seconds the police receive an emergency call related to domestic abuse.

“It’s very common,” says Neate. And these figures only show what she calls “the tip of the iceberg” of a phenomenon that remains hard to measure in size and impact.

“Domestic violence still carries a lot of stigma and shame, and we know that the majority of victims never report it at all,” she explains. “When I talk about two calls every minute to the police, actually, that’s not even the full extent of domestic violence, it’s much more widespread than that."
Women experiencing abuse are often unable to report because of fear and coercion. There are many cases where the emotional abuse they experience has become so internalised that it prevents them from identifying as victims. “They may blame themselves for the abuse, even,” Neate says.

Through her work as the head of Women’s Aid, she found that a combination of awareness-raising and providing training is what seems to work best to strategically tackle the issue. “It’s really important. What we’re trying to do is to work with the footballing community to make a positive difference in terms of attitude towards women and attitude towards domestic violence.”

Whether England win or get knocked out of Euro 2016, there are no excuses: Abuse is never acceptable.

To speak to someone about domestic abuse, visit the Women's Aid website or call them on 0808 2000 247
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