The 2020 Euros saw a spike in domestic abuse – will it be same for World Cup?
Standing by the living room door after the football match had ended, Sharon Bryan glanced nervously at her husband. Seconds later, she was struck in the face by his can of lager.
As she staggered into the bathroom to clean the wound on her lips, Sharon felt no emotion. After years of violence at his hands, this latest assault hadn’t even registered. Tragically, she had become accustomed to her abuse.
Even so, the constant pressure to act in a way that wouldn’t provoke her husband, especially after a football tournament, took its toll on Sharon, who was later diagnosed with OCD.
‘I was second guessing myself all the time, predicting what to say and how to say it,’ she recalls. ‘But however I said it and whatever I said – it didn’t make any difference. The outcome would always be the same.
‘I didn’t know what he was capable of, and he used to threaten a lot of things. The saying “walking on eggshells” was so accurate. That’s exactly how it feels – you try and work out what to say when he comes in.
‘That constant praying that the team had won, and knowing that if they hadn’t, you were going to get it, it was awful. If his team lost, he took it out on me loads of times.’
Sharon is now Head of Partnerships at the National Centre of Domestic Violence, an organisation enabling survivors of domestic abuse to apply for emergency court injuctions.
She knows all too well that while football does not cause domestic abuse, it risks triggering an abuser’s pre-existing pattern of behaviour.
And with the World Cup taking place in Qatar just a year away, Sharon admits she’s already concerned about how the tournament might impact those already experiencing abusive relationships.
‘We are extremely worried about yet another increase in domestic abuse incidents, especially as we know that on average only 18% of domestic abuse incidents are reported,’ she says.
According to research, there is a clear link between team wins and defeats, and an abuser’s behaviour. One study by Lancaster University found that abuse increased by 25% when England won or drew a match, and by 38% when they lost.
‘They’re not just watching it, they’re feeling it. And that adrenaline and emotion, where is it going to go? When that’s fuelled by alcohol and other substances, you’ve got a real recipe for disaster,’ Sharon explains.
Despite three decades passing since her own experience, through her work, Sharon knows that domestic abuse triggered by football is still sadly a huge issue.
Just last year, throughout the Euro 2020 tournament, there was a steady increase in the number of domestic abuse cases against women across the UK.
Exclusive Freedom of Information data obtained by Metro.co.uk reveals that during the period of the European football championship, 26 of the 39 police forces that responded, recorded an increase in the number of domestic abuse reports.
Between 11 June and 11 July, figures revealed a total of 96,473 reports of domestic abuse – an increase of almost 10% from 87,778 cases from the month before.
One force in particular – Wiltshire Constabulary – saw reports rise by over 1,000% during the tournament, with 549 cases recorded, compared to the month before.
‘Our message was clear throughout the tournament and remains so now the final whistle has blown; violence of any kind will not be tolerated in Wiltshire,’ Suptt Phil Staynings said at the time.
‘Unfortunately, a small minority have let their communities down by committing crime during a period when the whole country was united.’
Meanwhile, Merseyside Police saw cases soar by over 600%, receiving over 1,985 reports, compared to 275 in the four weeks leading up to the first kick-off.
And it doesn’t just affect women –
According to the figures, reports this year were more than 5% higher compared to those recorded during the same period in 2020, while cases surged by more than 15% this year compared to 83,530 cases in 2019.
The number of referrals for protective court orders also increased during the tournament, with the National Centre for Domestic Violence receiving more than 400 new referrals compared to the five-week period before – a rise of 5%.
The findings come after the Local Government Association, which represents councils across England and Wales, issued warnings and advice surrounding domestic abuse ahead of England’s opening match against Croatia in the Euros.
A number of councils, including Wakefield and Cheshire East, also announced a range of support services including live web chat services and dedicated campaigns to ‘show domestic abuse the red card’.
However, football – which is associated with increased alcohol consumption and can exacerbate violent behaviour – forms a small part of a much wider pattern of abuse that victims will have often experienced for years.
Data published by the Office for National Statistics revealed that 1.6million women and 786,000 men were subject to domestic abuse in the year up to 2018.
Carmel Offord, who works at the Yorkshire-based domestic abuse charity, IDAS, explains that it is the behaviour around football, rather than the sport itself, which is often responsible for abuse in a relationship.
‘Millions of people watching football aren’t being abusive to their partners,’ she says. ‘But some of them will use football as an excuse. Whether it be that their team lost and the frustration. It might be that they’re actually staying out late or are tired, exhausted and drinking.’
Carmel adds that alongside the Euros there was a ‘combination of things’ that may have excabertated a spike in abuse.
‘Such as Covid, the additional pressures that are put on families,’ she explains. ‘At a time when people have been locked down for so long, going to football, drinking, the frustrations are being brought home.
‘The rest of the time those people will have been living with abuse for many years – so when we look at the stats, we’re seeing a snapshot of a lived reality, what they’re living with every day.’
Sharon says that she noticed her husband would ramp up the violence depending on the way she responded to being assaulted after a football tournament.
‘He might do something and then if he felt I wasn’t reacting in the way he thought I should, he would be more aggressive and more violent – that’s how he maintained control,’ she remembers. ‘That’s when he started to feel quite afraid that he was losing control and that I might leave.’
Although her former husband did not prevent her from going out, the conditions he imposed were incredibly restrictive. ‘If I was even 60 seconds later than the time he had set, he would beat me up – so in the end it was just too risky to go out,’ admits Sharon.
However, the real escalation occurred in January 1988. Refusing to go back to work, she was forced to call her husband’s employer and notify them of his absence. As she picked up the phone, a wave of defiance came over her. ‘It told them that he couldn’t be bothered.’
‘I remember his eyes snapping open and looking at me,’ Sharon recalls. Slamming down the phone she ran through the house as her husband chased after her. ‘He followed me and punched me in the stomach.’
‘I looked at him and said: ‘that’s the last time you’re ever going to do that’. He dismissed it and went back to bed.’
Until this point, Sharon had struggled to admit her former husband was abusive. ‘It didn’t even cross my mind to leave him. I knew he didn’t have the best of upbringing and I used to make a lot of excuses for him,’ she admits.
‘But when I realised that I was “in too deep” with this relationship and that I could get seriously hurt I was too afraid to leave him because he would say he would kill me if I left him.’
This latest incident was the last straw. Shortly after the assault, she filled a suitcase with a few belongings, got her two-year-old daughter out of bed and drove away.
‘He was so confident that he had so much control over me, that I wouldn’t leave that I actually packed in front of him. He just went back to sleep,’ she remembers.
Despite having managed to escape, her husband’s reign of terror continued to haunt Sharon. Although he was imprisoned for a month for breaking a non-molestating injunction, which banned him from going near Sharon, he still targeted her on his release – with almost fatal consequences.
Having returned home after a night out with a friend, Sharon could sense that her husband was inside. ‘I put my daughter to bed, and I just knew he was in there,’ she recalls.
Slowly entering the bedroom, she approached the double wardrobe and asked her friend to open the first door. With nervous hesitation, she moved to the second side and opened the door.
To Sharon’s horror, the abuser she thought she had escaped was inside and jumped out with a knife to stab her. ‘I fell back on the bed before he came up with the knife, which went straight through my hand,’ she explains, the memories still fresh in her memory.
Luckily her friend managed to disarm her former husband. ‘If she hadn’t been with me, I wouldn’t be telling you this story,’ she admits.
Teresa Parker, Head of Media and Communications at Women’s Aid, says that with the World Cup just a year away there is an urgent need to do more.
‘Survivors were clear in saying that even if football doesn’t directly cause domestic abuse, there is a link and that clubs can play a positive role by being part of the solution,’ she explains.
‘We know that the way to stop it from being unpunished in the home is to continue raising awareness and working in partnership with clubs and organisations, and to challenge sexism and misogyny as well as speaking about domestic abuse,’ she explains.
In 2014, Women’s Aid established the Football United Against Domestic Violence campaign which focuses on big international tournaments, and in recent years, has provided training to clubs in England.
‘During this time, we created a campaign film and worked with a wide range of people, including young players, to raise awareness,’ says Teresa.
‘It has been successful in terms of speaking to many clubs about domestic abuse and creating important relationships with the FA, Premier League and PFA, who have all been supportive of this work.’
As part of the campaign, the charity have also worked with the police and local authorities to create posters and awareness, as well as Bristol University who spoke to survivors, to show what practical steps can be taken.
With a desire to bring the football community together to help make positive changes surrounding domestic abuse, the campaign features dedicated supporter and club pledges, enabling fans to break the silence that allows domestic violence to continue.
‘It is the attitudes that underpin domestic abuse that have to be changed to reduce it in the future, and to promote healthy relationships and respect,’ Teresa adds.
Awarded ‘Survivor of the Year’ Award in 2012 by The Women’s Aid Federation of England, Sharon explains that the latest findings surrounding abuse during Euro 2020 are just the tip of the iceberg, especially as it often takes time for people to come forward.
‘The figures are definitely higher,’ she says. ‘When there is a big football tournament, we do generally, see a big increase.
‘For some people, if you’ve got a full healthy lifestyle, football is a sport and it’s something to be celebrated. But for others, if they are abusive, it’s like it is their identity, their tribe – so they see every kind of bad tackle or every missed goal as if it is happening to them.
‘If you’re abusive and your whole identity is invested with that sport, then every sort of loss of a game is personal and you have to get that control back, and you’re going to do that by being abusive to the person closest to you,’ she explains.
As the World Cup approaches, Sharon says it’s important to prevent a repeat of the abuse suffered by many during this year’s Euros.
‘All of us – not just statutory agencies – need to be vigilant and educate ourselves on the signs of abuse so that we can be prepared and help these victims and survivors,’ she says.
‘We all have a duty to do what we can and make sure we know where we can signpost victims and survivors if they disclose to us or we are aware of them.’
Domestic abuse helpline
If you are in immediate danger call 999. If you cannot talk, dial 55 and the operator will respond.
For emotional support, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. Alternatively, for practical and emotional support, please contact Women’s Aid Live Chat 10am – 6pm seven days a week.
You can also reach the National Centre for Domestic Violence on 0800 270 9070 or text NCDV to 60777.
For free and confidential advice and support for women in London affected by abuse, you can call Solace on 0808 802 5565 or email [email protected]
Male victims of domestic abuse can call 01823 334244 to speak to ManKind, an initiative available for male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence across the UK as well as their friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues and employers.
Alternatively, the Men’s Advice Line can be reached at 0808 8010327, or emailed at [email protected]
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