Melbourne Cup is the race that stops the nation. It also spikes violent assaults on women.

This post discusses domestic violence. 

It’s the race that stops a nation, but the Melbourne Cup is also a day that evokes dread and fear in many Australian women.

For women who live with domestic and family violence, Cup Day is less about glam dresses and champagne flutes, and more about survival.

"Not everyone looks forward to the Melbourne Cup," says Dr Kirsty Forsdike, Chair of La Trobe’s Violence Against Women Research Network.

"Domestic violence assaults rise significantly on the day of Melbourne Cup," she says, adding that both police and DV services actively prepare for the increase in the lead up to the event. 

Dr Forsdike is the co-author of an academic systematic review investigating the link between major sports events and domestic violence. The review found reports of DV surged on and after Melbourne Cup day, as well as other sporting events. 

In New South Wales, DV assaults increased by more than 40 per cent following State of Origin games. Increases of between 17 and 40 per cent were also reported after the AFL Grand Final and Formula 1. 

Australia is not unique in this regard, with domestic violence increasing globally after big games, such as major soccer matches in the UK and Scotland, and the Super Bowl in the US and Canada. 

DV surges aren’t limited to the day of the event either, with police and DV services documenting and preparing for an increase in calls for several days following a major event.


Why does it happen?

There’s disagreement within the sector about why domestic violence is linked to major sporting events, and limited research is available. 

While alcohol is a well-known risk factor for escalating DV offending, heavy drinking during sporting events is just one of many contributing factors, says Dr Meyer. 

Gambling losses and financial household stressors may also play a role. Whether frustrations over losses have an impact is also unclear. “Some studies have found that DV increases around major sporting events regardless of whether the local team wins or loses,” says Dr Meyer.

Watch: What coercive control looks like. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

"A major factor seems to be that these sporting events are often associated with highly charged emotional environments - whether that's at the game and gets carried home or whether people watch races or matches at home."

Jolene Ellat, CEO of domestic abuse resource and training organisation, DART Institute, says the combination of these factors creates a "perfect storm", increasing risk to victim-survivors.

"Underlying drivers of gendered abuse towards women, exacerbating factors such as alcohol, gambling, risk taking, and social constructs all add to a day that increases risk to victims," Ms Ellat says. 


But more than the event itself, Ms Ellat says we need to understand the structure this sits within, specifically "hegemonic masculinity" and how this influences beliefs, attitudes and bias. 

Hegemonic masculinity refers to the social pressures and expectations men face to be the perfect example of masculinity, says Ms Ellat. 

"Here lies a deep-seated problem, as men work towards meeting these ideals. If we look at factors that weaken pro-social behaviours, we see that with events such as the Melbourne Cup, there is significant hype to meet what is considered a cultural standard."

What can we do?

Dr Forsdike believes governments need to tailor policies to address domestic violence associated with sport. Dr Seyer agrees, but says for that to happen, we need to see increased community ownership.

The recent string of domestic violence murders highlights the diversity of both domestic violence victims and perpetrators, and proves domestic violence doesn’t discriminate, she says. 

"The last five homicides occurred in different states and involved different victim characteristics and circumstances. It's not something that just affects others. It cuts across all our communities."

Despite this, surveys show that even though more than 90 per cent of us view domestic violence as a national crisis, more than half believe it’s not an issue in their own town. 


"As long as this crisis is 'othered', people won't call it out and people won't own the responsibility to end domestic violence. But it needs to be each and everyone of us. Not just the usually advocates calling out the crisis every time women die.

“If, as a community, we recognised DV as a national crisis, I think the pressure on government to act at a scale that's required to address this national crisis holistically would be greater."

Elatt says to achieve a more equitable and safe community, we need to see greater investment across multiple domains. 

"We need to see domestic abuse as a priority within this nation. We must turn the tide on this epidemic of gendered violence towards women and children and we must do this united through a collaborative approach," she says.

"We need ongoing well-funded expert led programs, training, prevention within schools, across community and in our workplaces. Legislation alone will not create the change we require. We need the right investment to continue to drive and create change."

Feature Image: Getty. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.