For twelve hours, from 6pm this evening, Australia’s women and children are at more risk of harm than on almost any other Sunday evening of the year.
Emergency services know this. The police know this. Hotels and pubs around the country certainly know this.
Because from now until 6am tomorrow morning, we’ll be riding through one of the few days in the year when incidences of domestic violence surge by 40.7 per cent.
It’s such a specific number – 40.7 per cent. But behind that clumsy statistic sits a lot of women’s stories. A lot of children’s trauma.
Because that’s the amount by which a years-long study has found incidences of domestic assault rise because of one, regular football match – the State of Origin.
Rugby League’s annual “state-against-state, mate-against-mate” clash – New South Wales vs Queensland, in case you’re from, you know, somewhere else – is played three times a year. Usually, the games are held on a quick succession of wintery Wednesday nights and the New South Wales Bureau of Statistics last week released figures gathered over six years that told us that on those Wednesdays, women and children were more than 40.7 per cent more likely to be assaulted by a male than on any other Wednesday night.
“It’s crystal clear that the State of Origin fixtures are leading to a surge in domestic violence. It’s happening on the National Rugby League’s watch and women and children are being harmed as a direct consequence of these games,” says Michael Thorn, Chief Executive of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.
But it’s not only on Rugby League’s watch. The soccer World Cup, being played on the other side of the world right now, is a celebration of “the beautiful game” that sees women at higher risk of assault over the full five weeks of the competition. For example, a recent UK study saw that family violence incidents rose by 38 per cent when England lost a match. The Superbowl, the most-watched sporting event in the world, chose to screen a confronting PSA created by the American Football League about domestic violence in this year’s infamous half-time celebration, no doubt in response to the ongoing discussion around whether that event, too, causes assaults to spike.
And in fairness, it’s not only women and children who are more at risk tonight. It’s everyone.
If the pattern established by this latest research continues, assaults across New South Wales tonight will increase by a staggering 71.8 per cent. Behind that very specific number? Bar fights, street scuffles, blind, unprovoked attacks. Damaged men damaging men.
We’ve been talking endlessly about the safety of our streets in the past two weeks. Women, angered but somehow unsurprised by the advice of police to have “situational awareness” following the horrific rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne on June 13, already have it imprinted on them from birth to be hyper-aware of their safety when they’re out in public. We don’t need statistics to tell us that on nights when men are gathering in packs to drink heavily and get “fired up” by competition that goes right to the heart of who they are (“I bleed blue, mate!”) we do not want to be dodging past them as they weave their way home, emboldened by a win or angered by a loss, desperately hoping they don’t raise their heads towards us, don’t catch our eye.
But that 40.7 per cent spike isn’t about the streets. It’s about the place you’re meant to feel safest. It’s about our homes.
The signs of an abuser, told through his victim’s phone. Post continues after video.
It’s about fearing the key in the door. It’s about counting the cans as they mount up and calculating the risk factor. It’s about the score. Will he be happy, will he be sad? Will my very presence tonight push him into blind fury? Will one of the kids say the wrong thing and set him off?
That spike is about fear, and chaos. And most of all, alcohol.
The link between booze and football is where all these statistics are pointing – what they’re screaming about, really – as the experts who collate them question the decisions to let alcohol brands advertise around these games, to sponsor teams, to continue to be so very prominent in every aspect of preparation and celebration of big sporting occasions, both for fans and players (Mad Monday, anyone?).
And tonight, the State of Origin is being played on a Sunday. Sydney has been sparkling with chilly-edged sunshine all afternoon.
The flags are out and the beer gardens are packed. Mates have picked out their spots. The cold ones are being sunk.
And tonight, first responders are ready for what they know will come.
Because the State Of Origin might be just a game but whatever the result, the real losers aren't the big men on the field.
They're the extra 40.7 percent.
If you or your loved ones are affected by Domestic violence, please contact 1800-RESPECT or visit the National Sexual Assault and Domestic Family Violence website here.