While football fans prepare for the World Cup to kick-off this Thursday, there’s an issue off the pitch that deserves more attention. It’s not the riots in Brazil, or corruption in Qatar. Across the UK, domestic violence is set to surge, and because of government cuts to support services, women in abusive relationships are facing an unprecedented danger.
During the 2010 World Cup, UK domestic violence services experienced a sharp increase in calls. Physical incidents increased by 26 per cent when England won, and 38 per cent when we lost.
England’s first game is this Saturday; a date that could see the highest rate of World Cup-related domestic violence in the UK.
The charities that provide lifelines to domestic abuse victims are in a very different position compared to the last World Cup. They rely on government funding to operate; yet between 2010-2012 alone, the onslaught of austerity measures depleted 31% of funding to the domestic violence sector.
Over the past four years, strained refuges have been forced to permanently close their doors; services have dissolved completely or lost specialist members of staff such as interpreters; local authority funding has disappeared and helplines up and down the country rely on the kindness of volunteers to stay open.
The terrifying rate at which domestic abuse occurs in the UK has already reached crisis point: an average of 2 women per week are killed by a partner or former partner; in 2012, Women’s Aid estimated that 1.2 million women had experienced domestic violence and in just one day in April 2013, domestic violence services were forced to turn away 155 women and 103 children from the first refuge they approached.
Obviously, football isn't to blame for domestic violence. Violent partners are. But matches can exacerbate existing abuse. As Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge, says: "Violent men may choose to use match times to inflict further violence on their partners, blaming their actions on things like stress or alcohol.”
The government has commissioned awareness-raising posters and police services will be paying special attention to existing offenders, yet charities up and down the country will still be struggling to support victims 24 hours a day.
Mary Mason, CEO of Solace Women’s Aid, told me they “expect referrals to escalate” and are working with local police to provide on-call support.
“We can meet the immediate needs of victims, but our long-term services have been drastically affected by the cuts,” she says. “A recent CWASU study into the long-term effects of domestic abuse found that it takes women two years to get into a stable, safe state after leaving.” With 90 per cent of respondents saying they have faced post-separation abuse, this need for long-term support is crucial.
Domestic violence services also have to compete with each other for funding, and the competition is becoming desperate. In 2012, 40 per cent of domestic violence organisations lost staff and 28 per cent cut essential services such as outreach and children’s workers. Charities are now desperately fighting to keep up with increasing demands for support.
Over the next month national attention will fixate on the pitch instead of on the thousands of frightened children who will witness their fathers brutalising their mothers at home. Sporting victories, no matter how important, pale in comparison to the UK government’s failure to support victims of domestic violence.
Awareness campaigns can only do so much when life-saving organisations have been gutted. The 2014 World Cup will stretch the existing gaps in our domestic violence services. By July 14, the stadiums will be empty and the competition will be over, but the time it will take to rebuild the lives fractured by domestic violence is incalculable.