For footy-loving Victorians September is the best month of the year, as we count down to the AFL Grand Final. But for families living in homes where violence is the norm, it can be a terrifying time.
Studies from Australia, Canada, the US and the UK show a clear link between family violence and major sporting events. Reports of intimate partner violence spike each year during events such as the Melbourne Cup and the AFL and NFL Grand Finals. In fact, in 2020 when both codes held their grand final on the same weekend, police around the country recorded a 30 per cent increase in family violence reports.
Why do major sporting events lead to more family violence?
Gambling and alcohol use during these periods increase the risk, but experts say these factors aren’t to blame for men’s actions.
“We know that factors such as intensified emotions and heightened moods during and after games are associated with increased levels of family violence around big sporting events,” said Julie Dixon, who coordinates AV’s Caring Dads program in Melbourne’s west. “There’s also the normalisation of male aggression, both physical and verbal, that we see on the field, in the stands, in pubs and in homes across the country.”
Using studies from across the globe, researchers from LaTrobe University have found that the emotionally charged nature of these big sporting events adds to the tension in abusive relationships. Some sports fans are irrationally passionate and can become highly charged during important matches.
“Violence is a choice. Factors such as drinking too much or losing a bet may be a factor, but they don’t cause it. Perpetrators are responsible for their behaviour, and there is no excuse,” Julie said. “The good news is that these choices can be changed.”
How can families break the cycle of violence?
Programs like AV’s Caring Dads give men who use violence the opportunity to reflect on their behaviour and make the changes required to keep their family safe.
“Caring Dads is a 17-week journey for dads who have used family violence,” said Julie. “It’s not a punitive program – there’s no shame or humiliation. Dads explore their own experiences of being parented, what it means to them to be a dad, and what child-centred parenting looks like. In doing so, they can join the dots between their use of violence and the impact it has on their children and current or former partner, to make positive changes.”
Many of the dads who complete the program say they have learned new coping skills and are better able to communicate with their partner and/or children. Caring Dads is completely free and available in several local government areas in Melbourne and Gippsland. Other providers run similar programs across the state.
The Caring Dads team has the following advice to help you keep your family happy and safe during the footy finals:
- Make the event focused on sharing the experience with your kids, rather than alcohol. Consider spending the day having a family BBQ with mates who also have kids.
- Consider not gambling, which will help lessen the personal investment on winning and the added frustration, anxiety and anger.
- If you’re going to a game, can you sit somewhere that is more family-friendly and/or alcohol free, so you and your kids won’t be exposed to aggressive behaviour or abusive language?
- Have something planned for after the game, regardless of whether your team wins or loses. You might like to kick the footy around at the park with the kids or go for a bike ride – any activity that will help bring your emotions back down.
- Consider what’s important to role model to your kids and what lessons they’re learning from your behaviour. Stop and think about those little faces looking up at you – how are they are seeing you right now and how might they be feeling?
If you’re a man who would like to find out more about participating in a Caring Dads or Men’s Behaviour Change program you can find the contact details and an enquiry form here, or you can contact the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491.
If you’re experiencing family violence, or are concerned about someone you know, contact The Orange Door to find a service near you, or call 1800 RESPECT. If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call 000.