Beaten Up During The World Cup

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images


When the World Cup approaches, football fever quickly sweeps over the country. Anticipation fills the air, and pubs stock up for the influx of eager fans that will soon be spilling into the streets.

Yet while the country waits with baited breathe for a win, police officers across the UK prepare for an increase in domestic abuse.

As football adverts flash on the TV in Lucy's living room, so does that familiar sinking feeling in her stomach. Just the mention of the tournament takes Lucy back to when she was a child – and the violence, the abuse.

Lucy wasn't just scared of an England defeat, she was scared for her life.

Every four years, one particular night always comes back to Lucy. She was 10-years-old, her brother Jonny was 8, and England had just entered the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup. When the game against Portugal kicked off, they were hiding in their room – like they tried to be every England game – anxiously awaiting the sound of a win or a loss.

If England beat Portugal, everything might be okay. If they’re lucky, they may even get ice cream. Because if his team won, Lucy’s dad would be on top of the world.

Those who followed the 2006 tournament will know that the game ended in a red card, penalties and bitter disappointment for England, but for Lucy and her brother it was just the beginning of a night that descended into terror.

The door slammed, and their Dad stormed off to the pub. When he returned, Lucy and Jonny spotted the fresh black eye painted across his face. He had already been in one fight.

There was never enough time to prepare themselves for his violent explosions of rage –within seconds his shrieks demanding why they weren't in bed rang through the house.

Surely someone would hear, Lucy thought to herself.

Jonny was hungry, and his autism meant he had not learnt to navigate around his dad’s anger, so he made the mistake of voicing his rumblings aloud. As the shouting grew uglier, desperate to get him to safety, Lucy dragged her brother upstairs to his bed.

But she could hear her father's vicious demands for her to come back down - he was not done with her yet. With him, especially when he drank, there was always a ‘reason’ to lash out and in his eyes it was always Lucy’s ‘fault’. This time he blamed her for not feeding her brother while he was gone. But there was no food in the house, the cupboards were bare.

When Lucy’s Dad barked at her to fetch the frozen peas, to ice his face, and there were none to find, she was overcome by the familiar dread of what would follow. She shrunk backwards, recoiling, while her dad weighed up his punishment options; turning her black-and-blue, stamping on her toes until they snapped under him, or scolding her flesh with a searing iron.

The marks lasted for weeks, but at least her brother escaped this time.

'All of my injuries healed eventually but I often feel like the emotional scars never will.' says Lucy, now 23.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Domestic abuse is not caused by the world cup, football, or any sport; it doesn’t start or end with a tournament, but the unfortunate truth is that it leads to a rise in likely catalysts for the already violent to take out what happens on the pitch, at home.

As Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, explains: 'Categorically, football does not cause domestic abuse, the behaviour and actions of abusers who exert power and control over their victims cause domestic abuse.

'However, domestic abuse does not happen in a cultural vacuum. The sexist attitudes, chants and behaviour at football matches encourage an environment in which women are belittled and demeaned.'

Research carried out by Lancaster University found that incidents of domestic abuse rose by 38% when the England team lost and increased by 26% when England won or drew compared with days when there was no England match. Their researchers analysed figures across the 2002, 2006 and 2010 tournaments.

Lucy and her brother are still dealing with the aftermath. For them, England being knocked out the World Cup is more than simply a few hours of annoyance. They're unable to enter town when the football is being shown, due to the nightmares that the shouting and large crowds of fans bring back.

During this World Cup, Lucy has taken extra precautions. She locks the front door and windows at night. Over and over again, at all hours of the day, Lucy gets up and checks the locks, just one more time. Just in case. Her phone is filled with messages and calls to her brother, to check he is okay, too.

As the tournament continues, Lucy has become increasingly wary of having other men around her, even those she knows wouldn’t hurt her. She started taking the long way home, to avoid the danger that pubs and men in the streets pose. This doesn’t stop until the winners are crowned.

For Lucy, memories of the World Cup leave her obsessing over the same unanswered questions. Why did nobody ever help? Their neighbours must’ve heard the shouting, and their crying; she reflects. Her thoughts often turn to the thousands of victims, where her flashbacks are still their reality.

Awareness of domestic abuse has risen considerably since the 2006 tournament that is permanently etched into Lucy's mind. And this year's World Cup has created a much larger conversation about just how close domestic violence can be to all of our lives.

However, more can still be done so that the progress we've made doesn't simply end with the tournament.

The ‘Don’t Be A Bystander’ campaign, recently rolled out in Wales, aims to show how powerful a positive intervention can be for victims. The campaign encourages everyone to act if they are worried about someone they know who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

If you see members of the public intoxicated and behaving aggressively, they could be capable of violence behind closed doors too. If you witness a fight, reporting it is always better than letting it go.

Take it seriously when children and partners have frequent injuries, always excusing them with accidents such as walking into things or falling down the stairs. Sit them down and ask if something is going on, and follow up with them again.

Victims of domestic abuse will often exhibit signs like being withdrawn and frequently missing work, school or social occasions, without explanation, or wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather to cover their injuries.

Step in if you observe someone over the limit, if they're attempting to drive home, with or without their family. If you hear shouting, screaming and crying from your neighbours, don’t tune it out – listen. It could help families like Lucy’s.

'The World Cup is a time when supporters from all clubs come together in support of their national team,' says Ghose. 'That’s why we’re calling for the football community to stand united against domestic abuse and sexism this World Cup. Together, we can send out the powerful message that domestic abuse is always unacceptable and that there is no place for violence in football whether on or off the pitch.'

You can get behind the country, while also getting behind the vulnerable. Not just while supporting England, but everyday.

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