At Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA), we have long been aware of the rise in police-recorded domestic abuse around Old Firm games, and we welcome Police Scotland’s commitment to proactive policing and to preventing crime. We have some significant anxiety, however, about the current initiative in Glasgow and about the messages coming from both police and media about domestic abuse and its relationship to football. A focus on police-reported “incidents” at one point in time misrepresents domestic abuse as we define it in Scotland, as offenders perpetrate it, and as women and children experience it.
Domestic abuse is not an incident. Domestic abuse is not triggered by anger, by alcohol, by poverty, by hooliganism, by sectarianism. Domestic abuse is an ongoing pattern of control, of threats, of fear, of micro-management of women and children’s everyday lives. Living with domestic abuse is a 24/7 experience. Before, during, and after Old Firm games.
We applaud a decrease in police-reported domestic abuse at any point (with the reminder that most domestic abuse never gets reported to police in the first place). What we cannot know, however, is what happens as a result of proactive policing in the everyday experience of women and children living with domestic abuse. What happens to a a partner or ex-partner on the day after the Old Firm match? When the perpetrator is released from custody? The impact of pro-active policing might best be imagined in a larger frame than the day of an Old Firm game.
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We have some relatively crude research in Scotland that links football and domestic abuse reported to police. At SWA, we speculate that the mechanism of that link is what we call “cultural permission-giving.” Community mores have “forgiven” violence perpetrated around football very much the way they have relegated domestic abuse to “just a domestic” – a private matter best kept behind closed doors. In a similar way, our culture has long offered forgiveness for violence perpetrated in the presence of alcohol consumption—“it’s the drink.”
Football does not cause domestic abuse. Alcohol consumption does not cause domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a cause and consequence of patriarchal attitudes, gender stereotypes, male entitlement and privilege, and women’s inequality. We do women and children experiencing domestic abuse no favours when we imply any other cause.