Amid World Cup cheers, it’s time to tackle a thornier issue: domestic violence
In the aftermath of England’s stunning win over Sweden to reach the World Cup semi-finals, news outlets have been flooded with images of exuberant England fans taking to the streets of London to showcase their national pride – rather loudly and proudly. From people climbing atop double-decker buses to others ransacking Ikea stores, the nation has been overtaken by excitement and unbridled glee.
This isn’t the case for everyone though.
I recently came across a shocking statistic centred on the World Cup. When England plays in the quadrennial international competition, 26 per cent more domestic abuse incidents occur if it wins or draws. This figure soars to 38 per cent when England loses a World Cup match. The data came from a Lancaster University study analysing domestic violence figures over four previous World Cups.
We all know that correlation isn’t necessarily causation – even if the number of domestic violence cases increases during large sporting events like the World Cup, it doesn’t mean the matches are the trigger. Family violence is a very complex social issue.
Many people still believe, however, the World Cup is a risk factor. And no matter how big or small these figures are, one case is still one too many.
Taking the statistics into consideration and the fact that England hasn’t won the title since 1966, it would mean an unimaginable number of women have been suffering at the hands of violent domestic partners throughout the event’s four-week duration.
One consolation is that the game has, once again, put the spotlight on domestic violence and the ill-treatment women continue to suffer, behaviour fuelled by misguided machismo and misogyny disguised as a “lad culture”.
This kind of abuse during the World Cup may be unheard of in Hong Kong, but domestic violence is still rife in the city. According to data from the University of Hong Kong, about 3,000 to 4,000 cases have been reported annually in recent years, and these represent only 2 per cent of domestic abuse cases occurring in the city.
Domestic violence continues to exist because many of us turn a blind eye and allow abusers to hide behind all kinds of excuses such as stress, having a bad day, being provoked, claiming that it was an accident and so on. Very often, the victims also find reasons to justify the attacks, convincing themselves that they deserved the abuse.
There is no excuse for one person to inflict harm on another. Domestic violence is a crime, as simple as that. Women make up the majority of the victims, although men too sometimes suffer from such abuse. One reason it goes on is that many victims and some quarters of the community tolerate it.
There is a Chinese saying that “each family has its own difficult scripture to recite”, which means every family has its own problems that outsiders cannot understand or help to resolve.
Chinese people typically don’t like to share their private issues with those outside their inner sanctum. This ingrained cultural attitude makes it even harder to tackle the issue of domestic violence in Hong Kong.
To combat the problem, we must first educate the community, and women in particular, that when such abuse takes place, it is no longer a private family matter. We must raise the self-esteem of people, especially the vulnerable.
And we need to eliminate “lad culture”, which includes behaviour such as men making macho or even sexist remarks when a woman does something that’s perceived to be in a male domain, such as being a football commentator.
I recently heard a female radio host advise women to be more understanding during the World Cup by watching matches with their male partners, even if they had no interest in the game. This might sound insignificant, but again she is referring to the sport as a masculine activity and apportioning more power to the man of the household.
If we allow gender prejudice or a power imbalance – no matter how minor or insignificant – to exist, it will eventually grow out of control.
Domestic violence is about power dynamics, where the abuser wants to gain and keep total control.
And what’s with labelling women as “World Cup widows” during the games? Why do we see it as a dark and gloomy period when the men are preoccupied with the matches? Women should rejoice at their freedom during this time and stop faking being football fans just to please their partners.
It’s understandable that people often get passionate and boisterous while watching sports events or when being involved in other action-packed activities. But they should not use this as an outlet for taking out their aggression on others.
It’s a good thing the World Cup statistics have drawn our attention to the issue of domestic violence. Still, we shouldn’t forget that there remains a lot of work to be done to stop such abuse. The problem persists with or without the World Cup, and the screams – not from the cheering – will continue to come from the victims.
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post