Women’s shelters and family violence services around Australia are bracing for increased demand before the AFL grand final weekend, when domestic violence rates typically skyrocket.
Some counselling services have been preparing since June for what is expected to be the start of a particularly dangerous period for women and children.
The coming four months, from AFL football finals through to Christmas and into the New Year, are busy times for domestic violence support services as families come together and tensions can be higher than usual.
Events where alcohol consumption and gambling are encouraged, such as the AFL grand final on September 28 and the NRL grand final on October 6, can be extra tough for survivors of domestic abuse.
Research by La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research found that domestic assaults increased by more than 40 per cent in New South Wales during the nights when NRL State of Origin games were played compared to non-Origin nights.
Women’s shelters have told The New Daily they are already strained operating at 150 per cent capacity and don’t know how they will cope with the expected increase in demand.
To help combat the crisis, an extra 415 trained family violence investigators and more than 100 specialists such as lawyers and educators have joined Victoria Police’s family violence unit since 2017, said Family Violence Command Assistant Commissioner Dean McWhirter.
So far, 39 women have been killed by male violence this year, according to anti-violence group Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women tally.
On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
Melbourne’s Eastern Domestic Violence Service (EDVOS) executive director Jenny Jackson said she started confirming staff numbers three months ago to make sure her team had enough people to cope with “the increase in phone calls and severity of violence” during spring and summer.
“We start notifying staff around June/July that they need to put in their leave requests because it’s a very busy time,” Ms Jackson told The New Daily.
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Last year, national family violence counselling service 1800Respect reported a 10 per cent increase in calls and online chats on grand final weekends and the week after, compared with the previous eight weeks.
But for packed women’s refuges, such as Women’s Community Shelters in NSW, boosting staff numbers and clearing beds for newcomers wasn’t an option.
“We’re not even in a position to hold notional spots knowing these events are coming up,” the shelter’s CEO Annabelle Daniel told The New Daily.
“In NSW, domestic and family violence services are at 150 per cent capacity, so it’s a real challenge to be on the front foot when we’re already doing so much with so little.”
Jacqui Watt, CEO of the peak body for men’s referral services No To Violence, said it was common for men to suffer male-on-male violence during big sporting events and urged anyone concerned about a friend’s behaviour to contact the helpline.
“It’s not as simple as ‘my team lost’ or ‘I had too much to drink’,” Ms Watt said.
“There are a lot of people who are at that match who have had too much to drink or their team has lost, but they’re not going to take it out on their family.”
She said while alcohol could exacerbate aggressive behaviour, it was “no excuse”.
“Violence is not about anger – most people manage to contain their anger without hurting anyone, so something else is going on,” Ms Watt said.
“This is about how men are feeling about themselves, what they’re entitled to, and what rights they have.”
White Ribbon ambassador Andrew King, who manages Relationships Australia programs in NSW, recommended men who struggled to manage their emotions prepare a plan before the AFL grand final.
He suggested staying away from “male-saturated environments like the pub” in exchange for family-friendly venues where women and children would be present.
“When 90 per cent of the people in the space are men, then that’s probably going to increase the risk of violence,” Mr King told The New Daily.
“Really try to slow alcohol consumption down and make sure you’re drinking water too.”
Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly said the anti-violence organisation was working with the AFL as part of its sports engagement program to “inspire change on and off the field” in an effort to reduce instances of violence against women.
- Emergency: 000
- Safe Steps 24/7 family violence response line: 1800 015 188
- No To Violence men’s referral service: 1300 766 491
- 1800RESPECT family violence response line: 1800 737 732
For more information about a service in your state or local area download the DAISY app in the App Store or Google Play.