Last weekend, police in Scotland prepared for the Old Firm soccer match between Glasgow football clubs Celtic and Rangers in an unusual way — by removing serial domestic abusers, who were potentially a risk to their partners, from their homes. Officials described the plan as a preventative effort aimed at reducing the spikes of domestic violence that have been associated with Old Firm games in the past.
Due to increased alcohol consumption, strong emotions, and at-home viewing, there is often a direct correlation between major sporting events and an increase in violence against women. This has been particularly true in the intense Old Firm rivalry.
“In the past, when there were Old Firm games there were spikes, quite dramatic at times,” Mhairi McGowan, the head of Assist, a domestic violence support group in Glasglow, told The Times. “I had to put on extra staff to deal with the cases that came in on the Monday.”
A 2011 study found that when an Old Firm match took place on a Saturday, domestic abuse in Scotland rose 138.8 percent, and when a match occurred on a Sunday, there was a 96.6 increase in domestic abuse. Weekday matches resulted in a 56.8 percent increase.
According to The Times, the police were planning to focus on finding reasons to detain repeat offenders, particularly those recently in prison or awaiting trial.
Detective Chief Inspector Sam McCluskey, who leads the national Domestic Abuse Task Force, said that investigators were combing records for “any other criminality to create breathing space for the victim” before this weekend’s game.
Those being targeted could be awaiting trial for assault or have been released from prison on licence with strict conditions attached. Any breach could mean a return behind bars.
Officers aim to detain potential abusers from tomorrow, when they can be held over the weekend before appearing in court or being returned to prison. Warnings are also being issued to discourage other serial abusers from lashing out.
There is currently no data available regarding the impact of last weekend’s plan on rates of domestic violence, but a similar program was implemented the last time these two teams played, in January 2015, and there was no recorded spike in domestic violence surrounding that match.
“It’s been a very effective strategy,” says former Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, co-founder of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, told The Guardian. “It’s saying to the abuser: we know what happened last time, we’re watching you, don’t do it again. But it’s also saying to the wife: we remember, and we’re here.”
Barry Goldstein, a domestic violence expert and the author of The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence And Save $500 Billion, said a proactive measure like this makes sense.
But it’s also saying to the wife: we remember, and we’re here.
“The basic research says that the only thing that can change abusive men’s behavior is accountability and monitoring,” Goldstein told ThinkProgress. “Men might see this as a point of consequence if they don’t get to enjoy the game, and so that might serve as incentive for them not to do those things.”
However, a program like this cannot be successful at addressing violence against women in the long run unless it is part of a more comprehensive plan — after all, even if they are detained during the game, most abusers will eventually return home after court, where they will continue to be a danger.
“The idea of being preventative is good,” Goldstein said. “But men are abusing women every day, and so we need to do something like this every day. We need to be constantly sending a message. It’s a good step, but it shouldn’t be seen as a solution.”
While more work needs to be done, it does make sense to heighten preventative efforts around big sporting events, and other police forces might want to look closely at the efforts of officers in Glasgow. After all, the connection between violence against women and game days isn’t limited to Scotland. A new study by the Bureau of Economic research found that reports of sexual assaults dramatically increase the day of big college football games. A British study in 2013 found a “startling correlation” between spikes in domestic violence and high-tension sporting events.
“The bottom line is that we need to take domestic violence more seriously, and this is a way to do that,” Goldstein said. “We just need to be doing it more.”