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Experts have warned of an expected spike in family violence during the AFL grand final weekend, with concerns that incidents will occur behind closed doors among the millions stuck in lockdown across the country.

Data from police across Australia shows there was up to 30 per cent more family and domestic violence incidents reported during the grand final weekend last year, when both the AFL and NRL grand finals were held on the same weekend.

The chief executive of No to Violence, Jacqui Watt.Credit:Wayne Taylor

In Victoria last year, there was an 11 per cent increase in family violence incidents on that grand final weekend. However, there was a 3 per cent decrease in incidents on the day of the AFL grand final last year, when compared to 2019.

The chief executive of No to Violence, Jacqui Watt, said the slight decrease could in part be due to under-reporting of family violence by victim-survivors while in lockdown, which has been a concern for police and practitioners working in the family violence sector since the start of the pandemic.

“There were more Victorians at home than ever before during last year’s AFL grand final event and when people are locked in their homes with abusive partners, they are out of the public view and may not feel safe leaving the house to report violence and abuse,” she said.

“My concern is with so much of Australia experiencing lockdowns or restrictions, these experiences will continue to be hidden behind doors.

“It’s also important for people experiencing violence and abuse in lockdown areas across Australia to know that it is OK to leave the house.”

She said they also saw an increase in severity, and an increase in behaviour to the point that someone calls police. She also said other factors also contribute to the increase in family violence, including alcohol.

“In reality, this time of year marks the beginning of the increase in police call-outs and calls to domestic violence services. Of course increased alcohol consumption is part of this, but it is generally only escalating other forms of abuse which are already present.”

With the grand finals landing on the same weekend last year, family violence organisations No to Violence, White Ribbon Australia and 1800RESPECT launched a campaign to raise awareness about the expected increase and the strain it places on families and emergency services.

The campaign will run again this year ahead of the AFL grand final on Saturday.

The head of 1800RESPECT Fiona Mort urged people to take accountability for their behaviour.

“Sport should unite people. Footy finals can be exciting and highly charged. But year in year out, there are increased incidents of domestic family and sexual violence around this time,” she said.

“There is no excuse for this. Your team’s win or loss, or how stressed you are about a match, is irrelevant.”

The rise in family violence incidents during the AFL and NRL grand final weekend last year

  • New South Wales experienced 16.7 per cent more reports of family and domestic violence related incidents on grand final weekend in 2020*.
  • Victoria experienced 11.1 per cent more reports of family and domestic violence related incidents on grand final weekend in 2020.
  • Northern Territory experienced 31.3 per cent more reports of family and domestic violence related incidents on grand final weekend in 2020.
  • Queensland experienced 5.5 per cent more reports of family and domestic violence related incidents on grand final weekend in 2020.
  • Tasmania experienced 14 per cent more family and domestic violence related incidents on grand final weekend 2020.

*2020-21 financial year data not available. Daily volumes of relevant data is for the last 12 months to year ending March 2021.

White Ribbon Australia executive director Brad Chilcott said it was unacceptable that the rates of men’s violence against women increased dramatically around grand final time and there was no excuse.

“It is up to men to do things differently this year – violence and abuse isn’t about the sport, it’s not about the alcohol, it’s not about the pressure,” he said.

Reports of family violence in Victoria leapt last year at times when the state was emerging from coronavirus lockdowns, after stay-at-home restrictions made it harder for many people to report abuse and get help.

Police recorded an overall increase in family violence incidents of 9.4 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019, with new police data showing significant spikes in June and October, when restrictions started to ease.

Crime Statistics Agency chief statistician Fiona Dowsley said this pattern emphasised “the importance of considering potential barriers to reporting faced by victim-survivors when lockdown measures are in place”.

There has also been a rise in the number of ambulance call-outs and emergency room presentations related to family violence incidents in Victoria, fuelling concerns the pandemic has led to an increase in the severity of attacks and injuries.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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