The ‘Sock Her’ Problem

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Miguel Salazar goes down to Colombia to uncover the links between two of Latin America’s most enduring pastimes:

Gender-based violence is pervasive across Latin America, where up to 38 percent of women experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. The number of femicides is increasing at such an alarming rate that the UN Development Program recently referred to the region as ‘the most violent in the world for women.’

In Colombia, the problem is so widespread—more than 70,000 cases of domestic violence were recorded in 2017 alone—that the government and civil-rights groups have identified specific days when violence against women is most common. Violence rises during in January and May, and on Sundays, when families tend to spend more time together at home; Mother’s Day is the most violent day of the year, with some cities even barring the sale of alcohol for those 24 hours. But data obtained by The Nation and analyzed by researchers at the University of Central Lancashire warns of another period of increased violence against women: the World Cup.

According to figures from Medicina Legal, Colombia’s medical examiner’s office, cases of intimate-partner violence against women rose by an average of 38 and 25 percent on game days for the country’s national team during the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, respectively, and by nearly 50 percent during the 2015 Copa America, compared to days when Colombia did not play. The data are a reminder of how sports can reinforce toxic masculinity in disastrous ways.

Salazar highlights the work of Gerardo Araya, a University of Costa Rica professor, who in 2000 “conducted the first soccer-specific study” on the correlation between sporting events and the concurrent upticks in domestic violence. During the 2014 World Cup, for instance, Costa Rican police reported a 45-percent surge in emergency calls. A similar study conducted at Lancaster University found that “when the English team won or drew a game, domestic-abuse incidents rose by 26 percent, but when they lost and were knocked out, the pattern jumped by 38 percent.” Researchers point to a number of possible causes–“toxic masculinity”; local, regional, or nationalistic fervor; heavy drinking–but, of course, nearly all agree that increased violence against women during matches is almost certainly caused by a combination of all these factors and more.

Efforts are already underway to combat violence against women, in Latin America and elsewhere. :

During the 2018 World Cup, England’s National Centre for Domestic Violence released posters depicting a woman with blood running down and across her face in the shape of St. George’s Cross. It read: ‘If England get beaten, so will she.’ In 2015, Costa Rica’s National Institute for Women worked with broadcasters to create an additional scoreboard during a World Cup qualifying match against Haiti, which displayed the number of domestic violence calls the country’s police received in real time. The match ended Costa Rica, 1, Haiti, 0, and Violence Against Women, 31. The scoreboard seems to have had a positive effect: During Costa Rica’s next qualifying match, there was almost a 33 percent reduction in calls reporting intimate-partner violence. …

In 2008, Colombia passed Law 1257, comprehensive gender-rights legislation, which made domestic violence a crime and outlined protections and guarantees for female victims, including a right to housing, food, and transportation. ‘Colombia is one of the countries with the best women’s-rights laws in the hemisphere,’ said Jineth Bedoya, a renowned journalist at El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest daily newspaper. ‘The problem is that they aren’t properly implemented.’ Survivors are discouraged, even bullied, by the police, the family commissioner’s office, or the local prosecutor.

So many decades after the Women’s Liberation Movement launched in the 1960’s, you’d think ending violence against women would be a pretty simple and straightforward campaign. But, as Araya stresses, “There is still a very entrenched, macho culture.”

A story Salazar tells at the beginning of the article paints the depressing picture:

Bruno Fernandes de Souza, a Brazilian goalkeeper, was convicted in 2010 to 22 years in prison for murdering his girlfriend and feeding her remains to his dogs. After the courts had failed to rule on his appeal for several years, Bruno was briefly released last year. A second-division Brazilian team signed him within a month, and he played in five games to chants of ‘We are all Bruno.’

I’ve never hit a woman; I’m very proud of that. I’m not a violent person to begin with, and in fact, at least a few of the fights I’ve been with have involved me defending a women against violent, shameless men. My father used to beat my mother (before she left him), and I can remember once trying to get him to stop: he was beating her with the power twister bar he worked out with, but I was just too little to do any good. I’ve never understood how a man could use his superior strength to beat or otherwise overpower a woman, or how any much stronger person, man or woman, can use violence against a much weaker person. It just never seemed fair to me. Might never makes right.

One day soon, I hope, my fellow men will realize that being a man means much more than physical strength and violence–that part of being a man means having a deep and abiding respect for women.


Featured image: Dawn Huczek/Flickr

Hector is the founder and editor of MANO as well as the host of the LATINISH podcast. A Chicagoan living in Las Vegas, he's also the senior editor of Latino Rebels, part of Futuro Media, as well as a former managing editor of Gozamos, an art-activism site based in his home town. He was a columnist at RedEye, a Tribune-owned daily geared toward millennials. His work has been mentioned by The New Yorker, Good Morning America, TIME, the Washington Post, and other outlets, and his writing was featured in 'Ricanstruction, 'a comic book anthology whose proceeds went toward recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. He studied history at the University of Illinois-Chicago where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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