Does Super Bowl really bring ‘staggering’ spike in domestic violence?
Is the combination of football, alcohol and gambling a disaster for some couples? Or is that all an urban myth?
The Monday after Super Bowl has become known as an all-hands-on-deck day for legal and relationship experts, as domestic violence filings shoot through the roof. It's been mentioned as such in media reports for more than 20 years.
And according to divorce attorney Bari Weinberger of the Weinberger Law Group in Parsippany, her office staff has grown used to a post-Super Bowl rush.
"The spike in calls on Monday versus other Mondays is staggering," Weinberger told New Jersey 101.5 in a phone interview. "It's upsetting, it's alarming; we wish it weren't the case."
But there's an equally long tradition of news articles debunking the assertion that Super Bowl Sunday and domestic violence are somehow connected.
In the 1990s, the Associated Press called that Monday "the Day of Dread." The New York Times referred to it as "The Abuse Bowl."
In January of 1993, a media watchdog group known as Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting distributed a news release saying "women's shelters report that Super Bowl Sunday is also one of the worst days of the year for violence against women in the home," according to multiple accounts of its statement from the time.
A week later, at a news conference in Pasadena, Calif., the site of the forthcoming Super Bowl game, a coalition of women's groups said much the same — citing a study done in 1990 by a professor in sociology and criminal justice at Virginia's Old Dominion University.
But a report by the Washington Post days later looked more closely at the claims, and the study. The study's author told the Washington Post, "that's not what we found at all."
An increase of emergency room admissions "was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general, nor with watching a team lose," Janet Katz, the study's author said. But Katz also said the study seemed to find a slight correlation between watching a team win and violence — perhaps suggesting a connection between a sense of empowerment and violence — but cautioned results were tentative and preliminary.
What about more recent information?
A 2011 study published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics suggested the opposite: When a home team was upset by an underdog, the study found, at-home violence by men jumped by 10 percent (based on police reports). Coincidentally, two of the test areas were the Denver and Carolina regions — and the Broncos face off against the Panthers Sunday.
But getting back to the Super Bowl itself — what's the data show about the date of the game?
New Jersey Uniform Crime Reports don't seem to show any particular spike in domestic violence calls during or around February. In fact, in 2013, February was the month with the fewest domestic violence offenses (and in most recent years, has been near the bottom). Figures each year show the numbers much higher from May through around August than during the rest of the year.
But Sundays in general result in far more domestic violence incidents, according to the state data. There were 11,639 on Sundays in 2013 — about 1,300 more than on Saturdays, and both weekend days saw more violence than weekdays by far.
“In New Jersey, the Uniform Crime Reports from the NJ State Police have shown that, for at least the last two years, the highest number of reported domestic violence incidents occurred on Sundays, but do not support the belief about Super Bowl Sunday, specifically,” Jane Shivas, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women, told the New Republic last year.
That report cites yet another couple of studies. One published in the Journal of Family Psychology found "partner maltreatment" spiked on several special occasions. Among them: New Year’s Eve and Day, the Fourth of July, Memorial Day — and Super Bowl Sunday.
It also cites a 2007 paper in the journal Human Organization using calls to a local women's shelter in Alabama as a basis. That report didn't find any spike during alcohol-centric holidays or the Super Bowl.
So hard data is ... murky at best. But that doesn't change the Weinberger group's own experience of the Monday after Super Bowl Sunday.
When calls come in, Bari Weinberger said, people making them are looking for "protection of the court" after some kind of violent incident. Filing a domestic violence action can get the ball rolling on a temporary restraining order.
Weinberger described Super Bowl Sunday as "a day of intensity" — one that's magnified by high alcohol consumption in many homes, as well as lots of money on the line.
"If somebody loses, it could be a temper trigger," Weinberger said. "And it creates physical, violent reactions."
Whether there's a correlation between the Super Bowl and violence or not, this year, viewers will be reminded of the seriousness of domestic violence — and the role they can play to intervene.
In the ad — from the anti-domestic violence group No More — the viewer sees a text message conversation between two friends, with a Super Bowl party's sounds heard in the background.
One friend sends photos from the party. The other, Jess, says she shouldn't be there herself because "Jake is in one of his moods."
When the friend asks Jess if she's safe, three dots appear on the screen, as if she's trying to reply. The reply never comes.
"There are many signs of domestic violence and sexual assault," viewers will be told. "Learn how to help. Text 'No more' to 94543."
If they text the number, they'll be sent tips on recognizing the common signs of abuse, and the steps they can take to help.
— Digital Managing Editor Louis C. Hochman contributed to this story