domestic violence

As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader was wondering if domestic violence rates increase when the Husker football team loses.

When Officer Luke Bonkiewicz from the Lincoln Police Department set out to determine whether there was a correlation between domestic violence and Husker football game days, he analyzed a dataset of all domestic violence and domestic disturbance calls placed in Lincoln between Aug. 1, 2015 and Nov. 30, 2019.

Bonkiewicz then coded the data based on whether or not the Huskers played that weekend, if they played a home game and whether they won or lost. He said the number of domestic violence calls was remarkably close in each circumstance and showed little variation.

“I guess the bottom line is this: there does not appear to be any evidence that domestic assaults [and] disturbances increase when the Huskers play and/or when the Huskers win [or] lose,” Bonkiewicz said via email. “There is no statistically significant difference between the calls.”

Data aside, Bonkiewicz said judging the frequency of domestic violence based on reported incidents can be misleading, as many cases are never called in.

“The actual number of incidents could increase, but we would never know about them because they go unreported,” Bonkiewicz said.

Dani Bryant, assistant development director at Friendship Home of Lincoln, said via email that the question of Husker football having an impact on domestic abuse comes up fairly often.

“It's my understanding that decades ago, on the national level, a victim advocate shared this anecdotally, in relation to professional football, and it continues to come up locally,” Bryant said.

Bryant’s organization helps shelter and support victims of domestic abuse, and she said she has not seen report rates go up or down based on Husker football games. However, she said she can’t help but speculate why many still believe Husker football has an effect on domestic violence.

Though both Bryant and Bonkiewicz said it appears domestic violence in Lincoln does not increase during bleaker Husker football seasons, a 2011 study conducted by David Card and Gordon B. Dahl found that national levels of domestic abuse seem to correlate with upsetting football losses.

In the study, Card and Dahl measured the domestic violence rates in six different NFL home team cities over a 12-year period. The data suggested that, when losses by the home team were expected, abuse was not affected. However, during upset losses — occasions where the team did unexpectedly poorly — male-to-female intimate partner violence increased by 10%. The study also found that violence was fixed around a brief time near the end of the game.

Yet, regardless of what football team wins, Bryant said abusers are fully responsible for their actions and cannot blame their behavior on the unexpected outcome of a sporting event.

In addition, Bryant said there are various facets to abusive relationships, and not all forms of abuse are strictly illegal. Verbal abuse, manipulation and controlling behavior are alarming and unhealthy but not always reasons partners would contact police. However, Bryant said, they are red flags and should be treated as such, because domestic violence frequently builds and worsens over time.

“Unfortunately, we know that what starts as verbally degrading a partner can often shift to more violent abusive behavior,” she said. “This is one reason that it's critical that victim services like Friendship Home and Voices of Hope are available 24/7. We are here when a victim is ready to reach out for assistance.”