The Impact of DisasterBattered women and their children are less safe than ever in the wake of a disaster. When hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29th, 2005, at least seven domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs, and outreach organizations were impacted by the storm's severity.
The state of chaos and devastation in the City of New Orleans and other impacted regions afforded little solace to battered women - many of whom fled their abusive homes for the protection of the shelter only to find themselves displaced from the shelter in the aftermath of the storm.
The disintegration of services for battered women along the Gulf Coast had and continued to have a dramatic impact on the safety of battered women and their children. Before hurricane Katrina, battered women's shelters and programs across the country struggled on a daily basis to meet battered women's basic imminent safety, emotional and physical needs. Shortages in funding, staffing, resources, and time place undue constraints on programs' abilities to advocate for battered women's safety. A disaster such as Katrina accentuates these constraints.
To ease the excessive burden faced by programs that were hardest hit, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) orchestrated a nationwide effort to relocate battered women and their children to shelters in other parts of the country with available space and resources. NCADV's website (www.ncadv.org) provided an opportunity for battered women's shelters to announce existing beds for battered women affected by hurricane Katrina. Programs from Alaska to Connecticut to Florida to Arizona provided a safe space for battered women and many were able to assist with transportation.
Despite NCADV's best efforts to respond to the crisis of hurricane Katrina, battered women's programs needed additional resources to rebuild and restructure. Restricted communication and relocation to mass evacuation sites isolated battered women from support systems. Research indicates that rates of domestic violence increase in the aftermath of disaster. Nearly six months after four hurricanes hit the state of Florida in the summer of 2004, domestic violence programs reported increased numbers in individuals using shelter and crisis line services. Disasters may compel battered women to return to abusive partners when left with no other housing options and temporary emergency shelters afford batterers an opportunity abuse their partners. Battered women and their children will need domestic violence shelter and other social services for significantly longer periods of time following a disaster to keep them from danger. Unfortunately, little is known about the long-term effects of disaster on battered women, but current challenges exist involving an increase in demand for services and devastated resources.
For more information on domestic violence and disaster, please visit www.harbour.sfu.ca/freda/reports/dviol.htm and download Elaine Enarson's report, "Surviving Domestic Violence and Disasters." (1998.)