Responding effectively

  • If you don't respond to sexual, domestic or family violence often, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start
  • In times of disaster there are things you can do to increase the safety of people experiencing violence
  • Being aware that women are at increased risk of violence before, during and after a disaster is an important first step.

Responding in times of disaster

Knowing how to talk to people about their experiences of violence in times of disaster allows you to respond in ways that fit in with your field of expertise. This includes understanding the signs of serious risk and how to increase safety. As a starting point, make sure you are informed about sexual assault and domestic and family violence.

When supporting someone it can be valuable to consider that:

  • You may be the first person they talk to about violence
  • This may be the first time they have spoken about pre-existing violence
  • Violence may have increased in severity in the wake of the disaster
  • It may be the first time they have experienced violence
  • They may feel disloyal because they feel (or are told) they are not supporting their partner well enough in this difficult time
  • They may be traumatised

How to respond effectively

For many who survive, the events around the disaster remain raw and traumatic. Women may be experiencing trauma. They may be managing uncertain futures with responsibilities for the welfare of others. At this time, women may be receiving unsupportive messages from family, friends or the community. It is important not to reinforce these messages.

The following are examples of poor responses:

  • Excuses being made for an abusive person as 'stressed', 'angry', 'drunk', or that it 'never happened before'
  • Talking about someone's heroic actions as though they excuse or justify violent behaviour
  • Suggesting that there are bigger problems to deal with right now or that other people have it much worse
  • Giving a sense that people are too busy, that now is not the time
  • Discouraging someone from making a complaint on account of an abusive person's perceived vulnerability or fragility in the aftermath

Good practice in responding at times of disaster: 

  • Be aware that women are at increased risk of violence before, during and after a disaster
  • Conduct screening, risk assessment and safety planning in your everyday practice
  • Include questions about safety and violence in your service intake form
  • Clearly state that disaster is no excuse for sexual assault, domestic or family violence
  • Know the relevant local specialist services that can assist you in supporting women experiencing the impacts of violence and refer
  • Join emergency management planning groups in times when disaster is not present to ensure the structures for disaster response and recovery include attention to violence against women, including data collection

You may need support to provide good responses to women experiencing, or at risk of, violence. Use our Service directory to contact a specialist sexual, domestic and family violence service in your area for help with safety planning or to make a referral.

This information was developed in collaboration with the Gender and Disaster Pod