Violence and disaster: What is it and how do I offer support?

At times of disaster, violence against women and their children increases. There are some practical things you can do to help.


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After a disaster, stress, loss and grief affect everyone, but the stresses of disaster are no excuse for violence. It can be shocking to hear that, in addition to the trauma of disaster, your friend or family member is experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence. It takes courage to talk about violence and abuse and many women fear that they will not be believed. You can help by communicating that disaster is no excuse for violence. This page has some practical things you can do to offer support.



What is violence in a disaster situation?

In the aftermath of a disaster, violence against women and their children increases. Some women experience violence for the first time, and others experience an increase in violence.  

Violence against women at times of disaster includes sexual assault, domestic and family violence.

Sexual assault is any sexual or sexualised act that makes a person feel uncomfortable, intimidated or frightened. It is behaviour that a person has not invited or chosen.  Find out more about sexual assault 

Domestic and family violence is a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate relationship or other type of family relationship where one person assumes a position of power over another and causes fear. Find out more about types of domestic and family violence including  financial abuse, controlling behaviour and physical violence.

At times of disaster, women and children may experience increased risks of harm due to violence and controlling behaviours, for example:

  • Being prevented from evacuating
  • Being blocked from accessing survival essentials: transport, water, heat, finances, emergency plans, support services or important documents
  • Being brought back in contact with a violent ex-partner in the chaos of the disaster, for example at an evacuation centre or community hub
  • Being forced to take unnecessary risks with personal safety
  • Being forced to exchange sex for necessities like food water or shelter

 

These factors are important to consider. There are some things you can do to encourage and support your friend or family member to talk about what is happening. There are also supports and services available to help.

 

Talking about sexual assault, domestic and family violence at times of disaster

For many who survive, the events around the disaster remain raw and traumatic. After a disaster, the focus is often on men who may have been ‘heroes’, fighting the fire, or defending property. At this time it is important that you do not:

  • Make excuses for the man as “stressed”, “angry”, “drunk”, or that it “never happened before”
  • Talk about his heroic actions as though they excuse or justify violent behaviour
  • Suggest that there are bigger problems to deal with right now or that other people have it much worse
  • Give a sense that people are too busy, that now is not the time
  • Discourage her from talking about what’s going on, on account of the man’s perceived vulnerability or fragility in the aftermath

A disaster is a traumatic event. Women have the right to a recovery process free from further threats. Violence against women and their children is unacceptable in any circumstance.

 

Action and support 

 

 

When a friend of family member tells you they are experiencing the impacts of sexual assault, domestic or family violence there are a number of practical things you can do.

 

These four steps are a good start:

 

1. ASK: Are you safe where you are staying?

 

2. NAME IT: What you’ve just described to me is violence or abuse.

 

3. RESPOND: Provide relevant contact details:

In case of immediate danger call 000 for police assistance. 

For information, referral and counselling contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. This service is open 24/7.

4. FOLLOW UP: ‘Last time we spoke about your safety. I’d like to know

how you are now.’

 

Safety planning

Support with creating a safety plan is another valuable way you can help a woman experiencing, or at risk of, sexual assault, domestic or family violence. An emergency plan is important when preparing for disaster. Safety planning can be part of this.



Here are a few important things to remember when making a safety plan for friends and family:

  • Help is available. You may need to use specialist services to assist you. These service are experts in supporting women to make safety plans. You can find their contact details in the links below.
  • If children are involved, you may find our video on Keeping kids safe helpful.
  • You may have mandatory reporting responsibilities if children are at risk of harm.
  • A safety plan can be part of building a trust relationship. This relationship may be the most important resource for your friend of family member.

 

Help is available

In case of immediate danger call 000 for police assistance. 

To make emergency calls using TTY dial 133 667 or find out more here.

For information, referral and counselling contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Visit the Services & support map to find a specialist service in your area that can help with safety planning, legal and financial information.

 

 

This information on gender, violence and disaster is based on research and resources of the Gender and Disaster Pod, an initiative of Women’s Health Goulburn North East, Women’s Health In the North and Monash Injury Research Institute. 


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