Australian and international research shows a strong link between the increases in violence against women following emergency events, such as natural disasters including bushfires or floods. For example:
- In the United States, there was found to be a four-fold increase in intimate partner violence following Hurricane Katrina.
- New Zealand police reported a 53 per cent increase in domestic violence after Canterbury earthquake in 2010.
- There was increased family violence in bushfire-affected communities in Victoria after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
The stressful time of an emergency event can intensify existing gender inequalities, resulting in increases in gender-based violence in the home and the community.
During emergency events there is a heightened sense of instability, insecurity and fear, a loss of autonomy, and dependency on others for help.
An emergency event can change the types and severity of violence experienced by victim-survivors and they may become displaced and removed from their support networks, leaving them vulnerable and at increased risk for abuse, assault and exploitation.
Research indicates that violence against women increases in four main ways after emergency events:
(1) An increase in new violence – partners who haven’t been violent before the emergency event become violent.
(2) An intensification of pre-existing violence – partners who have been violent before becoming more violent.
(3) The common reluctance of women to report violence against them is intensified after an emergency event, as empathy sits with men who were ‘heroes’ responding to the event or who may be suffering as a result of their experience/impact the event has had on them.
(4) A reduction in normal supports – for example, victim-survivors who may have been able to seek assistance from neighbours, family and/or friends may no longer be able to do so, because of displacement or changes to housing.
Following an emergency event, there are a range of factors that lead to increased vulnerability. This includes grief, loss, trauma, homelessness, unemployment, families may be forced to spend more time together in crowded and/or unfamiliar environments, sense of loss of control, and increased alcohol and drug use.
Training for the Tasmanian emergency management sector
Emergency management centres and staff can play a critical role in supporting victim-survivors as part of their emergency management response.
In November 2020, the Family and Sexual Violence and Emergency Events training module went live on Tasmanian Emergency Management Training (TasEMT).
TasEMT is a resource to enable people with emergency management responsibilities to increase their capability and capacity to be proficient during the All Hazards phases of prevention, preparedness, response and recovery (PPRR).
The module is targeted towards anyone in the emergency management sector and anyone involved in developing emergency management/recovery policies, including:
- Local government / Tasmanian State Service Interoperability Register
- Volunteers / Support agencies / Not-for-profit organisations
- Control centres / operation centres / recovery and evacuation centres / WebEOC users
- Response Management Authority / Emergency Management Coordination / Recovery Coordinators
Having this understanding of the link between family and sexual violence and emergency events can assist individuals working in these areas to:
- appropriately respond to disclosures of family and sexual violence with the information provided in the module; and
- understand the additional barriers victim-survivors of family and sexual violence are faced with when developing recovery policies.