Hurricane Harvey is the most recent natural disaster that has caused damage and destruction across many communities. When disasters strike an entire community, they do not affect all community members equally and the victims of domestic violence are often particularly vulnerable.
Researchers at the University of Missouri have now identified a framework that can help victims of domestic violence before, during and after disaster events.
"Disasters can cause significant emotional trauma or stress, injure or kill individuals, and threaten basic human needs such as access to food, water and housing," said researcher J. Brian Houston. "We know from past research that disasters can increase the prevalence and severity of domestic violence; they have compounding effects on the recovery of women and families experiencing this violence."
Researcher Jennifer First noted that domestic violence services and resources should be integrated into disaster-related assistance and services to promote women's safety and well-being.
She added, "Emergency management often conceptualizes disasters in four phases-- response, recovery, mitigation and preparedness. Our framework uses this perspective to identify objectives to use before, during and after a disaster to help victims of domestic violence."
Professionals responding to a disaster can promote empowerment for women and children by ensuring their basic needs are met and providing them with comfort and support. This can be done by working with providers to transport victims of violence to shelters and provide information on post-disaster resources and alternative domestic violence contacts.
After a disaster, communities can conduct activities to rebuild and recover. The researchers say this is a critical time for victims of violence. Professionals can help by connecting victims to long-term services and promoting social supports for women.
Communities should identify risks and hazards to reduce or eliminate the impact of a disaster incident. The first strategy for this could be developing connections between domestic violence organizations and systems typically active in a disaster, such as disaster responders and law enforcement. As connections are formed, professionals can advocate for additional focus on mitigating domestic violence during disasters.
Domestic violence professionals can participate in activities before a disaster to better prepare individuals, families, organizations and communities to respond if a disaster occurs. One strategy could be to increase domestic violence awareness and training by working with local, state and federal emergency management professionals who can train responders to assist victims of domestic violence.
The study appears in Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work. (ANI)