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Tuesday’s with Prevention: SV & Natural Disasters

In Sexual Assault Awareness on May 3, 2011 at 9:58 am

By now you’re all aware of the devastating storms that have wreaked havoc on the South recently. Storms like these seem to be more and more common in recent years, but that may just be an effect of our poor collective memories combined with the nature of weather patterns. Some say it’s global warming, some say it’s…whatever. That’s not what RCASA does. What often goes unspoken following disasters is the violence. We all no doubt remember the reports of looting and violence following Hurricane Katrina. What we may not recall is the level of sexual violence that occurred in New Orleans, Mississippi, Houston, and other areas victims landed.

Sexual assault rates following disasters are astronomical. In New Orleans displaced communities were housed in the Superdome, Shelters, and other places after the flooding. These victims faced a vulnerability resulting not only from the trauma of the storm, but also from the simple nature of their surroundings; away from home (their safe place), in a hot sticky and dirty place, surrounded by (sometimes) thousands of people.

The official count of the number of sexual assaults is four. Agencies in localities where New Orleans residents were displaced saw an increase in the number of victims served. “Concerned over unreported and underreported rapes, her organization, together with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center — which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — created a national database to track sexual assaults that happened after Katrina. In the six weeks since the Web site has been up, with almost no publicity, it has received 42 reports of sexual assaults.

A spokesperson with the Resource Center said the number is steadily growing. Already, these preliminary cases show a high number of gang rapes and rapes by strangers, both unusual characteristics. The 42 reports include assaults that happened inside New Orleans and outside the city, for instance, in host homes.

Another group, Witness Justice, a Maryland-based non-profit that assists victims of violent crimes, claims to have received 156 reports of post-Katrina violent crimes; about a third of those involved sexual assaults.”[1]

With these new storms, it is important that we recognize the potential for further trauma, especially to women and children. Steps in disaster related sexual and domestic assault recommended by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center are: Organizations and communities need to develop plans prior to a disaster’s occurrence. Having set plans in place makes the chaos following a disaster much more manageable, in all aspects of disaster response. This means setting up policies and procedures, dealing with protection, immediate response, as well as methods to ensure consequence, as well as set up authority figures responsible for management. Relationships between organizations is also necessary. This means not only organizations like the Red Cross, but homeless shelters, sexual assault agencies, domestic violence agencies, food banks, mental health organizations. The community suffers as a result of natural disasters. The community also suffers as a result of sexual and intimate partner violence. It is critical that these connections be made.

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