Debra Parkinson and Claire Zara (Women’s Health Goulburn North East) report on the first Australian research to investigate post-disaster domestic violence.

This new research from Women’s Health Goulburn North East  aims to document the experiences and perceptions of workers regarding the increase of domestic violence and the accounts of women who have experienced or continue to experience violent behaviour from their partners post fires. 

TITLE: The hidden disaster: violence in the aftermath of natural disaster

ABSTRACT: In countries similar to Australia, relationship violence increases in the wake of disasters. New Zealand police reported a 53 per cent rise in domestic violence after the Canterbury earthquake. In the US, studies documented a four-fold increase following two disasters and an astounding 98 per cent increase in physical victimisation of women after Hurricane Katrina, with authors concluding there was compelling evidence that intimate partner violence increased following large-scale disasters (Schumacher, et al., 2010). Yet there is a research gap on why this happens, and how increased violence may relate to disaster experiences. Women’s Health Goulburn North East undertook the first Australian research into this phenomenon, previously overlooked in emergency planning and disaster reconstruction. Interviews with 30 women and 47 workers in Victoria after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires provided evidence of increased domestic violence, even in the absence of sound quantitative data and in a context that silenced women. Community members, police, case managers, trauma psychologists and family violence workers empathised with traumatised and suffering men—men who may have been heroes in the fires—and encouraged women to wait it out. These responses compromise the principle that women and children always have the right to live free from violence.

Debra Parkinson and Claire Zara are both workers at Women’s Health Goulburn North East and Debra Parkinson is a PhD student in the School of Political and Social Inquiry at Monash University.

Click here to access the paper.