Conducted by Victorian researchers Claire Zara and Debra Parkinson, the two-year study found 16 of the 29 women interviewed had been subjected to violence from their partners after the horrific 2009 bushfires. They found that nine of the 16 women had been in previously stable, non-violent relationships, and for another six women the abuse was a sharp escalation of isolated and long past incidents. The research, done through Women’s Health Goulburn North East, which services Black Saturday affected areas in rural Victoria, also found that overwhelmed emergency services were “blind” to the problem and were distracted dealing with communities that had lost 173 people and 2029 homes. The research will be released at Australia’s first conference on domestic violence and natural disasters to be held in March, titled “Identifying the Hidden Disaster.” The conference will hear there was a 50 per cent rise in police call-outs to domestic violence incidents in the wake of last year’s Christchurch earthquake.
This study raises the question of whether increased domestic violence is likely to occur in various types of disasters and in various contexts. And might it also involve increased abuse toward children, the elderly, and other less empowered people?
This study is an important alert to disaster response programs.