Natural disasters like the current bushfires in Australia leave devastation in their wake for months and years. Communities and individuals can be grappling with grief, loss and trauma, and may also experience homelessness and unemployment. Unfortunately, these environments can also increase incidents of domestic or family violence.
Research and anecdotal evidence has shown that additional stress, trauma, financial pressure, disruption and dangerous environments can impact already volatile intimate partner and family relationships. Whatever is happening in a home or community before a disaster can become magnified, and those at risk of domestic or family violence can become more vulnerable.
Those in an already abusive relationship may experience increased risk to an already volatile situation. This may include being denied or not having access to survival essentials such as transport options, finances, important documents and even food and water.
While reported incidents show an increase of violence against women and children, anyone can be impacted and the risks are different for different people.
Women, children, those with a disability and primary carers can experience a lack of autonomy in decision making, such as deciding to leave and exclusion from disaster planning. Everyone has the right to have a say in their own safety, and having this taken away can mean being forced to take unnecessary risks.
Those who have left abusive relationships can also experience higher risks. A key concern is being brought back into contact with a violent ex partner at an evacuation centre or shelter. Domestic violence recovery plans are disrupted, as was the experience of one woman following the 2015 Louisiana floods.
Options for accommodation can be limited, and they may have no other option than to return to their abuser. They may also find that usual support networks of friends and family are unavailable or find themselves unequipped to deal with supporting someone impacted by abuse. Many have their own recovery from disaster to contend with.