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Chapter VIII.
Domestic Violence and Hurricane Katrina
Pamela Jenkins and Brenda Phillips
The city of New Orleans is experiencing
the long term aftermath of the most
devastating natural and man-made disaster
in the history of the United States.1 Victims
and survivors of domestic violence, as
well as the personnel and infrastructure
developed to protect them, have been
seriously affected by this storm.
Domestic Violence and Disasters
The rate of domestic violence nationwide
has been established in various research
studies. A Bureau of Justice Statistics
report of May 2000, using data from the
National Violence Against Women Survey
(NVAWS), predicts 7.5 per 1000 women
are victimized by intimate partner vio-
lence, and 1.5 per 1000 men. However, the
rates rise for urban areas to 10 per 1000
women.2 A report issued by the National
Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
based on the NVAW Survey of November
2000, nds a higher rate of victimiza-
tion. Further, research from NIJ, “When
Violence Hits Home: How Economics and
Neighborhood Play a Role” indicates that
intimate partner violence is more likely
and more severe in households that are
economically distresseda circumstance
more likely to be present in post-Katrina
New Orleans neighborhoods as even the
comfortably middle-class face new eco-
nomic hardships.3 Generally, intimate vio-
lence victims with the least resources rely
most consistently on community services
and the justice system for assistance. These
numbers reect non-disaster conditions.
However, research shows that an event the
magnitude of Hurricane Katrina and its
aftermath will increase the rate of violence
over time. Specically, disasters create
conditions where violence may emerge as
a strategy.4
Disasters produce widespread psycho-
logical distress, physical health problems,
social disruptions among the general popu-
lation, and psychological disorders among
some individuals as reported by Overstreet
and Burch in this report.5 Individuals who
had trouble coping before a disaster are
more susceptible to stress and maladaptive
coping strategies in response to disaster.
The pandemic quality of Katrina has the
potential to affect a wide-range of indi-
viduals and families.6
Although the research on the
relationship between disasters and
domestic violence is limited, there is some
indication that domestic violence increases
during a disaster.7 For example, following
the Missouri oods of 1993, the average
state turn-away rate of domestic violence
victims at shelters rose 111 percent over
the preceding year. The nal report notes
that these programs eventually sheltered
400 percent more ood-impacted women
and children than anticipated. After
Hurricane Andrew in Miami, spousal
abuse calls to the local community helpline
increased by 50 percent, and over one-third
of the 1400 surveyed residents reported
that someone in their home had lost verbal
or physical control in the two months since
the hurricane. What is important to note
about these events is that the displacement
of individuals and families over a long
period of time was limited. While people
lost their homes and livelihoods, none of
these disasters resulted in the complete
displacement of the population or total
destruction of an area.
Before the Storm
Before Hurricane Katrina, domestic
violence programs and services in New
Orleans were enhanced by nearly a decade
of federal funding and local organizing
66
made possible through the Violence
Against Women Act (VAWA) and the
supporting Grants to Encourage Arrest
Policies and Enforcement of Protective
Orders Program. With this support, the
community of domestic violence scholars,
activists, responders, and providers
made signicant progress in making
social services available for victims and
developing a criminal/civil legal system
responsive to domestic violence.8
Some signicant markers included
creation of a domestic violence detective
unit that placed ofcers in each of New
Orleans’ eight police districts. This contrib-
uted to a decrease in the number of domes-
tic violence homicides from 27 in 1997
to 8 in 2003; an increase in the percent of
domestic violence arrests resulting from
the domestic violence calls for service from
14.7 percent in 1997 to 31.8 percent in the
rst half of 2005; and to an increase in the
number of arrests for violations of protec-
tive orders from 4 in 1997 to 150 in 2004.
Other efforts led to the successful develop-
ment, and continuing involvement, of the
Domestic Violence Monitoring Court in
the magistrate Section of Criminal District
Court. In the rst six months of 2005, 97
new cases were opened. Finally, there was
an increase in Protective Orders across
Orleans Parish as the courts worked more
closely together. A total of 2,656 orders
were sent to the state’s Protective Order
Registry in the rst six months of 2005.9
After the Storm and Changes in
Domestic Violence Services
In post-Katrina New Orleans, women’s
safety has taken on complex dimensions.
Immediately after the storm, victims of
domestic violence faced the same issues
as many others in the community, includ-
ing: shortage of housing, and transporta-
tion; limited access to health care; loss of
neighborhood and community; loss of jobs;
loss of informal support systems; isola-
tion in some neighborhoods and crowding
in other living situations. But all those
concerns were intensied by the threat,
and experience of violence. Relief mon-
ies, either through federal or other agency
sources, often complicated the picture for
victims of domestic violence. For some,
the funds allowed them to leave their
abusive partner and nd a new home, away
from New Orleans. Others have remained
with their partners because they were not
considered eligible for funds on their own.
Many of the resources were designated for
the “head of household,” and assumed the
head to be male, thereby placing control
and decision-making over funds in men’s
hands. As the storm evacuation occurred
on a week-end, regularly scheduled week-
end visitations of children with non-cus-
todial parents sometimes interfered with
custody arrangements. In these instances,
victims of domestic violence have had
to re-engage communication with their
former partners and take part in a com-
plicated legal process to regain custody
of their children. These and other factors
impacting the lives of domestic violence
victims post-Katrina bring focused mean-
ing to Pagelow’s model on women’s safety.
Pagelow’s model emphasizes that it is not
a woman acting alone that produces her
safety, but rather her social context that
increases or decreases her safety.10
Community Response
At a time when women’s freedom from
domestic violence depended most heavily
on legal and social services, every aspect
of the New Orleans criminal/civil legal
system was disrupted and slowed by the
displacement of personnel and by dam-
age to the physical structures, courtrooms
and ofces.11 Many ofces of the criminal
justice system were destroyed or temporar-
ily re-located to other buildings, or even
other cities. Three years later, some of the
physical damage remains and estimates of
the time to repair vary greatly. The rebuild-
ing of this system continues as personnel
return, courts reopen and police stations
undergo repair.
Immediately after the
storm, victims of domestic
violence faced the same
issues as many others in
the community, including:
shortage of housing and
transportation; limited
access to health care; loss of
neighborhood and community;
loss of jobs; loss of informal
support systems; isolation
in some neighborhoods and
crowding in other living
situations. But all those
concerns were intensied by
the threat, and experience of
violence.
67
The status of social service agencies
reects much the same pattern. Physical
structures were damaged and in some cases
destroyed. The Young Women’s Christian
Association (YWCA) in New Orleans was
completely ooded. The YWCA’s Battered
Women’s Program has failed to reopen,
and there are no immediate plans for its
reestablishment, leaving a tremendous void
in services. Catholic Charities’ Crescent
House, a domestic violence shelter located
in Orleans Parish, lost one building to re
after the ood. Domestic violence service
providers as well as survivors evacu-
ated to locations throughout the state and
the country. As staff members began to
return and programs began to stabilize,
new models for contacting and support-
ing victims were put in place. Throughout
the state, domestic violence programs
used this opportunity to re-think services
and to engage in a different kind of out-
reach: visiting public emergency shelters,
networking with local public resources,
and making service information available
through a broad array of venues. Crescent
House is one of the programs that did
extensive outreach into the community. In
the early months, FEMA set up a service
center at the local FEMA facility and
Crescent House staff members were avail-
able every day that the facility was open.
Almost immediately after the storm, the
New Orleans Mayor’s Domestic Violence
Advisory Council (DVAC) resumed meet-
ing. This group of individuals and agency
representativeswho had met together
for more than 14 yearsinitiated a needs
assessment. At each meeting, reports by
members illuminated the changing land-
scape for survivors of domestic violence.
Summaries of those reports attest to the
community’s commitment to the restora-
tion of personnel and services; and point to
a continuing need for additional services
despite a reduction in the population of the
city.12
Below is a summary of some of the
important work carried out by the non-
prot organizations in New Orleans as well
as by the city and state governmental ofc-
es to assist victims of domestic violence
pre- and post- Katrina. Evident in these
accounts is the serious disruption in ser-
vices following the storm at the same time
the need for services continued to increase.
Also evident is the strong commitment to
maintain and further develop resources to
reduce the incidence of domestic violence
in New Orleans.
Domestic Violence Detective Unit:
In August 2005, there were eight domestic
violence detectives in the New Orleans
Police Department; one housed at each of
the police districts. After the storm, the
detective unit was reduced to three domes-
tic violence detectives but increased to six
in 2007. All were operating out of travel
trailers behind Crescent House until early
2008 when they moved to the recently
established New Orleans Family Justice
Center.
Protective Orders:
In 2004, the total number of protective
orders issued statewide was at an all time
high with 23,255 registered with the
Louisiana Protective Order Registry. In
2006, protective orders were down state-
wide to 18,544. A decrease in the crimi-
nal protective order category (mostly in
Orleans Parish) from 5,865 to 2,475 was
largely accountable for the drop. In 2006-
7, Orleans Parish had 3,611 and Jefferson
Parish had 3,467 domestic abuse protec-
tive orders issued by civil, criminal and
juvenile courts received by the Louisiana
Protective Order Registry (LPOR).
Crisis-Lines:
Crescent House received a total of 1,491
crisis-line calls in scal years 2006 and
2007. The Metropolitan Center for Women
and Children, located in Jefferson Parish,
received 4,570 calls for service in 2007.
68
Family Justice Center:
In the midst of the ongoing crisis of
recovery, a collaborative effort involving
DVAC, Crescent House, and other local
advocates working with the national Ofce
on Violence Against Women, opened a
unique Family Justice Center (FJC), a
one stop community program for referral
and protection of victims and survivors. A
FJC had never before been opened in the
midst of a disaster. The advocates working
together developed and implemented this
concept through a series of remarkable col-
laborative decisions. Now, three years after
Katrina, the New Orleans Family Justice
Center celebrated its one year anniversary
on August 29, 2008.
The Continuing Need for Services
In many disasters, a community will move
into a recovery phase relatively quickly. In
the aftermath of Katrina, some are begin-
ning to speak of the “long term response
and recovery” of New Orleans. As most
experts refer to the recovery in years, not
months, frustration levels rise and cop-
ing strategies diminish. Battered women
face difcult conditions: legal issues of
custody, separation, and divorce that will
become more salient at every juncture of
the criminal/civil legal system, and these
issues are worsened by the shortage of
social services.
There is concern about the tight liv-
ing conditions in FEMA trailers and other
temporary housing in relation to the rates
of intimate partner violence. In some cases,
this may lead to increased violence. In
other situations, the increased surveillance
due to closer living quarters and more
people present may mean more opportu-
nities for observation and intervention.
Often, third parties will call law enforce-
ment because they are more aware of this
situation. Other concerns focus on what
will happen when the emergency mon-
ies have run out and families move out
of temporary housing and attempt to start
over either in New Orleans or in a new
location. Over time, the inux of workers
(both immigrants and U.S. citizens) will
require services. Many of the immigrants
are Spanish-speaking; therefore, bi-lingual
services will have to be provided. The
longer response and recovery monies take
to reach individuals, the greater the oppor-
tunity for a variety of reactions, including
domestic violence.
Conclusions
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,
domestic violence survivors and advo-
cates, ranging from shelter workers to law
enforcement personnel, talked and listened
to each other. Listening to the voices of
victims in a catastrophic, post-disaster
context provides new insights into how
to make all women safer during and after
a disaster.13 What does safety mean in a
post-disaster world? While the patterns of
violence may not have changed, the social
context has. Both advocates for survivors
and the survivors of domestic violence
have experienced living and working in
crisis. This unique knowledge should be
included in any evacuation, shelter, and
long term recovery planning.
69
Endnotes
1 Quarantelli, E.L. 2005. “Catastrophes are Different from Disasters.” Retrieved June 7, 2007, from: http://understand-
ingkatrina.ssrc.org/Quarant974/.
2 Tjaden, Patricia and Toennes. 2000. “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence
Against Women: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey.” NCJ 183781. Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Justice. Ofce of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-
sum/183781.htm
3 Benson, Michael and Greer Litton Fox. 2004. “When Violence Hits Home: How Economics and Neighborhood Play
a Role, Research in Brief.” NCJ 205004. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Ofce of Justice Programs,
National Institute of Justice. <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/205004.htm>
4 Gender and Disaster Network. No date. “Women, Disaster, and Domestic Violence.” Retrieved March 1, 2008, from:
http://www.gdnonline.org/resources/Guidlines%20for%20practice.doc.
5 Erikson, Kai. 1976. Everything in its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. New York, New
York: Simon and Schuster.
6 Hartman, Chester and Gregory D. Squires. 2006. “Pre-Katrina and Post-Katrina.” In There Is No Such Thing as a
Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina. Chester Hartman and Gregory D. Squires ,eds. New York, NY:
Routledge: 1-12.
7 Gender and Disaster Network.
8 Historically, understanding survivors of domestic violence represents one of the most important collaborations among
feminist scholarship, activism, and service. This collaboration led to the passage of laws, creation of programs, and a
raised awareness of intimate partner violence. In every state and many municipalities, domestic violence is dened as a
crime, even though enforcement may remain uneven. In other words, the experiences of women that were documented
and analyzed by advocates and scholars made a difference. It was that rst set of stories that we heard as feminist
scholars—the stories that were told over and over from shelter to shelter that comprised, and to this day comprise,
much of the knowledge we have about domestic violence. (Dobash, Rebecca and Russell Dobash. 1979. Violence
against Wives. New York: The Free Press; and Dutton, Mary Ann. 1998. “Battered Women’s Strategic Response to
Violence: The Role of Context.” In Future Interventions With Battered Women and Their Families. Jeffrey L. Edleson
and Zvi Eisikovits, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications: 105-124.)
9 Compiled from monthly reports provided to the New Orleans Mayor’s Domestic Violence Advisory Committee.
10 Pagelow, Mildred. 1984. Family Violence. New York: Praeger.
11 Laska, Shirley, and Betty Hearn Morrow. 2006. “Social Vulnerabilities and Hurricane Katrina: An Unnatural Disaster
in New Orleans.” Marine Technology Society Journal 40: 7–17.
12 Schwam-Harris, Julie. 2007. Mayor’s Domestic Violence Advisory Committee Annual Report. New Orleans, LA: City
of New Orleans. See also Wiest, Raymond, Jane Mocellin and D.Thandiwe Motsisi. 1994. The Needs of Women in
Disasters and Emergencies. Report prepared for the Disaster Management Training Programme of the United Nations
Development Programme and the Ofce of the United National Disaster Relief Coordinator. Winnipeg, Canada: The
University of Manitoba Disaster Research Institute.
13 Enarson, Elaine and Brenda Phillips. 2008. “Invitation To a New Feminist Disaster Sociology: Integrating Feminist
Theory and Methods.” Chapter 2. Brenda Phillips and Betty Hearn Morrow. In Women and Disasters: From Theory to
Practice: 41-74. International Research Committee on Disaster: Xlibris.
... Displacement was estimated to be 7,000 people (Atkins, 2011, p. 4). There is very little published literature on domestic violence and disaster in the developed world (Houghton, 2009a;Jenkins & Phillips, 2008b;Sety, 2012). An overview of the literature that does exist begins this article. ...
... In countries similar to Australia, evidence reveals that domestic violence and child abuse increase in the wake of disasters (Anastario, Shehab, & Lawry, 2009;Clemens, Hietala, Rytter, Schmidt, & Reese, 1999;Enarson, 1999;Fothergill, 1999;Houghton, 2009b;Jenkins & Phillips, 2008b;Schumacher et al., 2010). ...
... This manifests in a number of ways. The organizational capacity of police, domestic violence, and community health services may be reduced as their organizations' resources, infrastructure, and staffing may have been affected by the disaster, leading to a period of no service (or reduced service) and then a queue of clients (Enarson, 1999;Jenkins & Phillips, 2008b). ...
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... In countries similar to Australia, evidence reveals that domestic violence, child abuse and divorce all increase in the wake of disasters (Anastario, Shehab, & Lawry, 2009;Clemens, Hietala, Rytter, Schmidt, & Reese, 1999;Enarson, 1999;Fothergill, 1999;Houghton, 2009b;Jenkins & Phillips, 2008b;Schumacher et al., 2010). In the United States, a 2009 study (Anastario et al., 2009) showed a four-fold increase in intimate partner violence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (Phillips, 2011). ...
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This thesis documents the first Australian research to interview women about their experiences of domestic violence after catastrophic disaster. As such research is rare in developed countries, it addresses a gap in the disaster literature. Interviews with 30 women in two shires in Victoria confirmed that domestic violence increased following the Black Saturday bushfires on 7th February, 2009. The scant research that exists internationally indicates that not only is the notion of ‘women and children first’ a myth, but that women are disproportionally affected by disasters primarily as a result of their poverty relative to men and prescribed gender roles. This research found that women experiencing increased male violence were silenced in preference of supporting suffering men – men who had been heroes in the fires or were traumatised or unemployed as a result of the disaster. The silencing was evident in the lack of statistics on domestic violence in the aftermath of Black Saturday, the neglect of this issue in recovery and reconstruction operations, and the responses to women’s reports of violence against them by legal, community and health professionals. Three broad explanations for increased domestic violence after Black Saturday are identified – drawn from empirical findings from the field and the research literature. Theoretical concepts from two disparate fields – sacrifice and male privilege – help to explain a key finding that women’s right to live free from violence is conditional. Indeed, the aftermath of Black Saturday presents Australians with the opportunity to see how deeply embedded misogyny is and how fragile our attempts to criminalise domestic violence and hold violent men accountable for their actions. The post-disaster period – characterised as it is by men in uniforms on the ground working, saving, rescuing and restoring; powerful imagery about the role of wives and mothers; increased violence by men; mandatory care-loads for women; and the suffering of good men – presents fertile ground for the fortification of male hegemony. Yet, post-disaster change does not have to be regressive, reinstating and reinforcing the traditional inequitable structure – a structure that has high costs for men and women. An emergency management response to disaster that has embedded gender equity at all levels, together with education of communities on the contribution of strict gender roles to suffering in disaster’s aftermath, could exemplify and hasten a more equal society where men’s violence against women is rare.
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Social science research on natural disasters documents how a natural hazard such as a hurricane becomes a disaster through social processes and social structures that place human populations in general, and certain segments in particular, at risk. After a description of Hurricane Katrina and its impact, we describe how patterns of land development, and the economic and political history of New Orleans, set the stage for this disaster. An overview of past research findings on the relationship between citizen vulnerability and poverty, minority status, age and disability, gender and tenancy is followed by evidence of the extent to which each risk factor was present in the pre-Katrina New Orleans population. The authors then cite evidence of how social vulnerability influenced outcomes at various stages of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, including mitigation, preparation, evacuation, storm impacts, and recovery. The concluding section discusses how the goal of disaster resilient communities cannot be reached until basic issues of inequality and social justice are addressed.
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Benson, Michael and Greer Litton Fox. 2004. "When Violence Hits Home: How Economics and Neighborhood Play a Role, Research in Brief." NCJ 205004. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. <http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/pubs-sum/205004.htm>
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Hartman, Chester and Gregory D. Squires. 2006. " Pre-Katrina and Post-Katrina. " In There Is No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster: Race, Class, and Hurricane Katrina. Chester Hartman and Gregory D. Squires,eds. New York, NY: Routledge: 1-12.
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  • See
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