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Understanding the Impact of Disasters on Domestic Violence

Natural Disasters and Gender-Based Violence

There is a direct link between disasters and gender-based violence. External factors that add stress and financial strain negatively impact survivors and create circumstances where their safety is further compromised. Their environments become more dangerous and isolation increases as support and local services are overwhelmed. Natural disasters do not cause domestic violence, but the physical, mental, and socioeconomic effects of disaster can escalate abusive tactics. Abuse is about power and control, an abuser can use any tool to exert control over their victim, including a natural disaster.

In May 2023, the Biden Administration released a U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) with seven pillars of strategies for action. Emergency Preparedness and Crisis Response is the sixth pillar of the plan with goals to:

  • Address GBV and associated risks in federal emergency response and recovery efforts. 

  • Update training programs for first responders that address crisis-or disaster related GBV and trauma-informed care for GBV survivors. 

  • Deepen the research base on the links between climate-related disasters and heightened risk for GBV, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved populations.

Understanding the Connection

Across the globe, we have witnessed a trend of increased domestic and sexual violence reports after natural disasters occur. Experiences of violence after disasters appear to be gendered, in that women and gender expansive individuals experience increased rates of violence when compared to men.

  • After Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017, domestic violence providers saw a 62% increase in requests for survivor related services and a 47% surge in requests for violence prevention and education resources.
  • There was an increase from 33.6% to 45.2% victimization rate for women and 36.7% to 43.1% for men after experiencing Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline from Gulf Coast states increased 13% to 21% in Louisiana.
  • Almost a third of sexual assaults reported during Hurricane Rita in 2005 within New Orleans, took place at evacuation shelters. 


  • Gonzalez-Ramirez, 2018
  • Bell & Folkerth, 2015
  • Schumacher et al., 2010
  • Lauve-Moon & Ferreira, 2017
  • North, 2017
  • Buttell & Carney, 2009; Harville, Taylo, Tesfai, Xiong, & Buekens; Schumacher et al., 2010
  • Campbell et al., 2016

Disaster Impacts on Survivors of Domestic Violence

Impact on Survivors: 

  • Survivors and their children are more vulnerable to violence due the focus on providing first response to disaster, then to competition for limited resources and infrastructure and the overall need for survival.
  • Families affected by interpersonal violence face additional trauma due to forced displacement and exposure to adverse effects (e.g. flooding, mass destruction).
  • DV survivors often suffer from re-traumatization or re-victimization following a disaster.  Many issues faced post-disaster are similar to leaving a DV relationship such as decrease in wages, loss of support systems, reduced transportation, and lost childcare.  (For example, two-thirds of New Orleans childcare was lost for two years post-Hurricane Katrina.)
  • Some survivors may be forced to flee and evacuate to the same shelters as abusive partners.

Impact on Domestic Violence Service Providers:

  • Staff of DV programs and their survivors may be facing the same needs such as housing, transportation, immigration, adjustment of insurance claims, and community outreach.
  • Staff may report burnout and trauma following a community disaster.
  • Organizational infrastructure may also be damaged that limits their ability to perform services for survivors.
  • There may be an increased need for protection orders but depending on courthouse and law enforcement operations, some operations may change as a result of natural disaster damage.  Programs and advocates must be in contact with judiciary officials and be up-to-date on legal procedures.


  • American Counseling Association, 2020
  • Texas Council on Family Violence, 2019

The Barriers for Survivors in Disaster

  • Domestic violence WILL continue post-disaster and may escalate.
  • Social networks that provide support are disrupted or destroyed.
  • Local providers will be challenged to respond.
  • There is lack of privacy to talk and speak out for help.
  • Isolation is increased.
  • Language barriers to accessing essential and DV specific services. 
  • Having pets can also serve as a barrier for survivors to leave the home, some shelters don’t allow pets. 
  • Confidentiality and privacy breach: For example, (even with the best of intentions) trying to locate individuals with a goal to reunite families by publicly displaying someone’s name and location may not be helpful for survivors whose safety may be threatened once their name and location is outsourced. 
  • Lack of access to protective orders. 
  • Lack of access to trauma informed counselors.
  • Lack of immediate and long-term housing.
  • Limited and complex transportation systems.
  • Lack of access to childcare.


“Domestic Violence Advocacy: A Disaster Response”

Authors: Melissa Kaufmann, Volunteer and Training Manager – National Domestic Violence Hotline. Michelle Emery, Training Specialist – National Domestic Violence Hotline