Research conducted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) found that vulnerability to sexual violence increases during and following a disaster. During and after Hurricane Katrina, many people in Louisiana cities became vulnerable to a range of issues, including interpersonal and sexual violence. One of the most significant factors affecting vulnerability to violence after Katrina was the decision not to evacuate due to business ownership, physical disability, health issues, or homelessness.
- Training, experience, and protocols. Many national and local disaster response agencies do not have training, experience, or procedures for handling incidence of sexual assault following a disaster.
- Prevention and risk reduction. Emergency shelters and other facilities that offer services to disaster victims frequently do not have ways to prevent sexual violence or to create an environment that minimizes the risk of sexual violence.
- Appropriate approach. Many agencies do not have resources to guide them in a culturally considerate and holistic approach to sexual violence during disasters.
The NSVRC, in collaboration with the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, developed a planning guide for agencies that wish to prevent sexual assault and provide care for their clientele during a disaster.
"Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence in Disasters: A Planning Guide for Prevention and Response" is intended to help disaster response agencies and their partners develop procedures to address sexual violence in a disaster setting. Although its guidance and recommendations are designed for a variety of community organizations, it takes a public health approach to effect change within an organization's methods of preventing and responding to sexual violence.
The guide is divided into three phases of planning recommendations to address aspects of prevention and response before, during, and following a disaster. Recommendations often delineate between activities that can be accomplished within an organization and processes that require policy changes or involvement from outside agencies. Phases include:
- Pre-disaster planning to permit an agency to mitigate the effects of a disaster, including:
- Discussion about how to form a disaster planning oversight committee that would monitor the development and implementation of services following an emergency
- Steps to ease environmental and social vulnerabilities and injustices that may occur during a disaster, including:
- Building relationships that may be necessary if agencies need to raise funds for emergency needs
- Creating an agency evacuation plan and training staff in disaster response protocols
- Training local emergency responders in sexual violence-related issues
- Developing relationships and procedures for monitoring sexual assaults in neighboring jurisdictions during a widespread disaster
- Worksheets encouraging agencies to identify proposed partner agencies and develop activities to prepare for likely disasters
- Planning to prevent, monitor, and respond to sexual violence during a disaster, including:
- Awareness around barriers people may experience in reporting sexual assault during a disaster
- Significant discussion and recommendations around how to prevent and address sexual violence occurring in emergency shelters, including:
- Ensuring that shelters and other places to which people are evacuated have adequate communications systems in place
- Maintaining the privacy of anyone whose physical or mental status might make them more vulnerable to sexual assault
- Registering shelter employees and people who are using the shelter, and checking names against a list of registered sex offenders
- Educating parents about how to monitor children in the shelter
- Worksheets prompting agencies to create and prioritize prevention recommendations for shelters and take actions that prevent sexual violence in shelters as a permanent part of disaster response
- Recommendations for post-disaster response to sexual violence, including:
- Tackling disaster-related problems that can result in increased vulnerability to violence in the long-term, such as behavioral health effects, difficulty finding housing, and unemployment
- Seeking state and federal funding sources that may help build mental health infrastructure following a disaster
- Increasing the availability of single-family homes for displaced women and children
- Developing city-wide protocols for monitoring temporary workers and contractors who are part of the rebuilding process
- Reminding agencies of the long-term work needed to rebuild mental health infrastructure, create jobs, and make housing available
What made this practice possible?
- Funding for the project's development came from a grant awarded by the US Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women, along with a CDC cooperative agreement.
- Much of the guide's content was a direct result of public meetings held by the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, the Louisiana Children's Trust Fund, and the Louisiana Children's Justice Act. Partners held meetings in New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Ruston with community members and professionals working in sexual assault prevention, disaster response, child advocacy, law enforcement, healthcare, and sexual assault forensics. Public meetings gave professionals and community members across disciplines the chance to talk about their experiences, observations, and ideas about sexual assault prevention and response during disasters, and much of these ideas were influential in forming the guide.
- Sexual assault prevention procedures woven into response plans. Creating the guide laid the groundwork for integration of sexual assault prevention procedures into disaster response agencies' methods and programs, filling a notable gap in how agencies consider and respond to vulnerability during disasters.
- Diversity of opinions created more relevance. Holding community meetings with people from different disciplines helped to inform sexual assault prevention during disasters with a variety of opinions and ideas, from those focused on employment and housing to those advocating for safer shelters.