Why does violence escalate after disasters?

Topics: Americas, Violence, Bullying and Abuse Prevention
February 28, 2013

Why does violence escalate after disasters?

When disasters occur, it can impact more than just the landscape of a community - it can affect the safety of men, women and children living in the area.

While many people band together in the aftermath of disasters, global research shows that following emergencies there is an increase in interpersonal and self-directed violence. Interpersonal violence includes child maltreatment, domestic violence, elder abuse, violence against women and men, and bullying and harassment. Self-directed violence can be self-harm or suicide.

The role of the Canadian Red Cross
The Canadian Red Cross is a non-profit organization that strives to ensure health and safety through violence and abuse prevention programs.

By supporting communities to build protective systems, influence key decision-makers and educate young people and adults on the consequences and risks that violence can bring, the Canadian Red Cross works to enhance the safety of individuals, families and communities.

Violence in the aftermath of disasters
How frequently does violence take place after emergencies? While experiences can vary, global research shows it is a common trend. The most affected tend to be women and children because they have existing vulnerabilities before disasters. For example, in Haiti, the rates of interpersonal violence including sexual abuse rose in camps of internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince.

In one survey, 14 per cent of women and girls living in the camps reported one or more experiences with sexual abuse following the 2010 earthquake, while in another study, 70 per cent of women claimed that their fears of sexual violence were more pronounced than they had been prior to the disaster.

Overcoming violence
These trends are a significant humanitarian concern. 

Common factors that can influence the outbreak of violence after disasters includes environmental or situational conditions, the collapse of protection systems, high stress levels, a lack of violence prevention resources, and existing risks of violence. However, like the risk of other public health crises, such as diarrheal diseases, respiratory illnesses, measles, malaria and lack of nourishment which can also escalate in disasters, violence can be contained, curbed, and ultimately prevented through dedicated actions.

Helping those in need
With help from organizations like the Canadian Red Cross, people who are affected by violence can begin to rebuild and develop greater resiliency.

The Canadian Red Cross is committed to responding to emergencies and disasters wherever they strike - with the generous support of Canadians like you, the Canadian Red Cross can continue to offer services like violence prevention education that empower those in need.

To help prevent violence and make a difference today, please donate online or at your local Canadian Red Cross office.