Edited Version of June 3, 1998
EIIP Virtual Library Online Presentation

Battered Women in Disaster: A Case Study of Gendered Vulnerability

Special Presentation

Dr. Elaine Enarson
Visiting Scholar, Disaster Preparedness Resources Centre, University of British Columbia, Canada.

The original transcript of the June 3, 1998 online Virtual Library presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussion, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning. Related questions and discussion that occurred in the Virtual Forum session immediately following the 1-hour formal presentation are included in the edited transcript.

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Library! Before I introduce our guest today, would like to remind everyone of how we conduct our online sessions. First of all, our speaker has a couple of slides to illustrate points from her paper.

When a full URL is typed in the message area, it becomes a hot link, so you can just click on it, and a webpage will display in another browser window. When we open the floor for Q&A, please type in a question mark (?) to indicate you have a question for the speaker; type up your question while you wait to be recognized. When you are recognized, please submit your question. If we run out of time and your question is not addressed, we will have a few minutes after the formal Virtual Library session when we will all move to the Virtual Forum. You can ask your question then.


It is my honor to introduce our guest author today --- Elaine Enarson, Visiting Scholar, Disaster Preparedness Resources Centre, University of British Columbia. Elaine is presenting her paper, "Battered Women in Disaster: A Case Study of Gendered Vulnerability". Elaine, we are very happy to have you with us today in the Virtual Library. The floor is yours, Elaine.

Elaine Enarson: Thanks so much. I am still having just a bit of trouble on my end but will begin in a second.

Avagene Moore: We will be patient, Elaine.


Elaine Enarson: Domestic violence in disaster contexts is not a topic often put forward so I especially appreciate this opportunity. I would like to provide some background to the topic first and then describe a few projects I have been involved with. Most of my presentation will relate to a recent study I conducted in the US and Canada about preparedness and response in domestic violence programs.

First, I have posted a gender and disaster bibliography to indicate the range of work now available that analyzes gender relations as a factor in human and social impact and response to disaster.

Why violence? Why women? When we untangle the roots of vulnerability to disaster, one of the most neglected dimensions is gender. Power based on gender does not always but generally disadvantages women (and some more than others) in their relative access to key survival resources.

My focus here is on domestic violence against women, which of course is part of a larger complex of family violence including the abuse of elders and children. In my view, we are woefully ignorant of the extent or nature of violence in the aftermath of disaster and therefore not yet able to fully respond to post-disaster needs through long-term recovery.

We need a sustained national research initiative to investigate the incidence over time of violence of all kinds in the wake of disaster. For women forced back into violent relationships or put in hospitals by violent partners while they struggle to get back on their feet after a major flood or hurricane, the concept of the "therapeutic community" makes little sense.

I'll start with the words of battered women themselves. "He really went crazy. Before, I would get beat up maybe once a month if I was lucky. Afterward, it was like every other day...I ran across a lot of women suffering, too, with their children--husbands beating them up and leaving them. It was pretty bad."

Betty Morrow and I met this young woman at the shelter when we investigated women's experiences after Hurricane Andrew. Others participating in the focus group session in that shelter included a young woman who had followed her construction-worker partner to Miami and lived many months with him in a tent.

Are these isolated voices? Does violence against women increase against women after disaster? Is it caused by the social effects of the disaster? Does violence erupt in previously non-violent relationships or violent relationships become more violent or both?

Avagene Moore: Folks, I think you can see something of the nature of this problem. Ask Elaine any question.

David Seabrook: Elaine, thank you for stimulating my thinking on this topic. I'll look forward to reading your work.

Elaine Enarson: Let me tell you a bit about the study I conducted of domestic violence programs in the US and Canada. It was funded, I should say, by two grassroots women's organizations in Canada. I wanted to contribute the voices of those serving battered women through disasters and after to learn what the issues were and how well prepared they were.

The study included a core group of 77 programs, located first through a closed-question mail survey to all coalitions in the provinces/states and then through follow-up phone interviews with disaster-impacted programs.

I found, of course, a huge range of experience. Many programs had no disaster experience, others had a sense of local hazards but no direct experience, and a core group of 13 had experienced the effects of a major community disaster. These included programs in areas hit by hurricanes Andrew and Iniki, floods in Quebec, Missisouri, and North Dakota, and the Northridge earthquake.


Chip Hines: There has long been a perception that people become more noble in emergencies. Does your research suggest the opposite, especially for people with domestic violence tendencies?

Elaine Enarson: It's a complicated question. Domestic violence may increase, along with other forms of interpersonal violence, but at different points in the disaster cycle. So the "therapeutic community" may operate at some point in time but, for women in volatile relationships, the concept may not mean much, especially in the lengthy recovery period.


Ron Brittan: Is it that already marginal relationships are thrown over the brink with the additional stressor of a disaster?

Kim Shoaf: Unfortunately, we don't have enough data to know whether or not any violence increases following a disaster. However, I agree for those who are in a violent situation, the disaster adds extra stress. The community based data that we have suggests that there is not an increase in violent events following a disaster.

Elaine Enarson: Again, we don't have the data to answer that question. In the severely impacted programs I spoke of above, many responses referred to more intense case management with existing clients. But they also respond to new referrals, for example, from Disaster Assistance Centers (DACs).

Let me just add a bit about the findings of the study and then return to the point. In the severely impacted programs, where housing loss was severe and major community infrastructure was disrupted, the programs reported increases in service demand --- ie., more crisis calls, more requests for tpos, more referrals from emergency rooms.

Paradoxically, they also report reduced resources such as funding, staff time, volunteers, space, equipment, etc. In fact, as in the case of North Dakota where I spent considerable time, the United Way told domestic violence programs to expect reduction in grants as they were redirecting funds to "disaster relief." This of course prompted crisis workers there to wonder what their own work was all about.


Elaine Enarson: The fact sheet I've uploaded sums up the data I'm aware of on the subject of increasing incidence. Most of it is based on field reports from agencies or is anecdotal. I emphasize that we need to know more. Kim, what were your findings? Where?

Kim Shoaf: It may be that going to a DAC (or other disaster services) is a "safe" way to access the system for women that were afraid to access it before the disaster.

Elaine Enarson: While we get back to Kim, let me add that there are unique issues facing programs trying to respond to women at risk of violence. Identified evacuation sites, for example, may well not be safe space for women in hiding.

There is reportedly a need for more continuity in counseling for those women already in the system, though programs may be most disrupted when this continuity is most needed. They also need assistance working through the disaster relief process and accessing recovery resources of all kinds, especially safe and affordable housing.

It is ironic, of course, that we have guidelines in place to address the needs of endangered animals and plants but have failed to date to learn how this especially vulnerable group of residents can be helped.

To return to the study for a moment, I was encouraged to find quite a high degree of interest among the programs in increasing their disaster readiness.

Kim Shoaf: Our data is a community survey of Los Angeles residents following Northridge. We asked a series of questions about all kinds of violent events including rape, assault and other terrifying events in the past year. Preliminary analyses suggest that there was no difference in rates of events prior to and after the earthquake.

At the same time, the existing levels of preparedness are pretty low. Many reported having extra supplies in place or conducting evacuation drills, but these referred mainly to fire drills. Battered women's shelters need to be doing much more and they need the help of emergency planners to do it.


David Crews: Is FEMA updating their training materials on special need to address this problem?

Elaine Enarson: David, not to my knowledge. I have written the guidelines posted here to help us along our way. One set of guidelines is addressed primarily to shelter-providing programs and points out the need for planning in a number of areas. My position is that the process of planning is important even if there is only a plan filed under 'forget it.'

David Crews: Would suggest that the EMI staff might be interested in the special needs training area.

Elaine Enarson: And I do think the state and provincial coalitions or umbrella organizations have a key role to play here, both in modeling preparedness in their own agencies and in securing funding for this additional work. Domestic Violence programs are typically grassroots women's groups without extra resources to take on emergency preparedness.


Isabel McCurdy: Who is "actually" accountable to ensure that alternate safe shelters are in place? Government?

Elaine Enarson: Isabel, to my knowledge there is no accountability in place which is part of the problem. Domestic Violence staff have rarely thought through the problem about where evacuated women in their shelters can safely go and emergency planners have rarely considered safety issues.

I would like to see telecommunications and alternate evacuation space become priorities in emergency planning at the local level. I also suggest, in the second set of guidelines, how shelters, coalitions, and emergency practitioners can work together --- I see a 3-legged stool model here --- to identify and address these needs. But it begins with communication and mutual recognition. Women are rarely at the table when local disaster decisions are taken and mitigation strategies identified.

We need to look at changing that if we want to draw on the expertise of domestic violence staff --- and staff and volunteers in other women's services serving especially vulnerable populations, like immigrant women or women with disabilities.

Kim Shoaf: Except in Los Angeles where all of our disaster response leaders are women.

Isabel McCurdy: I think the problem in Canada is that disaster planning is a new issue, Elaine.

Avagene Moore: (To our audience: If you have not read / downloaded Elaine's paper and other background materials, I highly recommend you do so. There is much that Elaine did not get to cover due to technical problems.)

Elaine Enarson: I am thinking of a different population. Certainly, there is a rising proportion of women in emergency management, but it remains the case in the US and other countries like it that grassroots women's organizations are not regularly a part of community-based planning. I am working with domestic violence programs because the needs are so pressing and because the programs have much to offer emergency planners. But the point is to include all women's services working with vulnerable groups.


Amy Sebring: I find that emergency management is still largely positioned in Police and Fire Departments and the attitude there is a reluctance to become involved with 'social services' although you would expect Police Departments to have a lot of domestic violence experience. Do you think this may have an impact, Elaine?

Elaine Enarson: I think this is a natural point of interface --- victim's services units in police departments. We said this in a recent conference in British Columbia. This was a 2--day event that brought together women emergency managers and volunteer responders with a large group of women's services staff. There were many points of difference but lots of fruitful dialogue. Isabel, would you like to chime in here?

I would also add that in the study I found rural areas best able to integrate emergency planning and outreach to vulnerable populations like battered women, either on the basis of personal relationships (ie., the domestic violence coordinator being married to the police chief) or, in another area, the local First Nations banks taking an active role in planning and being very open to working with women on violence issues.

Final Question:

Chip Hines: Does the gender of the emergency responder have an impact on the willingness of battered women to report in emergencies?

Elaine Enarson: Chip, there's another good question and a very researchable proposition. In disaster contexts I think the larger issue is disrupted reporting channels --- roads and courts closed, phones down, police busy. And this study found most violence occurring well after the immediate crisis too, as long as one year later. But in other contexts we know having women on board does matter. We need training for all regardless of gender. This is true for disaster mental health outreach workers. Disaster Violence coalitions could take a lead role here.

Before we close I'd like to apologize again for the problems I had. Naturally, all went well when we practiced before I'll just upload the written presentation for anyone interested in seeing it.

Avagene Moore: Our time is up for today's Virtual Library presentation. Thank you, Elaine, for presenting your paper and sharing this aspect of disaster concern with all of us. Thanks to you, the audience, also. We invite you back to the Virtual Forum whenever you have an opportunity.

Tomorrow night, Thursday, June 4, 8:00 PM EDT, the informal Round Table discussion will be led by Millie Workman about the Memphis Business Emergency Preparedness Council. The BEPC is a partnership of business, industry, and government to ensure disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Thanks to all. Let's move to the Virtual Forum. We can talk with Elaine there.

Break: Further Discussions and Questions in the Virtual Room.

After additional expressions to Dr. Elaine Enarson, a few participants stayed for a few minutes with additional comments and discussion related to the library presentation; the following are excerpts that convey additional information about "Battered Women in disaster: A Case Study of Gendered Vulnerability".

Avagene Moore: Elaine, you are a trooper! Sorry you had such problems. However, you made excellent points. Very good. I hope this awakens some of us to the problem.

Amy Sebring: Pretty good on your feet, Elaine. Sorry you had problems. I still have the file and will upload with the background material.

Chip Hines: Thanks, A great and interesting topic! I hope we do get the full presentation in the transcripts.

Elaine Enarson: Thanks, Chip. I was glad to see you there.

Ron Brittan: Thank you Elaine. You did great.

Elaine Enarson: Well, Avagene and Amy, thanks very much for including me and for all your work on this project.

Isabel McCurdy: You were super, Elaine. Technology does present its glitches.

Amy Sebring: Let's put up the address of the website: http://www.fiu.edu/orgs/IHC/gender/

Elaine Enarson: Thanks for being there, Ron. Sorry it was so rushed --- well, it felt rushed on my end anyway.

Avagene Moore: This is a topic that needs discussing and awareness. I think we need to do more to promote a dialogue among the emergency management community on this and other topics.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Elaine for all the work you put into it. Also sorry for your difficulty, but you winged it fine. I have to run. Bye all and thanks for being here.

Avagene Moore: This isn't a science, Elaine. Thanks for taking on this effort for us.

Elaine Enarson: Betty Morrow and I hope to put together a handbook geared to practitioners raising this, among many other issues.

Chip Hines: I agree. Technology doesn’t always work the way we would like it to, but I did hear a lot about a subject that I know nothing about. You did get your message across to the audience.

Avagene Moore: I would like to get a discussion group going on gender issues. This is a fairly new topic to some of us. It is not something normally shared in workshops and conferences re: emergency management.

Isabel McCurdy: Excellent idea Avagene.

Avagene Moore: One good reason we need to be coordinating and sharing info with human resources, folks.

Pat Morris: Sorry I haven't responded much. I got called away from my desk. I'm looking forward to reading your paper, Elaine. Betty Morrow suggested that I log on today. You're doing great work!

Carla Goldberg: What types of topics did you have in mind?

Avagene Moore: We are discussing gender and disaster issues, Carla. I think a lot of people don't think such a thing exists re: disasters.

Elaine Enarson: That was what was so exciting about the British Columbia conference. But there is still a lot of resistance to bringing up gender issues.

Isabel McCurdy: One of the problems encountered was the lack of male participation.

Chip Hines: And I think that training disaster responders in sensitivity issues and in what to look out for could help.

Elaine Enarson: The book of readings Betty and I did will be interesting reading to a lot of folks, I think, if we can just get it out there. It's a real mix of voices from around the world.

Avagene Moore: Yes, I understand that Louise Comfort is collaborating with someone on a book on the topic.

Elaine Enarson: Wow, I didn't know Louise was working on this also. I'll be in touch with her about it. Alice Fothergill's work in Grand Forks will also be good.

Avagene Moore: Elaine, are there any formal proceedings from the British Columbia conference?

Elaine Enarson: Ah, the proceedings --- they sit on my computer as we speak. I hope to have them off to the Justice Institute, which will distribute them, within a week. They'll be about 50 pages and cover most, but not all, the talks. Good recommendations, too.

Avagene Moore: Where/how are they available?

Isabel McCurdy: Look forward to receiving the information, Elaine.

Elaine Enarson: The proceedings may be out in a month and I imagine the JI (Justice Institute) will charge, but hopefully not much.

Pat Morris: At InterAction, we will be launching in a month or so a list serv for our members called Gender Interact. It will serve as a kind of peer learning forum. One of the major questions we will focus on is the integration of gender into disaster and refugee assistance.

Avagene Moore: This is all interesting information that we can promote as well as the Gender Disaster Network and other sources.

Elaine Enarson: Let's see how the Interact forum comes together. Could be a good model for us. The current Gender and Disaster Network hasn't inspired much communication. One of the recommendations from the British Columbia conference was also for a web site, so people see it as a real need.

Avagene Moore: I think we have heard at least 4 potential sources for such an interactive discussion.

Elaine Enarson: Pat, InterAction's material is so good. I really appreciated receiving proceedings from your last conference. Ours are more informal.

Avagene Moore: Pat, how does one participate in your listserv?

Pat Morris: We will send out invitations for people to sign in. Let me get your contact information and we can promote the listserveto your contacts.

Isabel McCurdy: Pat, I'm also interested in receiving the proceedings from your conference.

Elaine Enarson: I'm concerned to engage more men in this dialogue, too. Apparently the words, "women in disaster", in our conference title were a deterrent --- though I suggest that "seniors in disaster" wouldn't deter all those under 65.

Avagene Moore: We had good male participation today, Elaine. About a 50-50 split, I think.

Elaine Enarson: Yes, I was pleased to see that.

Avagene Moore: We still have 4 gentlemen with us at the moment. This is an educational process for this topic as well as others.

Pat Morris: One of the things we realized at our Forum was the similarity in domestic and international disaster assistance (thanks to Betty). We would like to facilitate interaction between professionals on the two fronts.

Avagene Moore: Good idea, Pat. The EIIP Virtual Forum will help anyway we can.

Pat Morris: What's your e-mail Isabel? Also we would like to get some ideas and strategies on how to get more men in the field engaged in gender issues.

Isabel McCurdy: My e-mail is <[email protected]>

Elaine Enarson: This is so important. A lot of my work these days I see as "translating," first from disaster sociology to a lay audience and also from international relief and development theory and practice to our own situation in "developed" nations.

David Crews: I think the problem could be partially solve through training to raise the level of awareness. There are many requirements that go unsatisfied because they have not been identified. I believe emergency managers would respond to this special needs if training materials identified this subject to be included in the planning arena.

Avagene Moore: One of the things we have been doing is taking some of our transcripts and making newsletter and magazine articles from them to get the word out on topics we feel are eye-openers.

Elaine Enarson: There are three male contributors to our book, each with strong articles ---Robert Bolin, Ray Wiest, and Joe Scanlon. Good stuff.

Avagene Moore: Ron, AK, Chip -- any ideas on male participation?

Elaine Enarson: Avagene, I'd be happy to work with you on something like that. I've always wanted to free up some time to do writing in popular magazines too, e.g., Ms, etc.

Avagene Moore: That is the kind of offer the EIIP needs, Elaine. Let's do it.

Elaine Enarson: For one of the talks I did at the conference I put together an overhead on gender issues for men in disaster contexts, from the need for support services like child care for single fathers to non-traditional job opportunities and male-friendly mental health services.

Pat Morris: I'd love to see that overhead, Elaine!

Elaine Enarson: As the mother of two teenaged boys, masculinity is a subject near and dear. Pat, it's in the proceedings but I can also zap it to you. Your email?

Pat Morris: My e-mail is <[email protected]>

Avagene Moore: The gender topic is wide open, I would say, Elaine. No comments, guys?

Chip Hines: Well, I think first and foremost we need to increase awareness of this issue. I also think that providing information on where and how men can participate would be important.

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Chip.

Avagene Moore: Elaine, Pat, and all -- how about we do Round Table discussion on gender issues in July? Thursday nights, 8 PM EDT? This needs to be discussed in broader context.

Isabel McCurdy: Great idea.

Elaine Enarson: The other important piece here is funding. Long-term recovery issues, for example, aren't high on the list with anyone and gender, even less so. I've dreamed of funding for a 5-year national research agenda to set out and try to answer a set of key questions. But who would fund?

Pat Morris: Sounds good!

Chip Hines: The things I have heard here today go a long way in this regard. Making listserv participation available, the website referred to earlier, etc. are all great. I'd like to see the information consolidated somehow.

Elaine Enarson: May be out camping, but if not I will certainly be there.

David Crews: Must go to an appointment. Stimulating information and a great presentation! Bye all.

Avagene Moore: Bye David. How about we all agree to share information, events, and URLs, etc. until we get a good steady discussion going. It will require support from each of us and others; interested?

Elaine Enarson: The handbook Betty Morrow and I hope to do would be geared to "women, men and families" precisely to bring together this material and focus on gender relations in the lives to both women and men.

Pat Morris: Mellon has been funding work on refugee and migration affairs, perhaps a link can be made that would interest them in funding your project, Elaine.

Elaine Enarson: Good idea, Pat. Thanks.

Isabel McCurdy: Who / what is Mellon, Pat?

Pat Morris: The Mellon Foundation.

Chip Hines: Sorry all, but I have to run for another appointment. Thanks -- it was a great discussion!

Avagene Moore: Thanks Chip. Sounds like networking as usual is the key to making things happen.

Pat Morris: I have to run too. I'll be in touch via e-mail. Cheers!

Elaine Enarson: Me too--must run and get back to those wretched proceedings. It was great!

Avagene Moore: Thanks, Pat. Thanks, Elaine.