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Storms Spur Domestic Violence

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Hurricanes can batter more than the landscape. When natural disaster strikes, domestic violence cases increase. Surrounded by tension and uncertainty, some women and children along the Gulf Coast are more at risk for abuse. But as Reed Galin reports, despite the destruction of some domestic violence shelters, there is still help available.

 
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(Locator: Baton Rouge, La.)

When Hurricane Katrina sent thousands of evacuees fleeing from the Gulf Coast, victims of domestic violence faced even more challenges than others.

Dawn/Domestic Violence Survivor: “Stress goes up, domestic violence will go up, too.”

(Nat, phone rings) “Battered women’s program…”

Calls are picking up at a domestic violence shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It’s a little-known consequence of Katrina.

(Phone counselor) “Yes, I can help you.”

Vikki Peay/Domestic Violence Counselor: “Following the storms, there was much more media coverage about pet shelters than about any domestic violence shelter.”

United Methodist Vikki Peay was a domestic violence crisis counselor after Hurricane Lilli in 2002. Katrina hit much harder.

Mary Claire Landry/La. Coalition Against Domestic Violence: “Every single woman that we have talked with, we’ve asked ‘Has the situation of domestic violence gotten worse after Katrina?’ And 100 percent of them say, ‘Absolutely.’”

Two of the three major women’s shelters in New Orleans are closed because of hurricane damage. That makes life even more difficult for victims of domestic violence.

Dawn/Domestic Violence Survivor: “Tragedy causes a tremendous amount of stress. And the first area that stress surfaces is in the home.”

Many battered women say they leave to protect their children. Counselors are working with FEMA and other groups to let hurricane evacuees know where help is still available.

Vikki Peay/Domestic Violence Counselor: “It’s terrible. One in three women at some point in their lives will experience domestic violence.”

Counselors say domestic violence calls went up 50 percent after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. The aftermath of Katrina could be even worse.

Dawn/Domestic Violence Survivor: “We pray a whole lot. We go without a lot. But we’re safe. And that’s what counts.”

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There are also questions about continued state funding for domestic violence programs. Counselors say their services are needed now more than ever, even though some of their shelters are still not open.

For more information, contact the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, at http://www.la-umc.org or call 888-239-5286.