Prevalence
Created July 2009

Prevalence in violence against women environmental refugees is difficult to estimate. Many incidents remain unreported, due to stigma, and the feeling that offenders will remain unpunished. These feelings are compounded by the environmental crisis itself and the accompaning confusion, and a breakdown or shift in priorities of law enforcement. Despite the lack of firm statistics, violence against women environmental refugees is a well-recognized occurrence.  From: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (2008) (PDF, 36 pages), and Oxfam International, Oxfam briefing note, "The Tsunami's Impact on Women," (March 2005) (PDF, 14 pages).

In her 2006 statement, Roberta Cohen, Senior Adviser to the Brookings-Bern Project on Internal Displacement, reported that violence against women environmental refugees also occurred as a result of the military presence in the area after the tsunami in Indonesia.  There, civilians were perpetrators as well.  Women were excluded from planning processes for camp design, rehabilitation and reconstruction, which had repercussions for their safety. For example, camps did not have separate toilets for men and women, and many sexual assaults occurred at the toilets at night.

Tsunami IDP women and girls experienced violence at the hands of soldiers and civilians alike. Due to women and girls’ increased vulnerability, there were many reports of sexual assaults in IDP camps, especially at night in unlit toilet areas. From: Oxfam International, Oxfam briefing note, "The Tsunami's Impact on Women," (March 2005) (PDF, 14 pages). According to Women’s e-News in a January 2005 article, the Sri Lankan NGO Women and Media Collective reported that molestation and gang rape also occurred in the camps.  

Women may also experience sexual harassment and sexual abuse in refugee camps, particularly when they are in the camps without a male family member. For example, widows were especially vulnerable to sexual abuse in IDP camps.

After Hurricane Katrina, sexual assaults were reported, sometimes after a delay of many months.  Rape crisis centers from Texas to New Orleans reported receiving more than 100 sexual assault-related calls from evacuees. Law enforcement from cities hit by the hurricane and those who received evacuees also received reports of sexual assaults. A 2007 Journal of Public Management & Social Policy article noted that when evacuees tried to report rapes that occurred in New Orleans once they had arrived in Houston, Texas or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, many police officers told them they needed to file reports with New Orleans or Louisiana police, who had jurisdiction over those crimes, and refused to take reports themselves. In a 13 September 2005 article, Women’s e-News said that Houston police officers had begun filing “courtesy reports” with New Orleans police. Ten days later, Women’s e-News reported that Houston police had already begun taking these rape reports themselves, until police in the proper jurisdictions were able to handle them. But by that time, the journal article reported, most rape evidence would be gone. The best physical evidence must be collected within 72 hours, while less indicative evidence may last up to a week.

After an environmental crisis, women faced with domestic violence are less able to leave home or obtain shelter because of financial hardship and decreased access to shelters and other aid organizations. According to Tulane University, aid was often distributed to heads-of-household and so many women were not eligible on their own. After Hurricane Katrina, only one domestic violence shelter remained open, and the domestic violence police unit in New Orleans was severely understaffed.  From: Willinger, Beth, Ed., Tulane University’s Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Katrina and the Women of New Orleans (December 2008) (PDF, 76 pages).   

Compiled from:

Cohen, Roberta, Measuring Indonesia’s Response to the Tsunami, Statement at Workshop on “One Year after the Tsunami: Public Perceptions and Policy” at Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, D.C. (12 January 2006) (PDF, 10 pages).

Human Rights Watch, After the Deluge: India’s Reconstruction Following the 2004 Tsunami (25 May 2005) (HTML). See especially the subsection on Women and Girls within Section IV, Addressing the Needs of Vulnerable Populations.

Human Rights Watch, India: UN Finds Pervasive Abuse Against Dalits (11 March 2007).

Human Rights Watch, Tsunami Recovery Efforts: Human Rights Watch Letter to Clinton (9 May 2005). See especially the section on Gender Discrimination.

Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast (2008) (PDF, 36 pages).

Lauer, Nancy Cook for Women’s e-News, Rape-Reporting Procedure Missing After Hurricane (13 September 2005).

Lauer, Nancy Cook for Women’s e-News, Efforts to Track Rape Emerge Between Hurricanes (23 September 2005).

National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), Hurricanes Katrina/Rita and Sexual Violence: Report on Database of Sexual Violence Prevalence and Incidence Related to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (July 2006) (PDF, 3 pages).

Oxfam International, Oxfam briefing note, "The Tsunami's Impact on Women," (March 2005) (PDF, 14 pages).

Thornton, William E. and Lydia Voigt, Disaster Rape: Vulnerability of Women to Sexual Assaults During Hurricane Katrina, 13 Journal of Public Management & Social Policy 23 (Fall 2007) (PDF, 27 pages).

U.S. Newswire, As Domestic Violence Rises in New Orleans in Wake of Katrina, Catholic Charities Provides a Refugee for Abused Women (10 April 2006) (PDF, 2 pages).

Willinger, Beth, Ed., Tulane University’s Newcomb College Center for Research on Women, Katrina and the Women of New Orleans (December 2008) (PDF, 76 pages). Especially see Chapter 8: Domestic Violence and Hurricane Katrina by Pamela Jenkins and Brenda Phillips.

Women’s e-News, As Tsunami Recedes, Women's Risks Appear (7 January 2005).