With the verified sexual-assault count among Hurricane Katrina evacuees nearing 70 and possibly only a small fraction of the real total, police and women’s advocates in the Gulf Coast say the risk of violence against evacuee children and women is intensified by crowded housing nine months after the storm, reports Women’s eNews. “We have families doubling and tripling up in substandard housing, families living with extended family members they wouldn’t normally choose to live with,” said Alisa Klein of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Harrisburg, Pa. “We’re seeing this increased vulnerability to sexual violence. When people are stressed, feel powerless, out of control, one thing we know: People do–if they already have violent tendencies–act out sexually.”
Klein’s group and the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, based in Hammond, will issue a joint set of disaster recommendations this fall aimed at preventing sex assault. “We’re developing checklists and guidelines for first responders in disaster: rape crisis centers, local police departments, medical personnel, forensic examiners, the criminal justice system, disaster-relief people,” said Klein. Klein said that although U.S. disaster relief hasn’t included policies to prevent sexual violence, international groups such as nonprofit Oxfam International, based in Oxford, England, and the United Nations have been sending teams trained in treating gender-based violence to disaster areas for decades.