Family Violence increasing in the aftermath of the earthquake

How people cope with stress in the face of adversity is one of the questions that has vexed human service workers over time. In the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake the rates of call-outs to the Police for family violence incidents rose by 53% (Christchurch Press, Sept 8, 2010: A3). If we accept that around 18 – 20% of family violence incidents are reported, then this is an issue that requires serious consideration. From a preventative level, we need to ask, what could be done to pre-empt or protect families from reacting abusively?

The 53% increase in family violence incidents saw an increase in real numbers of 61 reports compared to 40 during the same time period the year before. That is from the period of the earthquake (4.35am Saturday – 2.30pm on Monday).

Paul Shamy, Manager of Stopping Violence Services, Christchurch, was quoted as saying, “ People are being thrown together without prior warning and, obviously, it’s a time of high stress and trauma.”

We know that at times of stress people do act differently. We know from the literature that in situations of separation, for example, men with no prior history of abusive behaviour often act in abusive ways. So what are some of the abusive behaviours reported that occurred as a result of the earthquake?

• Pressure to see children outside of arranged visitation hours and hence breaching protection orders
• Pressure to get back together and the pressure on partners in refuges to come back home given the damage that may have been caused
• Arguments over whether to stay or leave damaged properties
• Lack of emotional support during a time of high stress – remember the power and water were off for a number of people
• Drinking to cope with the stress, resulting in violent and abusive outbursts

This list got me thinking about what work we do or don’t do to prepare people for unexpected events and stresses in their lives. We often pick up the pieces after the fact. We place a huge emphasis on having our emergency packs – water, torches, radio, food, clothing, etc. What about our emotional and resilience emergency kit – understanding, tolerance, thoughtfulness, compassion and looking out for others. Worth thinking about.

Published on Monday, October 4th, 2010, under Family violence, What Ken thinks

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