This exposure is just one of the concerns at the intersection of disasters and domestic abuse. After disasters occur, there is often an uptick in domestic-violence incidents. Domestic-abuse experts say this is likely because batterers often have more access to their families, because they are not at work. In the initial months following the BP oil spill, southern Louisiana programs showed an increase in the number of crisis hotline calls and people needing shelter, according to LCADV. One parish had an 86 percent increase in people sheltered, and the statewide hotline showed an 81 percent increase in New Orleans from April to June.
“It’s very, very tempting when an abuser says, ‘Oh my house didn’t flood, you can come here and stay,’ or ‘I told you that you couldn’t make it on your own,’” says Meeks. “The woman’s family and friends are probably telling her, ‘You should just go back to your husband, at least his house is dry.’”
When the flash floods began in her neighborhood, Angie, whose last name has been omitted from this article for her protection, called a 24-hour crisis hotline for Southeast Advocates for Family Empowerment (SAFE) to help her escape. One of the organization’s workers tried desperately to reach her, but the water was too high to drive in. The organization eventually sent a Red Cross worker to come evacuate the stranded family.
SAFE’s emergency shelter was flooded, so Angie and her family were placed in a traditional disaster-relief shelter in a different neighborhood from her abuser. He called Angie’s mother to inquire about her, but was not given information about her location. Once the disaster-relief shelter closed, Angie and her family moved into a family member’s living room.
Angie’s flooded trailer had been funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and provided by SAFE, a common setup for domestic-abuse survivors once they leave abuse shelters. The shelters themselves help women move into these transitional homes, giving them items like beds and clothing. “Imagine you’ve taken 6 to 8 months to scrape that together and then the flood takes it all,” says Meeks. “Imagine how hard it was for you to ask for [donations and help] in the beginning and now it’s not just you asking, it’s thousands.”
In addition to helping the families they’re currently serving rebuild, Louisiana organizations are trying to prepare for the likely uptick in domestic violence incidents around Baton Rouge. But it’s challenging. The flood crippled six of the state’s 16 shelters with not only damage to facilities, but also staffing disruptions as many employees have lost their own homes and can’t work full-time.
To make matters worse, a month before the floods, all domestic violence programs in the state took cuts to operational funding. This is because Louisiana is in its most dire financial situation of the past three decades. State lawmakers had to close a $943 million budget deficit by June 30, and they face a $2 billion shortfall for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The budget for family violence prevention programs is $6 million for the current fiscal year, a reduction of about 3.5 percent.