Gender’s Unnatural Disaster

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The fallout from Hurricane Dean will be deeper and darker than anything we could learn from an action hero reporter gripped to a palm tree. A child playing outside right now as you read this post will drown sometime within the next few days, maybe hours. Another will be orphaned when her parents disappear. And another will be raped. These are the human catastrophes of natural disaster, and theyre steering my thoughts this morning back to 2005. Strange thing about disasters – how they’re discriminate and indiscriminate both at the same time, how in sparing no-one they uniquely disrupt women’s lives. Here’s just one example:

[Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, the] National Sexual Violence Resource Center partnered with the Foundation Against Sexual Assault and four other Gulf Coast rape crisis centers to track the number of unreported post-Katrina rapes . . . . In its first six weeks of operation, and with almost no publicity, the group received 42 reports of Katrina-related sexual assault that occurred both inside and outside of New Orleans, including a disproportionate number of gang rapes and stranger rapes. Witness Justice, a non-profit victim services organization, received 156 reports of Katrina related violent crimes in the first few days after the storm. About one third of those involved sexual assault. [See Kathleen A. Bergin, Witness, 31 Thurgood Marshall L. Rev. 531, 546 (2006) (footnotes omitted)].

Two years ago, Hurricane Katrina forced the sexualized consequences of displacement and natural disaster on the women of the Gulf Coast. Over the next several days, women in the Carribean and Mexico will begin their recovery from the same experience. And this morning, I am still; saddened that spirit and solidarity is all that I can offer my sisters stalked by this imminent storm. For more about the gendered consequences of natural disaster, visit the Gender and Disaster Network. And see specifically, Elaine Enarson, Women and Girls Last?: Averting the Second Post-Katrina Disaster.

— Kathleen A. Bergin

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