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Experts: Natural Disasters Increase Risk of Domestic Violence, Abuse

Tori Henninger, Public News Service

Shelters in western Kentucky face ongoing challenges helping domestic-violence survivors as communities continue to clean up from deadly tornadoes.

Executive Director of Bowling Green's Barren River Area Safe Space Tori Henninger said lack of phone or internet access, as well as the need for basic shelter can prevent people from seeking help or cause a person to return to their abuser.

"There's a potential for an increase in domestic violence when people feel threatened," said Henninger. "When people are nervous and concerned and they don't have their needs met, when situations are heightened, explosive abusive incidents occur."

The Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence has launched the Kentucky Domestic Violence Victims' Emergency Fund to meet the immediate needs of survivors and advocates. Donations can be made at http://kcadv.org

Henninger added that some staff members who lost their homes and possessions are relying on friends and family for housing and transportation to work.

She recently testified to state lawmakers about how shelter employees continue to provide essential community services both amid the pandemic and in the aftermath of the tornadoes.

"I think the absolute best thing that we could directly benefit from are food and gas cards," said Henninger.

Mary Foley is director of Merryman House in Paducah, serving eight counties in western Kentucky. She explained that natural disasters tend to have the greatest impact on already vulnerable residents who now face sudden unemployment, trauma and displacement.

"For us, those that provide services to survivors all the time," said Foley, "those situations give us great, great concern."

Foley added that it's critical emergency rescue teams and volunteers be on high alert for signs of domestic abuse as they interact with families.

"And so I would just encourage folks that are helping and volunteering," said Foley, "whether it's church communities or businesses, local supports, to not be afraid to ask those kinds of questions, and not be afraid to connect individuals to service providers."

Research has shown natural disasters are associated with increased emotional, financial and sexual abuse, a spike in police reported assaults, and increased demand for domestic-violence shelters.