By KRISTY ORIOL and PAUL BANCROFT
Discussions around climate change have become increasingly partisan, even with well-established scientific evidence declaring its undeniable existence. The Fourth National Climate Assessment is the most recent and perhaps the most terrifying of reports on the issue. As CNN reported, the assessment concluded there is “no convincing alternative explanation” for the changes we are seeing in climate aside from “human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases.” The consequences of this are increased wildfires, unsafe air quality, increased heat-related deaths, increased mental health disparities, just to name a few. Each of these consequences presents an immense risk to our health and safety and will undeniably enhance challenges for survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and child abuse.
As staff members of Tahoe SAFE Alliance, we shared the sadness and fear of many when devastating fires swept through Paradise and Southern California last month. The consequences of disasters like this are far-reaching and it is well-documented that natural disasters present other immense dangers to victims seeking safety. Those considering fleeing may feel compelled or coerced into staying with their abuser during disasters. Children are also at risk and vulnerable to sexual abuse during that time, as those who utilize abuse to enforce their power and control may feel total powerlessness during a climate-related disaster due to job loss, food insecurities, and familial tensions. When power is taken from someone committing violence, this can cause the abuse to escalate.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 12 domestic violence shelters were forced to close during Hurricane Sandy. Many victims move into other shelters out of the area if they are able, others end up in disaster relief housing, and some return to their homes — often to the abusers. Disasters increase stress, displacement, vulnerability, and limited access to resources. All of these factors could lead to increased violence or at least increase families’ vulnerability to violence.
According to Dr. Elaine Enarson, author of Women Confronting Natural Disasters: From Vulnerability to Resilience, the disasters and major weather events that occur in the social worlds we live in “disadvantage women as a social group more than men, especially women who are already isolated or disenfranchised. Disaster homelessness and overcrowding in damaged homes, reduced income, health problems, lack of transportation, disrupted social services, and other disaster effects impact women disproportionately, exacerbating preexisting power imbalances between women and men.” A result of the increased power imbalance is sexual and or relational violence.
If we are to take ending violence against women seriously, we must consider its connection to climate change. We challenge you to step away from the partisanship and recognize that we all have a role to play to mitigate these disasters. At Tahoe SAFE Alliance, we made the decision to donate half of our winter appeal funds to the Camp Fire victims. It is a small action, but change starts with small gestures. You can help too. Contact your members of Congress and educate them about this connection, support organizations in your community that work to end climate change and serve victims of violence. We must accept that climate change is real and that it is already devastating communities, however, we are not powerless. Let’s work together to keep our planet and community members safe.
~ Kristy Oriol is the grant compliance coordinator of Tahoe SAFE Alliance. Paul Bancroft is the executive director of Tahoe SAFE Alliance. To learn more about Tahoe SAFE Alliance, visit tahoesafealliance.org. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (800) 736-1060.