‘I nearly died, so I should be able to do whatever I want’, which I can understand… But it took me months and months to work out that I nearly died too. …If we were in front of people, he really embraced the whole, ‘I can be an absolute prick to everybody and I can get away with it because I can say I’ve been through the fires and I’m traumatised.’ Research participant

Silent Scars, Diamond Valley Leader

Does violence against women increase after a disaster?

In disasters and their aftermath, women are affected differently and in many cases more severely than men. Overseas research has confirmed that increased violence against women is a characteristic of the post-disaster period. In the United States, there was found to be a four-fold increase in intimate partner violence following Hurricane Katrina. New Zealand police reported a 53 per cent increase in callouts to domestic violence incidents over the weekend of the Canterbury earthquake in 2010.

Although Australians have a one in six estimated lifetime exposure to natural disaster, there has been little research in this country into the gendered impacts of disaster and the link between disaster and violence against women. ‘The way he tells it…’: Relationships after Black Saturday, reports on the findings from first Australian research examining the link between natural disasters and violence against women. The report has yielded complex and disturbing findings.

A striking feature of this research is what is missing. We found that reliable data collection on the prevalence of family violence in communities impacted by natural disaster is likely to be compromised for a number of context-specific reasons. Women’s traditional reluctance to report violence against them was exacerbated in the aftermath of Black Saturday. Much remains hidden when women, many of whom struggle with their own trauma, are concerned about psychologically fragile or suicidal husbands or partners. Many fear repercussions of reporting from both the community and their violent partners.

Response and support professionals working in disaster zones, many of whom are unlikely to have particular expertise in family violence work, may fail or be reluctant to characterise an incident as such. Our research shows that where resources are stretched to address primary, fire-related needs, there is a risk that family violence is ’overlooked’ or minimised by support personnel, particularly where perpetrators are seen as ‘heroes’ in the fires.

Family violence is the ‘hidden disaster’ that continues to blight communities long after the fire front or the floodwaters have receded. To read more, see PhD Thesis: Parkinson, Debra (2015) Women’s experience of violence in the aftermath ofthe Black Saturday bushfires.

Research Reports

‘The way he tells it…’: Relationships after Black Saturday

Parkinson, D., & Zara, C. (2012)

This report resulted from two years of collecting and analysing accounts from women and workers affected by the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria. Social services workers – including police, domestic violence workers, counsellors and recovery workers – share their knowledge and insights into the effect of the disaster on personal and community relationships. Women themselves speak of their experiences of post bushfire violence.

Download the report in full or download each of the four volumes separately:

Vol. 1: Relationships After Black Saturday

Vol. 2: Women and Disasters: Literature Review

Vol. 3: The Landscape of My Soul: Women’s Accounts

Vol. 4: A Gut Feeling: The Workers’ Accounts

Beating the Flames: Women escaping and surviving Black Saturday

Parkinson, D., & Zara, C. (Eds.). (2011)

On Black Saturday many women were left alone, often with children, to escape or fight the sudden fires. Some made the decision to leave early and returned to a community changed physically and emotionally forever.

The accounts of how women responded and were affected during and after the Black Saturday fires cast light on a complex and heartbreaking time. Lives changed and the aftermath continues to be felt in families and communities devastated by fire.

Read the stories of 21 women in Beating the Flames.

Presentations & Podsocs

Watch the launch of the E-book, Beating the Flames, including an account of the Black Saturday fires by Sharon Bourke, Marysville resident.

Watch a presentation of findings from ‘The Way He Tells It: Relationships after Black Saturday.’

Read presentation to emergency services workers, government employees, health professionals and community members in the Hume region (March 5 and 6, 2012).

In conversation – Family violence post-disaster: Podsocs are podcasts for social workers ‘on the run’ covering topics of interest for all human services practitioners, students and academics. In 2013, Dr Patricia Fronek from Griffith University interviewed Deb Parkinson for a podsoc on family violence post-disaster. You can listen here.


A numbers game: Lack of gendered data impedes prevention of disaster-related family violence

‘A Numbers Game’ addresses the lack of a systematic approach to collecting family violence data after Black Saturday. Its premise is that health promotion theory and service planning demand a sound evidence base for interventions. In the absence of this, family violence following disasters will continue to be overlooked in the face of ‘urgent’ needs.

The article was co-written by staff at Women’s Health In the North and Women’s Health Goulburn North East and published in the December 2011 edition of the Health Promotion Journal of Australia.


Practical Stories – Family violence after disaster training in Victoria

The Australian Journal of Emergency Management

Claire Zara provides an update in AJEM about family violence after disaster training.

read the article

The hidden disaster: violence in the aftermath of natural disaster

The Australian Journal of Emergency Management

Read the article

Training & Education

Family Violence and Disaster Training package

The Family Violence after Disaster training package was developed, with support from DHS, to resource and educate disaster workers in identification, referral and recording of family violence after disaster.


Identifying the Hidden Disaster: The First Australian Conference on Natural Disasters and Family Violence

Melbourne, 9 March 2012

This Australian-first conference was opened by the Deputy Commissioner of Victoria Police, Tim Cartwright, and featured keynote speakers: Elaine Enarson, leading international researcher on gender and disaster; Lois Herbert, Manager of the Battered Women’s Refuge in Christchurch; and Megan Sety from the Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse. The conference included a mixture of presentations, panel discussions and interactive workshops, and provided a perfect forum for the launch of the first Australian research to examine the impact on relationships after a natural disaster, The Way He Tells It, from Women’s Health Goulburn North East. Issues raised in this research were considered by the twelve key players in disaster management in a Hypothetical. The day concluded with five Action Planning Workshops to give delegates the opportunity to discuss the implications of the conference learnings and identify achievable actions.

Download the Conference Handbook.

View the conference proceedings in video and print.


The Age
Ashes to ashes: forgotten fire town mourns again
Chris Johnston
May 19, 2012

Bush Telegraph
Natural disasters increase violence against women
By Keiren McLeonard
Thursday, 8 March 2012