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Climate Change Linked To Domestic and Family Violence

As climate change is predicted to cause more extreme weather, more intense storms, more frequent floods and droughts and bush fires, but could it also cause us to be more violent with one another?

CXBank$ the online domestic and family violence conference style gathering will examine the impact of climate change and domestic and family violence as part of this year's panel discussions. CXBank$ is held annually on World Mental Health Day (October 10). 3 experts panels lead the conference style discussions. This year the focus will be Climate Change, AI and Ethics with the intersection of trauma and mental health forming an important part of the discussion. The event puts the financial services sector under the spotlight and asks are they doing enough to support financial safety and recovery?

A 2013 study from scientists in the US controversially drew links between increased rates of domestic violence, assault and other violent crimes and a warming climate.

It's now 2020 and the situation appears to be worsening.

That conflict could be a major result of global warming has long been accepted. As climate change makes vulnerable parts of the world more susceptible to weather-related problems, people move from an afflicted region to neighbouring areas, bringing them into conflict with the existing populations. That pattern has been evident around the world, and experts have even posited that conflicts such as Darfur should be regarded as climate related.

But the authors of the 2013 study, published in the peer review journal Science, departed from such examples to look closely at patterns of violence in Brazil, China, Germany and the US.

The authors suggested that even a small increase in average temperatures or unusual weather can spark violent behaviour. They found an increase in reports of domestic violence in India and Australia at times of drought; land invasions in Brazil linked to poor weather; and more controversially, a rise in the number of assaults and murders in the US and Tanzania.

Data on the current bushfire crisis in Australia is not yet available however it is known that disasters have gendered impacts. Generally, disasters disproportionately affect women and girls, with women and children 14 times more likely to die in a natural disaster on a global scale.

In the Australian bushfire context, research shows women are more likely than men to want to evacuate, and men are more likely than women to want to remain and “fight the fire”. This means men are three times more likely to die in bushfires compared with women.

But the gendered impacts of bushfires also affect the aftermath. There’s a growing awareness in Australia among researchers and those working in women’s support services that natural disasters amplify conditions leading to incidents of domestic violence.

Yet climate, disaster and environmental law and policy is “gender blind” – they don’t mention or recognise gender as an issue.

People struggle to cope long after a disaster has settled from significant levels of family disruption, including displacement, social isolation, psychological trauma and financial despair.

The current bushfires have destroyed many houses and led to widespread trauma, which means longer term repercussions, such as the financial ramifications of loss of property and halted economic activity, will build.

These impacts carry with them an emotional toll that can place pressure on household dynamics and bring families to breaking point. If history tells us anything, this will include an increase in gender-based violence.

Following Hurricane Katrina, a study found a 98% increase in violence against women as measured from before and after the disaster.

A study conducted following the 2004 Whakatane flood in New Zealand found police callouts doubled and the workload for domestic violence agencies tripled in the aftermath of the flood.

Similarly, the Women’s Health Goulburn North East organisation (a specialist women’s health service) reported in the wake of the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in 2009 an increase in the incidence of domestic violence against women during post-disaster recovery.

What’s more, women already living in an abuse relationship may experience greater severity post-disaster, because they may be separated from support systems like family and friends that offered some protection. These women may be forced to rely on the perpetrator for survival, or access to services.

The authors searched historic records as well as examining contemporary statistics. Solomon Hsiang, of University of California Berkeley in the US, who was lead author of the study, said: "What was lacking was a clear picture of what this body of research as a whole was telling us. We collected 60 existing studies containing 45 different data sets and we re-analysed their data and findings using a common statistical framework. The results were striking."

The study found that conflict, including domestic violence and ethnic violence, was heightened as temperatures rose. The authors said that in all of the 27 studies of modern societies they looked at, higher temperatures showed a correlation with rising rates of violence.

But they could not say why this might be the case. More studies would be needed to confirm the results and explain why such a correlation might exist, they said. The underlying reasons could run from increased economic hardship as harvests fail or droughts bite, to the physiological effects of hot weather.

"The studies showing that high temperature increases violence crime in the US and other wealthy societies seems to suggest that physiological responses are important, too, with very short-run exposure to heat contributing to more aggressive and violent behaviour," said Marshall Burke, also of Berkeley.

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