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Good practice responses

  • If you don't respond to sexual, domestic or family violence often, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start
  • For those with the relevant training there are three basic steps to responding effectively to domestic and family violence, these continue to apply in a disaster situation
  • There are also things you can do to improve your organisation's response to domestic and family violence in times of disaster
  • For more information visit the Gender and Disaster Pod.

Three steps for effective response

For workers and professionals with the relevant training, there are three basic steps to responding effectively to sexual, domestic and family violence:

  1. Encourage and support disclosure (screening) 
  2. Identify dangers (risk assessment)
  3. Work with the client to enhance their safety (safety planning)

These steps can be adapted to individual workplaces and should be implemented together.

Disclosure requires trust. Quite often, initial disclosure of sexual assault, domestic or family violence is not to specialist counsellors or service providers. It may be to a health professional, counsellor or emergency worker. It could be a teacher or someone else with whom the person already has a trusting relationship.

In a disaster situation there may be particular reasons someone is hesitant to disclose that they have experienced violence. For example:

  • If another person is in control of the family emergency plan a woman may feel she and her children are at greater risk without them
  • If someone has acted heroically in the eyes of the community it may be felt that reports of their violent behaviour will not be believed
  • People may be discouraged from disclosing by family, friends or a community excusing the violent person’s behaviour on account of stress or trauma
  • Lack of childcare and transport, closure of schools, and potential homelessness may limit someone’s options for leaving the abusive situation
  • The person may rely on the perpetrator for support with personal care, medications and equipment (such as wheelchairs or mobility aids)

Disclosure is a very big step and if a person is not believed and supported, or if they don’t get the help they need, they may be hesitant to seek help again. 

Risk assessment is a structured and systematic approach to understanding and assessing risk. It is linked to safety planning and should be used when violence is suspected or reported.

In a disaster situation women and their children will likely be facing a range of risks in addition to any risk of sexual, domestic or family violence. 

For example:

  • Access to transport, services, finances, childcare, important documents and even food and shelter, may be restricted due to the disaster or a partner, family member or other person's response to it
  • Family, friends and neighbours who are ordinarily able to provide support may be busy with their own disaster response activities
  • There may be extra challenges in enforcing intervention orders in the face of a disaster
  • The person may rely on the perpetrator for support with personal care, medications and equipment (such as wheelchairs or mobility aids)

Risk assessment means making a professional judgement about the risk factors that are present combined with the woman’s assessment of risk, to determine:

  • The likelihood of future violence, and
  • The danger level, or potential lethality, of future violence 

A risk framework coordinates the implementation of risk assessment and safety planning. We recommend you read the Risk Assessment Framework and Tools pages.

Safety planning is important for anyone affected by sexual, domestic or family violence, but becomes increasingly important in times of disaster.

Here are a few important things to remember when assisting someone with safety planning:

  • You may need to use expert services to assist you. If a woman wants these services, refer to experts in the domestic violence, legal, cultural and ongoing support fields. Search our services directory for relevant support services, or you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or visit our website for online chat and video call services.
  • If children are involved, you may find our Children and voilence page helpful
  • You may have mandatory reporting responsibilities if children are at risk of harm
  • A safety plan can be part of building a trust relationship. This relationship may be the most important resource for people affected by sexual, domestic and family violence

Organisational responses

To improve your organisation's response during times of disaster consider implementing the recommendations made by the Gender and Disaster Pod.

These include:

  • Conducting a gender and disaster audit of your service
  • Ensuring workers in your service have undertaken Risk Assessment and Safety Planning training (or similar) to identify and respond effectively
  • Establishing methods for compiling accurate statistics, for example, a tick box in data collection forms
  • Including specialist sexual assault, domestic and family violence, and other relevant services in disaster response and recovery planning bodies

For more information, ideas and resources on planning and responding to violence against women in times of disaster, visit the Gender and Disaster Pod

Vicarious trauma and resilience

Helping and supporting others through disaster can be rewarding, it can also be demanding. When working with people experiencing the impacts of disaster, your own health is important. Our work-induced stress and trauma pages contain information on working with trauma and resilience. 1800RESPECT counselling is also available for workers and professionals. You can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732text 0458 737 732, online chat or video call to speak with a trained counsellor.

This information was developed in collaboration with the Gender and Disaster Pod