Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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"We Had to Cope With What We Had": Agency Perspectives on Domestic Violence and Disasters in New Zealand.

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posted on 2021-11-10, 02:27 authored by Houghton, Rosalind Margaret Elise

Under an over-arching feminist framework, this thesis utilises disaster sociology and domestic violence theory to examine the complex and multi-faceted relationship between domestic violence and disasters. The applicability of previously published theories was tested through a postal survey of communities affected by 17 Civil Defence emergencies in New Zealand and in 5 detailed case studies (taken from the 17 surveyed communities) relating to the impact of Civil Defence emergencies on domestic violence and disaster response agencies in New Zealand. The case studies involved the collection of reporting statistics from Women's Refuge, interviews with representatives of agencies working in domestic violence response and disaster management, and analyses of case file summaries from the Women's Refuge national database across the five affected geographic areas. These methods provided both quantitative and qualitative data on domestic violence reporting during disasters in New Zealand. In almost all of the communities studied there was an increase in reporting of domestic violence following the Civil Defence emergencies. Pre-existing theory and interviews within the case studies were used to examine significant factors and demographics that were common across the women seeking assistance during the disasters in order to provide coherent generalisations that may be applied in other contexts. The research concluded that domestic violence reporting did increase during disasters. Whilst it was not possible to determine whether it was only domestic violence reporting or domestic violence itself that had increased, interviews with key agency representatives revealed some of the possible causes of their increased workload. Confirming the findings of international studies, agency representatives stated that prior abuse and financial strain were some of the main factors behind the reported increases in domestic violence. Agency representatives reported a range of issues concerning the official responses to increased domestic violence reporting during disasters, many of which were structural issues regarding procedures set out in current Civil Defence policies. These procedural problems are examined in line with the feminist goals guiding this work and a case is made for policy changes that should lead to improved handling of increased domestic violence reporting during disasters and lead to the development of a more co-ordinated approach to the social impacts of disasters. In order to address the needs of domestic violence victims, the degree of gender mainstreaming within Civil Defence and Emergency Management policy and practice should also be reviewed. New Zealand is subject to both national and international obligations to address the impact that gender norms have on the outcomes of those experiencing disasters. It is currently not meeting these obligations. These lacunae in policy and planning are placing already vulnerable women and children at heightened risk during disasters. As a country that prides itself on progressive social policy, New Zealand can do better.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Social Policy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Grey, Sandra; Jordan, Jan