Hurricanes Like Irma Increase Risk For Sexual Assault

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Officials are well aware that incidences of rape and assault become more common in the wake of hurricanes such as Irma and Harvey. When state-wide evacuations for Hurricane Irma began last week, Florida’s Polk County sheriff announced that sex offenders would be banned from all shelters. “We cannot and we will not have innocent children in a shelter with sexual offenders & predators. Period,” he tweeted.

It’s still too early to tell if law enforcement and first responders in Florida will be successful in preventing a rise in these crimes of opportunity, especially in the hurricane’s aftermath when a sense of lawlessness tends to pervade communities. In 2005, in the wake of Katrina, reports began to emerge about the uptick in incidences of rape and sexual assault. Some were victims who failed to evacuate, while others claimed to have been assaulted at shelters set up for evacuees. In one widely reported incident after Katrina, a perpetrator woke his victim in the shelter’s communal sleeping area in the middle of the night. He threatened her with a knife then raped her.

“There were some lessons to be learned from Katrina,” Chau Nguyen of Houston Area Women’s Center told Newsweek. She says improved security and additional training for Harvey’s disaster response appear to have prevented incidents of sexual assault from occurring at shelters in Houston. She has not heard of any problems, at least not yet.

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