New Zealand: Domestic violence surges after earthquake

Flowers are left outside a building where a 74-year-old brick layer died after being trapped in his car on Feb. 27, 2011, in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Hannah Johnston

Domestic violence surged by more than 50 percent in disaster-struck areas after an earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand, last week, killing more than 100 people and badly damaging much of the city, according to police.

"The stress and trauma of Tuesday's earthquake is understandably taking its toll, and the continual aftershocks are exacerbating the tiredness and emotional fatigue," police commander Dave Cliff told AFP.

"However family violence is not okay under any circumstances and it is important that situations are not allowed to escalate."

The 6.3-magnitude earthquake that hit Christchurch last Tuesday collapsed buildings, damaged the city's iconic cathedral, knocked out phone lines, closed the airport and killed at least 148 people. Hundreds remain missing.

Prime Minister John Key said the quake "may be New Zealand's single most tragic event."

Many in the city were already facing emotional difficulties after an earthquake in September -- and its more than 5,000 aftershocks -- caused massive damage. The city saw an increase in suicides and stress-related problems after the first quake.

Tuesday's quake has now added to the stress.

Sixty-one domestic violence incidents were reported in the city to police from 4.35 am on Saturday to 2.30 pm on Monday, compared to 40 during the same time last year.

"In these sorts of situations there are enormous pressures and strains on families, relationships, people's livelihoods are now at stake," David Meates, the region's health director, told AFP.

"Sometimes the way that it's expressed, people are a lot (closer to) their breaking point and sometimes some of the reactions can be quite out of character. Certainly domestic violence is something that becomes more obvious."

A local study by Massey University researcher Ros Houghton has shown that domestic violence could triple during natural disasters.

Women are being pressured after the quake to go back to abusive partners for the sake of the family being together during this time, but this may prove dangerous for them, according to Christchurch Women's Refuge manager Annette Gillespie.

-- Hanna Ingber Win

Read: Christchurch earthquake: Text messages carry fear and love

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