Hurricane Katrina devastated the population of New Orleans in 2005, and the impact this had on women in terms of their heightened exposure to violence and the lack of support services available during the initial recovery period is well documented. It is also acknowledged across a range of support services that whilst this heightened exposure was exceptional, the issues faced by women during the storm were far from exceptional. The storm also exposed the inadequacy of the city’s institutionalised responses to violence against women. An unforseen consequence of this exposure is that it has presented support services with an opportunity to re-group and address issues that pre-dated the storm. Drawing on in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with service providers including health care and the police, advocacy workers and activists in the city, this paper examines attempts to rebuild and institutionalise adequate responses to violence against women in post-Katrina New Orleans. The paper discusses the work of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), made up of police, nurses, social workers and activists in New Orleans, focusing on the importance of networks and alliances when creating a holistic response to sexual violence. One positive unforeseen consequence of hurricane Katrina is that it has created a unique opportunity to rethink institutionalised responses to sexual violence, and violence against women more broadly in New Orleans.
Rachel is a Ph.D. candidate at La Trobe University in Crime, Justice and Legal Studies – part of the Department of Social Inquiry. Her research primarily focuses on the shifting representations of trauma in the context of violence against women, and the impact this has at the level of policy and social change.