ATLANTA -- Do hurricanes create an atmosphere of chaos and sexual violence? It's a question that has reemerged after a 6-year-old child was molested in a hurricane shelter in Florida.
A witness said a 60-year-old homeless man, John Stapleton, touched the victim under her clothes. He admitted to it but said it wasn't in a lewd manner. He was later arrested.
This happened at a middle school being used as a hurricane shelter.
The stories of people being raped and molested in shelters during storms like Rita and Katrina are known to those in hurricane-prone parts of the country.
In 2005, rape crisis centers on the Gulf Coast received over 100 sexual assault-related calls following Katrina.
- 30 percent of them happened in a shelter.
- 38 percent of the attackers were strangers
- 36 percent of the victims were between the ages of 15 and 24
It was so bad, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center developed a guide for preventing sexual assaults after Hurricane Katrina. The guide revealed that:
- The most vulnerable, like the homeless, people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse and people living in poverty are often left behind.
- Shelters can become quickly overcrowded with registered sex offenders and families are sometimes housed in the same building.
- Prior to Katrina, there were very little protocols aimed at preventing sexual assaults in evacuation shelters.
- A lack of resources keeps victims from receiving medical care or reporting the crime - especially if phone lines are down.
A national protocol was established after Katrina instructing shelters to have information on how to report a crime, close off areas in the shelter where a sexual assault could occur, and make sure a forensic examiner, security personnel and volunteers are on-site. It also instructs the shelters to have rape kits available.
The bad news is that the data shows how sexual violence increases after natural disasters. But the good news is that a representative with the Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Abuse said it's getting better.
However, they added that the protocols in place are only as good as the institutions running the shelters and implementing guidelines. For instance, in Louisiana, sex offender-specific shelters are opened by the Department of Children and Family Services. But the rule remains for many shelters that people can't be turned away during an evacuation.
A natural disaster relief fund for sexual assault victims aims to provide state organizations with donations to help victims during and after a natural disaster.