Victimization after a Natural Disaster: Social Disorganization or Community Cohesion?

November 1999 (VOL. 17, NO. 3)

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Contrasting notions of social disorganization and social cohesion have been offered to describe community interaction after a natural disaster. Data were collected from three independent community samples, beginning seven months after the 1994 Northridge, California, earthquake and following in one year intervals for the two subsequent samples. Exposure to traumatic stress (Norris 1990)-including criminal victimization-in the 12 months prior to the interview was assesed in each sample. For all traumatic stress/victimization and for each of seven individual events, rates remain flat over time (3 data points), suggesting that neither social disorganization nor social cohesion occurred after the earthquake. Owing to the timing of the survey, respondents interviewed in the first sample only could report on pre-disaster events. For these respondents, post-earthquake rates of traumatic stress and victimization were compared with pre-earthquake rates. In contrast to the trend data, reduction in rates of robbery and, to a lesser extent, major life changes suggest that an altruistic community (social cohesion) may have arisen. A third set of analyses show that severity of exposure to the earthquakes does not make a contribution to traumatic stress or victimization beyond that explained by the demographic variables repeatedly found to predict vulnerability to victimization. last, rates of criminal victimization within Los Angeles County are compared to rates for households in the United States, using the National Crime Victimiation Survey (NCVS) for the latter. Victimization rates are elevated in Los Angeles County, but not necessarily above what might be expected if exactly equivalent definitions of crimes had been used in our study and the national data set, and if comparable breakdowns by demographic characteristics were available in the NCVS for metropolitan areas of one million and more. In sum, there is no indication that social disorganization follows a natural disaster, and there is minor support for the emergence of an altruistic community.