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A Rural Barrier

Escaping domestic violence in a rural setting offers unique challenges

  • September 23, 2015
  • By domesticshelters.org
A Rural Barrier

Living in a place where everybody knows your name doesn’t always prove comforting—especially to those in a domestic violence situation. According to a 2015 policy brief from the National Advisory Committee on Rural Health and Human Services, there are many hurdles when it comes to escaping domestic violence in a rural community, isolation hovering at the core of all of them.

Geography: Most people live miles from their closest neighbor, meaning shouts for help could be impossible to hear. And, when a call to the police is made, the response time may be longer, increasing the lethality of the assault. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for cell phone and Internet service to be spotty in remote areas.

Limited Resources:Traditional gender roles are fairly common in rural areas and many families support themselves by farming—leaving could eliminate a source of income. Additionally, there tend to be fewer economic opportunities, and some rural areas suffer from high levels of poverty, making it difficult to offer services such as domestic violence shelters. “It takes resources and support to leave an abusive partner, and these are often harder to access in a rural community,” says Corinne Peek-Asa, professor, associate dean at University of Iowa and author of, Rural Disparity in Domestic Violence Prevalence and Access to Resources. “A study we conducted found that a quarter of the rural women in Iowa lived more than 40 miles from the closest domestic violence intervention program.”

Transportation: Many rural communities don’t have the luxury of public transportation, so if an abuser holds the car keys, there is nowhere to escape. Road conditions during winter months may be another hurdle—ice, fog, sleet and snow can all prevent access to providers.

Lack of Anonymity and Support: “People in rural communities tend to know more about what’s going on in their communities, and cultural barriers can include the inability to keep the effort private and concern over being judged (whether real or perceived),” says Peek-Asa. Simply put, most everyone knows everyone, including police officers, judges and firefighters, increasing the chances that the officer who was called for help knows the survivor or the abuser. And, in some areas, newspapers print the names of people making domestic violence calls and filing protective orders. Peek-Asa also says it’s important to note, “Rural counties often have part-time judges or magistrates, so hearing for things like protective orders might not occur as swiftly.”

Increased Firearms: Hunting is very common in rural areas, making guns more common, too. A 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Justice shows that 18 percent of homicides in rural areas were at the hands of an intimate partner, compared to 6 percent in urban areas. Studies have also shown that abusers in rural communities are more likely to cause severe injuries than those in urban areas—both good reasons, advocates argue, to enforce the Domestic Violence Gun Ban.

Live in a rural area and need a safety plan? Find tips here. Also, remember that you can find programs – some of which may have mobile advocacy services that come to your location – using DomesticShelters.org search tool and changing the radius of your search to up 20, 50, 100 or 200 miles to find programs despite being in a remote location.