Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Domestic violence and seeking help in rural communities

We often hear about the isolation of rural America as one of the defining features of rurality. In particular, the social isolation of rural America cuts off its residents from important resources and opportunities, from meaningful access to the political process to access to health care. This geographic and social isolation, and the resulting concerns about confidentiality in small communities can be especially problematic for women who are victims of domestic abuse. Rural women may hesitate to seek services anonymity. This isolation and limited resources can further entrap these women in their violent relationships. More than one-third of women in rural areas will be victimized by an intimate partner. However, domestic violence and sexual assault services are primarily concentrated in urban and suburban areas. As a result, in many parts of the country it is not unusual for victims to be forced to drive several hours, or even fly out, to obtain victim services.

The geographic isolation experienced by many rural families limits the opportunities for the identification of and timely intervention to domestic violence. There are often large expanses of land that separate one family home from another, and sometimes these distances are also spanned by mountains or impassable waterways. Coercion through deprivation and isolation are common tools used by abusers to maintain their power over the victim, and these problems are only exacerbated in rural areas. In Alaska for example, there have been a number of instances where abusive partners have relocated their families to remote communities to isolate them from the support of their friends and families. With the wintry climate of Alaska, victims are often held hostage in their own homes with no winter clothing or means of escaping their extreme isolation.

In addition, public transportation can be very limited or non-existent in rural areas. Families may not have access to an automobile or may only have one vehicle that is not available to all members of the family. And aside from the problem of transportation, reliable telephone service can also be expensive in certain regions due to the topography and geography of some areas, and as a result many rural families do not have telephones in their homes. This sort of rural isolation decreases the opportunities for the identification of an abusive situation as violent incidences are less like to be witnessed by objective parties and as it boosts the abuser’s ability to prevent a victim’s escape. It is not uncommon for rural victims to report that their abuser controlled the access to any vehicles, refused to allow the victim to learn to drive, or disabled any existing telephone system.

Women in rural areas are much less likely than urban women to have credit in their own name, personal savings, individual checking accounts, or control over their own earnings. Rural women overwhelmingly report economic reasons, such as limited job opportunities, lack of available housing, insufficient child care resources, as barriers to leaving their abusers. Although economic conditions vary across rural communities, persistent poverty is common, particularly in the southeast, southwest and Appalachian region and rural economics are generally unfavorable to women

Unique aspects of rural life, such as distance from victim services, the close-knit nature of rural communities, and the scarcity of employment and educational opportunities make it difficult for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to report the abuse, leave abusive relationships, and seek services. This paints a bleak picture of rural areas that are typically seen as warm, safe and inviting in contrast to the violent and unwelcoming urban spaces.


Enrique Fernandez said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Domestic violence is an unfortunate aspect of the human race, like any violence. But I image that seeking reprieve from domestic violence is even more difficult in isolated and hidden rural areas.

I like the mentioning of Alaska in your post. I feel like people don't think of Alaska when they think of rural, but it is likely as isolated and desolate as America gets. I can't image how difficult it might be for victims of domestic violence anywhere, let alone Alaska where one can be literally cut off from the rest of the world. I know that AK has a high alcoholism rate. I wonder if there is a correlation in rural state between alcohol abuse and domestic violence.

Juliana said...

Great topic. I think this problem can also be exacerbated in rural immigrant communities. As the post pointed out, not only are there a lack of resources for domestic violence victims in rural areas because of the general lack of legal aid and social services, but this can be particularly worse for communities that do not speak English. Especially for Hispanic communities, language barriers, fear of deportation, and cultural differences can further minimize women's ability to escape an abusive relationship.

Tiffanie said...

I find it very intriguing that the aspect of rural life that many people imagine to be so comforting - the close-knit nature of rural communities – can be the enemy in a domestic violence situation. If it isn’t bad enough that one must live in fear of being abused by a significant other, this fear is multiplied when one has to worry about anyone in the community finding out about the abuse. One slip of the tongue or one bruise being seen can be disastrous. It is reasonable to think that if even a single person finds out about the abuse, word will get around very quickly a small community. Domestic violence can escalate quickly to a deadly situation if the abuser discovers that abused has told other people in the community. Domestic violence anywhere, whether in rural or urban areas, is an unfortunate situation, but persevering against domestic violence in a rural areas seems almost insurmountable.

Ahva said...

Interesting post. It is such a tragedy that victims of domestic abuse in rural areas are often limited in receiving help because of their isolation and the general shortage of resources to address their problem. I recently did a post on crime in rural Alaska (found here: http://legalruralism.blogspot.com/2014/11/crime-and-law-enforcement-in-rural.html), and your post is consistent with many of the problems faced by victims of crime and abuse in rural Alaska. For example, you mentioned that abusers in rural areas often take advantage of their victims' geographic isolation, sometimes relocating to distance victims from their support network. As a mentioned in my post, there is also reason to believe that the isolation of persons living in rural areas makes those areas attractive to criminals, who are more likely to get away with their crimes because of a lack of a strong law enforcement presence there.

The shortage of victims services in rural areas is especially disheartening given the fact that victims often struggle with admitting their abuse, and war with themselves over seeking services in the first place. If, after they pass that hurdle, there are no nearby services to assist them in their healing process and in achieving some sort of independence from their abusers, where can they go? Sadly, I suspect that the answer is, back to their abusers.

Desi Fairly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Desi Fairly said...

I agree that persistent poverty of rural areas is a factor that plays into domestic violence. I would even go so far as to say that poverty it is the main factor that leads to a woman staying in a long-term abusive relationship. Where jobs opportunities are limited, so are a woman’s chances of saving up enough money to leave a violent partner. In a poverty stricken area, leaving an abuser who is also the sole income generator means that a woman risks homelessness and hunger or takes abuse as part of a relationship that provides financial stability. Of course this bleak situation also presents itself in metropolitan areas. However, the likelihood of poverty is higher in rural areas, which often lack employment options that pay a livable wage.