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.