Intimate partner violence in rural communities

While women from all backgrounds are subjected to many of the same forms of violence, intimidation, isolation and control from abusive partners, women of some communities and populations can experience systemic discrimination and face additional challenges in leaving the relationship. They may be more vulnerable due to a lack of resources and options for leaving. Furthermore, the abuser may use specific tactics and forms of abuse related to their partner’s particular situation.

There are specific issues that affect and intensify the experiences of rural women living with abuse:

  • Geographic location
  • Lack of transportation
  • Isolation
  • Economic conditions
  • Limited access to services (legal system, social services)
  • Lack of anonymity and privacy

There tend to be fewer support services and resources, transportation may be limited, access to legal services and courts is sporadic, and service providers could be relatives or friends of either the woman or the abuser. In addition, information about services may be unavailable, and public awareness may be lacking. Often, stronger patriarchal values and beliefs exist in rural areas, resulting in more traditional gender roles and an imbalance of power.

Community denial in rural areas about the issue of violence within families is intensified by the close-knit nature of the communities as well as their small sizes. Denial in rural communities may also stem from the community’s image of itself as a “haven,” free from the ills associated with urban life. In small communities with few resources, denial becomes a major barrier because of the lack of alternatives.

Lack of anonymity and a resulting lack of confidentiality are also significant barriers affecting rural women living with violence.

Isolation is a major challenge. Rural communities tend to be more physically isolated by virtue of their distance from urban centres. This physical isolation is accentuated by the lack of adequate public transportation and other diverse services that characterize urban settings. In fact, abusers sometimes relocate to rural areas specifically to isolate their partners.

Women living in rural areas face additional obstacles when attempting to leave their abusive partners. Leaving a home that is located several kilometres from the nearest paved road, with children, is not only difficult but can expose a woman to the dangers of being discovered in mid-flight. The act of leaving, which itself is an act of resistance, can result in severe and, at times, lethal violence. Other factors, such as weather conditions, must also be calculated into the decision to leave (i.e., roads in the winter may not be accessible).

Women in farming communities have additional economic stress. Their role on the farm directly relates to the success of the farm’s productivity. The farm may be their only asset, and their investment may be jeopardized if they leave.

Animals are a significant presence in rural families, whether as pets or livestock. They can be unwitting tools in the hands of an abuser who will threaten to kill animals as a means of emotionally controlling the woman or who will threaten to or will neglect livestock as a means of financial control.

In many rural areas, guns are part of the household. While their purpose may be for hunting and protection, they can also be used to threaten or commit acts of violence. Firearms are 2.5 times more likely to be used to kill a partner in a rural community than in an urban one.

And when calling for help in times of crisis, police response is affected by the distances. Increasing numbers of communities and rural areas are served by police detachments that are many, many kilometres away and are not staffed 24 hours a day. Nonetheless, higher rates of women in rural communities contact police for assistance due to intimate partner abuse in comparison to those in urban settings.

This content was taken from the After She Leaves Resource Manual.