Women in rural areas are just as likely as women in cities and suburban areas to report being the victims of domestic violence, even though rural areas are far less likely to have other violent crime. Domestic violence crosses all geographic lines, but many factors within rural communities affect how abused women get services, or how services are provided.
Frequency of Domestic Violence
Pennsylvania's local domestic violence programs offer free and confidential services to victims of domestic violence in every county, but rural women may find it hard to ask for and get to help.
Barriers to Leaving
A common tactic used by many batterers is to isolate their victims from any type of support. Abusers also limit access to information about help that may be available. For women living in rural areas, this isolation is worsened because they may live far from services, shelter, jobs, health care, neighbors, families and friends. There is little access to public transportation or childcare. There may not be an extra vehicle. Cell phone coverage is spotty and many victims may not have access to a landline phone.
A "rural culture" often includes everyone working together and knowing what is going on in each other's lives. It is likely that law enforcement, judges, social service and health care workers, faith leaders and others know both the victim and the abuser. As a result, it may be more uncomfortable to share what is happening behind closed doors. Victims may feel that people won't take their situation seriously. In addition, there may be strong ties among extended families that mean breaking up the family is frowned upon.
Those living in rural areas may feel that abuse is not a topic to be freely talked about. "Outsiders" aren't to be trusted and problems are worked out within the family (or not). Keeping things "the way they have been for years" is preferred to making changes.
Women who own, live or work on a farm are faced with even harder decisions since their personal and business lives are often tied together. Do they leave behind their home, business, animals and job to go to a shelter in a unfamiliar town? Is their money tied up in the farm? It is one thing to worry about whether or not your batterer will feed the cat, dog or fish; it is another to worry about who will milk the cows, muck the stalls or tend to the daily needs of horses, goats, chicken and pigs. And if farm life is all they know, where will their next job be? Are there any local opportunities for school or job training?
Going to court or to the police may be harder in rural areas. The closest courthouse could be more than two hours driving time. Public transportation is scarce. Friends and family may hesitate to "get involved" and provide a ride. Police can take longer to arrive in emergencies because of the distance they need to travel. It is harder to get a free attorney. These barriers make it challenging for victims in rural areas to get away from the abuse, find a place to live, and support themselves with a living wage, but are necessary to leave an abusive partner and be able to stay away.
PCADV Works to Increase Rural Resources for Domestic Violence Victims and Families
- PCADV's member programs work in every county to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, housing options and other services to help victims gain financial stability and independence. Rural programs may offer satellite offices, help with transportation, or use teleconferencing to connect victims to important services and courts.
- PCADV legal department attorneys provide technical assistance to rural advocates and attorneys helping domestic violence victims.
- PCADV sponsors a rural task force for advocates to compare challenges and solutions for working in rural areas.
- PCADV offers training about working with domestic violence victims.
Recent Research and Resources
The Kentucky Civil Protective Order Study: A Rural and Urban Multiple Perspective Study of Protective Order Violation Consequences, Responses, & Costs TK Logan et al., (2009).
The results of this study show clearly that civil protective orders are an effective intervention in addressing partner violence. For approximately half the women, all it took to stop the violence was a protective order. For the other half, the violence and abuse was significantly reduced. Challenges remain in rural areas with access and enforcement.
OVW's Rural Pilot Program was designed to reach out to small faith-based and community organizations not addressing domestic violence, to expand domestic violence services in rural areas for underserved populations. A. Klein et al. (2009)
Rural Victim Assistance: A Victim/Witness Guide for Rural Prosecutors
The guide is designed to help prosecutors, victim advocates, and policymakers understand the state of victim/witness assistance in rural communities. American Prosecutors Research Institute, 2008.
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- Rural Assistance Center An information guide from the Rural Assistance Center with frequently asked questions and resources related to rural domestic violence.
- Rural Womyn Zone An online community by and for rural women.
- Share Inc. Domestic Violence Program SHARE, Inc. is a non-profit community-based safe house facility and domestic violence program in rural Colorado. The website hosts a Blog about domestic violence related issues.
- Focus on Violence Against Women in Rural Communities: VAWnet eNewsletter. National Online Resource Center on Violence against Women, 2008. This issue features a variety of materials exploring the unique dynamics of domestic violence in rural communities.
- WomensLaw.org Provides legal information and support to victims of domestic violence. "Staying Safe" with a link for Rural Areas, is a page that provides tips for victims on keeping themselves and their family members safe in various situations and stages of abuse.
- Helping Battered Women and Their Children: A Guide for Faith Leaders and Religious Communities