Following are a few issues that uniquely affect women in rural and isolated communities who are, or have been, living with domestic violence.
Lack of services
Often there are few or no specialist domestic violence services available to women in rural and isolated communities. Women may also lack access to other health and support services. In addition, women in small communities may be reluctant to access any existing services such as a doctor, the police or a solicitor. It might be that these people are friendly with her partner or that her partner also uses their services. The perpetrator may, in fact, be one of these key service providers.
Women may need to leave their community to get help and support.
Sometimes women are reluctant to use local services because they know the staff personally and may feel uncomfortable disclosing their experiences.
A woman may wish to contact services that are available. However, she might be prevented from doing so by the fact that she is always accompanied to town and to appointments by her partner.
Fears about confidentiality are a major concern in small communities. In more traditional rural communities, there may also be a strong ethic of self-sufficiency. As a result, women may keep their problems to themselves or within the family.
Issues for service providers
Service providers living in small communities may know both the victim and the perpetrator personally or by reputation and this will usually affect the nature of the interaction. They may also lack access to other services and to peer support.
Service providers may find it difficult to put into place primary prevention initiatives, often lacking access to information and skills they need in the prevention of violence.
“Organisations in rural and remote communities often deliver services over a large geographical area, travelling long distances to reach isolated areas.” (Fact Sheet 4, What are the Issues for Rural Communities produced by National Rural Women’s Coalition).
The police response
Research into policing in country areas has shown that police familiarity with victims and/or perpetrators sometimes leads to a relaxation of attention in responding to calls about domestic violence. When police are “mates” with the perpetrator, there may be a reluctance to take appropriate action against the perpetrator.
In some districts, only a couple of officers are available to police a vast geographical area. In these situations, the police response time to complaints may be hampered by distance and other duties. Research into the police response to breaches of domestic violence orders has shown that police may be reluctant to arrest because of distance to a lock-up and the time required which would take them away from other duties.
Lack of information
Women in isolated areas may lack information as well as access to information about the services available to them, the law and domestic violence.
Isolation and distance
A woman on a property may be hundreds of kilometres away from her nearest neighbour or support from family and friends. Often regular public transport is not available. Telephones and other telecommunications such as email can provide an extremely important link for women. However, in an abusive situation a woman may be monitored or denied access to these.
Lack of Transport
Generally there is no transport available to women if they do not have access to a car. Some women may be in a position where they need to travel hundreds of kilometers to the nearest refuge and to safety. If a woman does wish to leave she has to plan her escape carefully. Some agencies can assist with travel costs.
Lack of Telecommunication Technology and Infrastructure
Restricted access to money
Women living on properties may have very limited access to cash as most money may be tied up in assets or debts on the property. The financial arrangements between couples living on properties might mean very little cash is available. This makes it difficult if a Woman wants to try to save some money in order to leave a violent situation. It also means that if she does leave, there may be difficulties in the property settlement.
Access to safety and resettlement
In order for a Woman to leave a violent relationship and be safe, she will often have to resettle a long way away from her home. There may be no refuge nearby or no emergency or low-cost accommodation available. In mining or company towns, it is usually impossible for a woman to obtain any accommodation, as housing is restricted to employees. Should there be a refuge in a rural community, its location will often be widely known. A woman may need to go to a refuge in a different region so that her partner does not know where she is. The resettlement may mean that she has to move away from family and friends, thus creating another form of isolation. It may be that there is a reluctance to leave the farming lifestyle or animals.
Often the decision to leave a property and the family business is an incredibly difficult one. There is often complicated financial, business and property arrangements in farming families that make financial arrangements difficult. It might be that the business will not survive if she leaves and this would deprive her partner of a livelihood, or she may feel that she has to leave assets that have been developed together over many years. Given that employment opportunities are usually limited in rural communities, a woman may find it difficult to get work.
Widespread availability of firearms
The presence of firearms is much greater in rural areas. Firearms are often used by perpetrators to threaten women and are also particularly prevalent in domestic homicides.
Community attitudes in small towns may be oppressive, unsympathetic and conservative in regard to domestic violence, marriage and a Woman’s right to be safe. People may be reluctant to become involved for fear of their own safety. Some believe that domestic violence is a private matter and that a couple should sort it out between themselves. Attitudes may be prevalent which disapprove of marital and family breakdowns and suggest that regardless of what a woman is experiencing, she must remain with her husband/partner.
There may be a significant culture of mateship and masculinity reinforcing and condoning the use of violence.
Women may feel strong pressure to protect the family name and thus continue to live with the abuse.
In spite of these issues many women have assisted through the provision of information, support and advocacy. The telephone can be a very effective tool in discussing options and in planning for safety. Creative ways have been found around what may have seemed impossible situations.
Remote Area Families Services provides support to families in rural and remote Queensland and parts of Northern Territory. You can find out more by visiting their website: http://www.frontierservices.org/
The National Rural Women’s Coalition has developed “Stopping Violence Against Women Before it Happens: a Practical Toolkit for Communities” which is available on their website: Living Free from Violence
The National Rural Women’s Coalition (NRWC) is a collaborative national voice for women living in rural, regional and remote Australia. Established in 2002, we seek to ensure better social and economic outcomes for women in our rural townships and on farms. Website: National Rural Women’s Coalition