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Men's Violence Against Rural Women

NCADV Rural Victims & Domestic Violence Fact Sheet

Battered women living in rural areas have many of the same experiences as battered women everywhere. But rural battered women have certain experiences and face certain barriers that are unique to rural settings.

Batterers commonly isolate their victims as one tactic of maintaining power and control over their victims. They frequently:

  • Refuse access to family vehicles or prevent a woman from getting a driver’s license;
  • Ridicule her in front of friends and family so that she’s reluctant to have them come to her home;
  • Accuse her of flirting or having affairs and because of this suspicion, beating her for even limited contact with another person;
  • Remove the telephone when leaving the home or calling her every hour to monitor her whereabouts;
  • Threaten or beat her when she returns from an outing with women friends; and/or,
  • Threaten to kill her if she tells anyone about the abuse.

A woman isolated in these ways has a difficult time escaping from a violent partner. She fears leaving. She fears asking someone for help. Battered women everywhere experience some form of isolation as controlled by their partner, but for rural battered women the isolation becomes magnified by geographical isolation. Other rural factors can have an impact on a rural battered woman’s isolation and chances for safe shelter. Consider that:

  • A rural battered woman may not have phone service;
  • Usually no public transportation exists, so if she leaves she must use a family vehicle;
  • Police and medical response to a call may be a long time in arriving;
  • Rural areas have fewer resources available to women—jobs, childcare, housing, and health care. Easy access to these resources is limited by distance;
  • Extreme weather conditions often exaggerate isolation—cold, snow, and mud regularly affect life in rural areas and may extend periods of isolation with an abuser;
  • Poor roads impede transportation;
  • Seasonal work may mean months of unemployment on a regular basis and result in women being trapped with an abuser for long periods of time;
  • Hunting weapons are common to rural homes and everyday tools like axes, chains, mauls, and pitchforks are also potential weapons;
  • Alcohol (and drug) use, which often increases in winter months when rural people are underemployed and isolated in their homes, usually affects the frequently and severity of abuse;
  • Traveling to the "big city" can be intimidating to rural battered women and city attitudes may seem strange and unaccepting of her ways;
  • A woman’s bruises may fade or heal before she sees a neighbor, and working with farm tools and equipment can provide an easy explanation of her injuries;
  • Farm families are often one-income families and a woman frequently has no money of her own to support herself and her children;
  • A family’s finances are often tied up in land or equipment, so a woman thinking of ending a relationship may face the agonizing reality that she and her partner may lose the family farm or her partner will be left with no means of income;
  • Court orders restraining an abuser from having contact with a woman are less viable for rural women because their partners cannot be kept away from the farm if it is the only source of income;
  • Rural women frequently have strong emotional ties to the land and to farm animals and if she has an attachment to her animals, she may fear that her animals will be neglected or harmed if she leaves; and,
  • Rural women are usually an integral part of a family farm business, so if she leaves, the business may fail.

Rural battered women have unique problems, but alternatives to living without abuse do exist. A battered women’s program can provide personal support, safety planning for you and your children, information about options available to you, transportation, legal information, safe shelter, and referrals to financial assistance, job training, and education options.

Source: Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women

Battered women living in rural areas have many of the same experiences as battered women everywhere. But rural battered women have certain experiences and face certain barriers that are unique to rural settings.

“Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge. Some of us have ventured out nevertheless, and so far we have not fallen off. It is my faith, my feminist faith that we will not.”

Andrea Dworkin

Why she stays…a rural perspective

The Minnesota Center against Violence and Abuse

All women who are battered by their intimate partners are isolated. Enforced isolation is one of the ways an abusive man keeps his victim under his control. The batterer systematically severs the victim’s ties with family, friends, and her support system so that she isn’t influenced by them, nor will she feel she can seek shelter and emotional support from them.

His isolation of her is intensified when they live in a rural area. If there are no neighbors to hear her screams, she has no transportation, and possibly no phone: she is trapped. She is trapped even more than a woman in an urban or metropolitan area. The following areas describe additional ways a domestic abuser isolates his victim:

Support: The victim may lack support from the community and even her own family, who may encourage her to stay because they are unwilling or unable to help her if she flees.

Privacy: There is a lack of anonymity in rural areas; the law enforcement she calls is likely to be a neighbor, hunting buddy, related to one of them, or a good ole boy. If there is an arrest or petition for a protective order, it will be in the paper. Everyone will know and talk openly about the situation. Many rural homes have a police scanner, so a call to law enforcement will be known by all.

Communication: Some rural homes do not have phones or access to direct dial. A long distance call to a shelter (which can easily be 100 or more miles away) may be too expensive and will show up on the phone bill for the batterer to see. Batterers frequently prohibit access to a phone by removing the receiver whenever he is away from the home.

Transportation: There is no public transportation in rural areas and the batterer nearly always controls access to the family transportation. He may monitor the mileage on the vehicle or disable the vehicle before he leaves so that she and the children cannot leave.

Housing: Low income housing in rural areas is extremely limited or non-existent, making it difficult for the victim to leave and begin to establish a new home for herself and her children.

Medical services: Clinics and other free medical services are extremely rare in rural communities. Everyone in rural communities goes to the same few doctors and there is very little chance that the victim can confidentially seek treatment for injuries the batterer inflicts.

Social services: Services such as counseling and family planning are often unavailable in rural communities even if the victim is allowed access to transportation.

Employment: Many victims of domestic violence have not been allowed to get an education or develop job skills. Most jobs available to women in rural areas pay low wages and may not support a woman and her children if she leaves her batterer. The lack of job training programs and affordable childcare also serve as barriers to a woman becoming self-sufficient.

Weapons: Hunting weapons are very common place in nearly every home, and most rural people know how to use them. Weapons are usually unregistered rifles and shotguns. Everyday tools such as axes, chains, mauls and chain saws are also readily available and equally lethal.

Weather: Extreme weather such as deep snow and flooding can make it virtually impossible for a victim to escape during numerous months of a year. Poor roads and poorer road maintenance compound this problem.

Culture: Rural women may be reluctant to seek help from anyone, but in particular from urban assistance programs. Locals may believe that city people don’t understand their lives (they probably don’t). They may also fear being made to feel inferior because of their lack of sophistication. Religious beliefs may prohibit a rural woman from seeking help and she will not want anyone to think that she can’t handle her personal business herself. Domestic violence may still not be viewed as a crime by the victim and certainly by the abuser. Till death do us part…

Men's Violence against Rural Women: Part 2

The Minnesota Center against Violence and Abuse

...women couldn't leave the farms because they had no transportation of their own...Even if she had transportation, a woman would not ask anyone for help, because the prevailing attitude held that she had made her bed and must lie in it. People didn't talk much about marital problems, because such things were private. Deborah Fink, Agrarian Women: Wives and Mothers in Rural Nebraska

"It is vital that battering be viewed not only as a crime but also as a manifestation of structured gender inequality." Kathleen Ferraro, Cops, courts and woman battering

“I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

Rebecca West 1892-1983

"During this first visit to the Washington shelter, I sensed I was standing at the feet of patriarchy. The very architecture of the shelter, with the security system, the drawn blinds so as to exclude the hostile world, and the residential language of injury and abuse, evidenced the 'reality' of patriarchy." Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System

"Very few data-based studies of rural battered women exist, but the already significant problems of battered women are likely exacerbated by rural factors. Poverty, lack of public transportation systems, shortages of health care providers, under-insurance or lack of health insurance, and decreased access to many resources (such as advanced education, job opportunities and adequate child care) all make it more difficult for rural women to escape abusive relationships. In addition, rural health care providers may be acquainted with or related to their patients and their families, creating a barrier to disclosing abuse confidentially and thus further isolating these women. Geographical isolation and cultural values, including strong allegiance to the land, kinship ties and traditional gender roles also increase the challenges faced by rural women when they attempt to end the abuse in their live. The increased availability of weapons (such as firearms and knives) common in rural households also increases both the risks and lethality of domestic attacks upon rural women." Rural Health Response to Domestic Violence: Policy and Practice Issues

Difficulty with Anonymity

Somewhere in the Rocky Mountain West, or out there on the Great Plains, a battered woman waits -- under the glaring lights at the police station or county sheriff's office, at the truck stop parking lot, or near a phone booth outside one of the three liquor stores in this town of 3,200 people.

Her children cling to her, clutching their blankets in the chill air. Someone is coming, perhaps a stranger, or perhaps someone they already know from church, or have seen in the grocery store. She might even be a relative. NCADV Rural Task Force Resource Packet, January 1991, Second Edition

“My idea of feminism is self-determination, and it's very open-ended: every woman has the right to become herself, and do whatever she needs to do.”

Ani Difranco

Invisible and Voiceless

"Writing to the battered women's movement about rural women feels a lot like having a lot to say and not being sure anyone is listening.

Most rural battered women are excluded from dialogue, theory-building and decision-making within the movement. Perhaps, this is not surprising, given that 75 percent of all United States citizens live on only 25 percent of the land, most clustered in cities. The rest of us live scattered, almost invisibly, across the remaining area.

Rootedness in the land is integral to our sense of self. Being torn from it is a vulnerable feeling akin to rape and bereavement. When a battered woman flees her abuser whom she loves, and who she thought loved her, she suffers not only the trauma of abuse, but loses an essential component of her rooted identity." NCADV Rural Task Force Resource Packet.

Prevalence of Anti-woman Violence in Rural Areas

In Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System, Neil Websdale reports that the existing research shows rural areas are far less likely to witness violent crime than urban areas. However, women in rural areas are as likely as women in central cities and suburban counties to report being the victims of intimate violence.

Many kinds of isolation

"While no battered women's program begins or stays alive without the support of important segments of small communities, even those supportive groups apply pressure on the programs to 'moderate the message.' Be professional, cooperate, smile, don't be strident, dress nicely; above all, defend yourself properly from those rumblings that you're a 'manhater' and the shelter is 'just a place where they try to turn out women into Lesbians.' [Or 'tell everyone to get a divorce,' adds RWZ.] Thus, an advocate seeks safety in agreement with The Man, whether he is judge, police officer, or board member, who denies or minimizes the reality of Jane Smith's victimization.

“We have a double standard, which is to say, a man can show how much he cares by being violent - see, he's jealous, he cares - a woman shows how much she cares by how much she's willing to be hurt; by how much she will take; how much she will endure;”

Andrea Dworkin

"There's no place to hide in a county with only 5,000 people. The activist worker who wants to promote social change, eliminate the myths about battered women, and teach the realities of racism, homophobia, classism, and how they nourish violence against women, is well known and, at the same time, highly isolated. Her support system is scattered (two women in her town, another 30 miles away, others somewhere in this very large state), and her opportunities to retreat and heal are so limited." - NCADV Rural Task Force Resource Packet, January 1991, Second Edition

The Backlash

The Minnesota Center against Violence and Abuse

Our experience with resistance to our work leads us to new forms of women's culture.

When historical conditions are right and women have both the social space and the social experience in which to ground their new understanding, feminist consciousness develops. Historically, this takes place in distinct stages: (1) the awareness of a wrong; (2) the development of a sense of sisterhood; (3) the autonomous definition by women of their goals and strategies for changing their condition and (4) the development of an alternate vision of the future.

The recognition of a wrong becomes political when women realize that it is shared with other women. In order to remedy this collective wrong, women organize in political, economic and social life. The movements they organize inevitably run into resistance, which forces the women to draw on their own resources and strength. In the process, they develop a sense of sisterhood. This process also leads to new forms of women's culture, forced upon women by the resistance they encounter. ....Based on such experiences, women begin to define their own demands and to develop theory. - Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy

The Personal is Political

Unique Problems in Rural Areas

Victims of domestic violence who live in rural areas face special challenges. While batterers tend to isolate their victims in any geographic setting, for women in rural areas, this isolation is often even more severe. They may live miles from their nearest neighbor, friend or family member. Lack of available childcare, few job opportunities, inadequate public transportation, distance from shelters and services, and poverty and economic dependence are just some of the barriers that can make escaping a violent relationship even harder for rural women.

A lack of anonymity and confidentiality also makes it more difficult for victims of abuse to come forward and seek help. In small towns, it can seem as if everyone knows everyone else. Judges and police officers who know both a batterer and his victim socially may be less likely to recognize the severity of an assault. Underserved rural populations, including immigrants, African Americans, Native Americans, and gays and lesbians, face additional barriers as well. From Family Violence Prevention Fund article Danger in a Small Town: The Impact of Domestic Violence in Rural Communities

Identification of barriers to criminal justice systems for rural women victims of Men’s Violence

U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs:

Without understanding the unique characteristics of the rural environment, it is impossible to respond appropriately and fully to domestic violence and child victimization in rural areas. Rural environments are distinct from urban environments in ways that affect the ability of the criminal justice system to investigate and prosecute domestic violence and child victimization cases. Furthermore, rural environments present barriers that create difficulties for service providers in treating and counseling victims. The geographical and cultural features of the rural environment impact the ability of abused rural women and children to access the justice system and social services agencies. They also impede the ability of rural justice systems and agencies to provide essential services.

"...the policing of rural woman battering is complex, contradictory, and multifaceted. Different agencies respond to violence against women in different ways, producing a mosaic of social control initiatives that coexist alongside other responses of the patriarchal state." - Rural Women Battering and the Justice System.

For additional information please see:

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Rural Womyn Zone

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