Why is it so hard in the country?

Isolation of victims within rural and remote communities compounds both the level of domestic violence being experienced and the ability to receive assistance.

Reasons for difficulty in rural and remote communities:

  • Geographically; No one is close by to be able to intervene or call police
  • Lack of anonymity – shame and embarrassment if outsiders realise what is happening
  • Blow back potential – if the victim shares their story and it is repeated back to the abuser
  • Self reliance
  • Lack of perpetrator accountability
  • Complex financial arrangements; especially within farming families
  • Limited access to services and support professionals

Following are some excerpts from recent studies and reports on Family & Domestic Violence in rural Australia – There is a pattern that you will see…We could continue to list other studies and reports – there are many. They all say the same or similar. As does the recent Ray Martin exposé on 28th May 2017 – Dark Secrets: Australia’s Hidden Shame, which includes footage from neighboring Kalgoorlie.

The fact is:

Family and Domestic Violence DOES and IS happening in YOUR town.

To people YOU love and know.

The challenges that are faced by rural and regional families in combatting domestic violence is unique and at times may seem insurmountable – but there is help available, people to share and listen, women who have struggled and won, families who are recovering and most importantly; there is a future.

The following KEY facts emerged from a recent paper issued by the Commonwealth of Australia – Domestic and family Violence in Regional, Rural and Remote communities – An overview of key issues by Monica Campo and Sarah Tayton. (The paper in its entirety is available here in our publications section as a PDF.)

Key Facts from this study

  • Women in regional, rural and remote communities are more likely than women in urban areas to experience domestic and family violence.
  • Women living in regional, rural and remote areas who experience domestic and family violence face specific issues related to their geographical location and the cultural and social characteristics of living in small communities.
  • There is a common view in rural communities that “family problems” such as domestic and family violence are not talked about, which serves to silence women’s experience of domestic and family violence and deter them from disclosing violence and abuse.
  • Fear of stigma, shame, community gossip, and a lack of perpetrator accountability deter women from seeking help.
  • A lack of privacy due to the high likelihood that police, health professionals and domestic and family violence workers know both the victim and perpetrator can inhibit women’s willingness to use local services.
  • Women who do seek help find difficulty in accessing services due to geographical isolation, lack of transportation options and not having access to their own income.

The full version of Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s speech – Rural Responses to Rural Challenges: The Need for a Contextualised Response to Family and Domestic Violence can be found here .

She gave this speech in 2013 at the first National Rural Women’s Conference and highlighted three issues:

  1. What it means to be a victim or survivor of domestic and family violence in Australia.
  2. Why women’s ability to live lives free of domestic and family violence can be influenced by where we live and about some of the common challenges victims and survivors face in rural communities.
  3. The importance of tailoring responses to domestic and family violence to the rural context

She told the following story about Catherine – No, this is not a Western Australian story – but it might as well be;

“On one occasion, Catherine and her four children, two of them in their school uniforms, walked almost 80 kilometres to the nearest domestic violence shelter. With only the clothes on their backs, they slept on a river bank as they attempted to seek refuge from the violence and abuse that, by that time, had become part of their daily lives.”

But Catherine’s former husband would always find them. Vickie recalled how her father would stalk local refuges –there were not many where Catherine lived, you see – to find her mother. ‘He was obsessive. He had to find her. He had to have her. He had to control her. He had to own her’,[2] she said. And when he did find Catherine and their children, he would force them to return home with him.

The point is not that rural women are worse off than their urban or suburban counterparts; it is that their spatial circumstances and the consequences of those circumstances are relevant to the phenomenon of domestic violence, including law’s responses to it.[7]

The following FIVE points were highlighted by the Commissioner

Challenge 1: domestic violence doesn’t occur in rural communities

Women often tell me that there is a common misconception that domestic violence just isn’t a problem in rural and remote communities; it’s something that happens only in big city centres, or so the thinking goes.

Challenge 2: geographical isolation

Another challenge I hear a lot about in my travels is geographical isolation:

  • The limited services and infrastructure available in isolated areas – the fact that, in some towns and communities, there just isn’t a shelter, a health service or public transport.
  • The physical distance victims in isolated areas need to travel to access shelters and support services, including police and health and legal services.
  • Isolation from family members and friends who could offer support and assistance.
  • And isolation from the means and infrastructure needed to escape violent situations.

Challenge 3: limited employment opportunities

Access to employment can provide important pathways out of violent situations for victims and survivors. But where there are limited employment opportunities, as is so often the case in rural and remote communities, these pathways become increasingly difficult to access.

Without access to regular income and the financial security that gainful employment brings, victims’ dependency on their abusers may increase. And they may end up facing the unenviable and chilling decision of choosing between remaining in a violent situation or potential homelessness and impoverishment.

It’s hard to imagine yourself being in a position where you are forced to make such a decision. And, yet, many women know all too well what it is like to make such a decision; they don’t need to imagine it.

Challenge 4: intimate and interconnected social relations and lack of privacy and anonymity[10]

Life in a rural or remote community, where everyone knows each other, can present particular challenges for victims and survivors of domestic and family violence. Concerns about a lack of privacy or anonymity or disclosing violent situations to individuals who are known either to the survivor or the perpetrator may stop a survivor from taking action against their abuser.

Challenge 5: challenges faced by marginalised and disadvantaged women

Of course, for particular subgroups of women – women with disabilities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, culturally and linguistically diverse women – the challenges of experiencing domestic or family violence in a rural or remote location can be compounded by other factors.