Domestic abuse can happen anywhere, to anyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or location. It’s a national problem that occurs in the middle of cities and the smallest of towns. But you might be surprised to learn that women and children living in rural areas often experience the highest rates of abuse.
Prevalence of Domestic Abuse in Rural Areas
Women in rural and isolated areas experience abuse at higher rates than those living in urban and suburban areas. One study published in the Journal of Women’s Health reported that as many as 22.5% of women living in rural areas report incidences of intimate partner violence in the past year. By comparison, the same study found that 15.5% of women in urban areas reported experiencing domestic violence.
Women and children living in isolated or rural areas often experience more severe abuse from their abusers.
Why Is Abuse Worse in Rural Areas?
Rates of domestic abuse and domestic violence are higher in rural areas for several reasons:
- Lack of access to intervention programs, education resources, and healthcare providers.
- Personal connections to those who could report the violence, like healthcare workers or law enforcement personnel. In a small town, it’s likely these professionals also know the abuser, leaving the victims afraid they won’t be believed.
- Geographic isolation from people who can help.
- Cultural or religious beliefs regarding gender roles and relationship roles.
- Fear of the “small-town rumor mill” often prevents women from reporting the violence, fearing the report will not remain confidential.
Domestic violence in rural areas is a complex problem. Unfortunately, many victims living in these communities do not have the resources they need to leave safely.
Rural Abuse Victims Have Less Access to Support
When women in urban and suburban areas decide to report domestic abuse, they are often met with help and support. There are women’s shelters in cities across the country, providing counseling, housing, and job training for survivors. Women in urban areas can access economic support, healthcare, and employment opportunities.
The same is not always true for domestic violence victims living in rural or isolated areas. Too often, these women live an average of 40 miles from the nearest domestic abuse shelter. There is limited access to trustworthy and anonymous resources, like counseling, law enforcement, legal services, or healthcare professionals. In some cases, women do not have transportation to these resources even if they want to seek help.
The National Rural Health Association is trying to bridge the resource gap for rural victims of domestic abuse, providing education, domestic violence screening and awareness programs, and intervention programs for those living in isolated areas. In addition, the NRHA is working with rural healthcare providers to institute domestic abuse screening questionnaires to better identify victims in these communities.
How to Help Domestic Abuse Victims
Leaving a domestic abuse situation isn’t easy, even when a victim has access to services and support. For those living in rural areas, leaving an abuser might feel all but impossible. Often, victims living in rural areas have additional barriers, like economic concerns, cultural or religious beliefs that prohibit leaving, or they simply have nowhere else to go.
While leaving isn’t easy, it is possible. If you or someone you know is living with an abusive partner, there are ways to safely seek help. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline via their website, text service, or phone (1-800-799-SAFE) for more information.