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Domestic violence service provision and rural life: An Australian case study


“One client who is in domestically [sic] violent relationship – not many people know. Her husband is in a high position in town and he beats her, I mean really bad and she’ll try to hide it. She’ll come into town with a black eye and bruises and tell everyone she had a car accident. Another time she said she slipped in the bath, or she’ll avoid coming into town for a while. She will run out of excuses soon, she can’t keep saying she had a car accident again.” (Family Counsellor)

One the major characteristics of domestic violence is its invisibility. In rural areas it is cloaked by the privacy of family life and the tyranny of distance. Research just published by Santi Owen and Kerry Carrington confirms how victims in rural towns go to great lengths to hide their abuse. Their study involved interviews with 49 rural service providers from criminal justice agencies, including police, courts, health and welfare services across 12 Local Government Areas (LGAs) with high rates of domestic assault.

Contrary to common belief, as a proportion per capita, rates of domestic assault are higher in rural and regional areas. The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research provides annual rankings of the top 50 LGAs with the highest rate of reported DV incidences per 100,000 population. At the time of this study 46 of the top 50 LGAs with the highest rate of domestic violent assaults were located in regional and rural NSW. Only 4 were in metropolitan areas. The interviews with rural DV service providers undertaken for this study were drawn from 12 of the highest ranking localities for domestic assault.

The interviews provided rich insights into women’s decisions whether or not to seek intervention from government-funded services in rural areas. The study found these decisions can be affected in distinctive ways in rural communities.
Firstly, personal shame attached to being a victim of DV encourages rural women to be complicit in remaining silent, making it difficult for service providers to access clients. This then leads to under-use of regional DV services and chronic under-reporting of DV.

Secondly, heightened privacy valued by rural families leaves DV victims isolated on rural properties, again frustrating the objectives of DV service provision.
Thirdly, when women break their silence to seek DV service support, the tyranny of distance and lack of services within close proximity to where they live makes it difficult for regional services to operate efficiently, or even operate at all.
Fourthly, informal social controls that act as a deterrent to women to seek assistance to end the abuse, also act to similarly stigmatise DV service providers (police, courts, health and social work personnel), making them vulnerable to social stigma, exclusion and professional isolation.

Lastly, because of these difficulties in reporting and service provision, the implementation of an integrated service provision model, the model adopted in urban settings, confronts manifold more obstacles in rural settings.

Read the full article here: Santi Owen and Kerry Carrington, (2015) ‘Domestic Violence (DV) Service Provision and the Architecture of Rural Life: An Australian Case Study’, Journal of Rural Studies, April 2015

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