South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault

South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
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Rural Battered Women
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Rural Battered Women

While there are many commonalties for women who are battered/abused, the rural factors add to and definitely shape the perception, awareness, and intervention in and of all forms of violence against rural women.

The special needs of rural areas, including transportation and isolation, require special efforts. If a program is going to provide outreach services, they must be prepared to address those special and unique needs.

Society tends to perceive rural living as "healthier", almost idyllic-like, than urban living. Often even the suggestion that there is violence in the home in rural areas is met with disbelief, resistance and ridicule. 

One cannot talk about the farm family without talking about the family farm. Partners work side by side in the barn and in the fields. The "boardroom" is the kitchen table or the bedroom. Business life and personal life are intertwined. When an aspect of one is difficult, the aspects of the other also are difficult.

Business ownership is a particular dilemma for women who wish to leave. They leave behind their home, their community, their animals, their business assets, and their job. Most farm partners are not paid a wage, therefore, no unemployment contributions can be made, no pension plan, no social security (for her), and no access to welfare if the system thinks she has access to business assets. If a woman marries into an existing farm that is part of a partnership or corporation, the home and vehicles may be included in the corporation's assets and the woman leaving has little to claim. A farm woman's tie to the farm animals can also bind her to the farm. One scenario is of a farm woman, who after 15 years of abuse, decided to leave. She saved up money from her "family allowance" to pre-pay a relief milker (the day she left) for 2 weeks to care for her animals so she knew that at least they were looked after for a while. Another scenario is of the woman who asked the local Sheriff to find someone to go in and care for her livestock because she knew her husband wouldn't.

The act of leaving the home place and coming to a shelter can be emotionally wrenching. The land, the animals who depend on her for their care, and her key position in the family economy can have magnetic power. 

From a woman who left the farm after 12 years of abuse: "Not only the farm animals and family pets and the income. But the skills she will need to work in a different arena. These women could typically be women that married just out of high school, don't perceive themselves as having skills that are valuable anywhere except on the farm. So, asking them to move and start over is really asking a lot. They may be tied to the farm/rural area by other family - their parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and even lifelong friendships. So by asking them to enter a shelter in a "town" is really asking them to change their whole life, not just leave an abusive situation. And asking them to enter a shelter in a rural area - where people know them and their family is just as hard. Then they are saying or implying something about their own decision-making, their own lives, that they do not want the whole world to know. In the past (and not so long ago) if a woman thought of leaving a husband, she was defying God, society, family, everything she knew and held dear for her own 'selfish' needs. Recently, reading in the newspapers about a rural women who was killed by her abusive spouse�..brought back memories of the horrors that I faced. No car, no driver's license, 5 small children that I could not just walk away from, no place to go if I did ( and certainly not my parents - the shame of that - plus they could not care for all of us) and no resources to care for all those children. The years I suffered, and the children suffered�.in silence, in hiding, did more damage than can be undone."

Isolation is common to the farm/rural scene. Women may not only live in remote places but may also be prevented from leaving home or from contacting others. Phone services may be absent or economically not feasible. Party lines are still in existence in many rural areas. Roads are often poor and rendered impassible by adverse weather conditions such as snow, ice, mud, or high water. If there is a vehicle, and it is "legal," the gas tank may be empty or near empty, the key may not be available. "Public" transportation is unheard of in remote rural areas. Neighbors may be unwilling to get involved, or more commonly may be kin by marriage. Seasonal work, unemployment, refusal to work, farm living means long periods of time when a woman is constantly under the watchful control of her partner. Tools and hunting weapons are commonplace in rural homes and vehicles; the damage they inflict may be "easily explained" or long-healed before a woman sees anyone outside of her family, especially in winter.

Physical isolation is reflective of the deeper psychological and spiritual distancing a battered woman may experience in rural areas. Fundamentalist religious teachings, deep-rooted cultural traditions, everyone is either related to one another or knows one another, and commonly accepted sexual stereotyping can form a chorus of voices accusing her of causing what she perceives as battering. They accuse her of being unfaithful to her role as a community member, woman, wife, mother; they surround her with walls of guilt. The batterer, aware of this mindset, can rely on the community thinking it is "about the woman". He's out there recruiting the community to his "camp."

Most law enforcement officers in rural areas know the abusers socially - they have either gone to school with them, are fishing/hunting buddies of them, or are related to them in some way. They then are often reluctant to enforce laws because they believe men know what is best for women. Decisions to assist battered women are made more on the basis of personal relationships and power trading than on the basis of women's rights to safety and security.

There is a strong belief in relying on the family for problem-solving, even when the family is dysfunctional. In addition, there is distrust and suspicion of human services, especially services like crisis centers and shelters, which defy tendency to treat domestic violence as a private family matter and, instead; insist that abusive behavior is criminal and must face criminal charges.

Rural law enforcement personnel typically are untrained in the dynamics and issues surrounding violence against women and the laws regarding these issues. This is 'their territory', they know what is best for 'their territory'. Law enforcement agencies are usually understaffed or part-time, at best. When they do respond to a call, it may take an hour or longer to arrive at the scene. Should they make an arrest, it may be 100 miles to the nearest holding facility.

Most of the resources she needs to access should she decide to leave are located in the county seat, a 'big town', and again, at least an hours drive away. Social service resources, law enforcement, legal resources, job services, can seem complex, scary, and confusing. The political and justice systems are all too often tied into the 'good old boy' network which makes law enforcement slow, arbitrary, ineffective. Un-served or un-enforced restraining orders are useless papers, especially if the deputies are slow in responding. And, men cannot be forced from a family farm if it is a source of income. 

Options for a woman who leaves a domestic violence situation and chooses to remain in the rural area are not encouraging.

There is a lack of jobs in rural areas. Women who succeed in leaving the home are often met with the fact that the only employment to be had is part-time clerk at the grocery store, or part-time waitress at the local caf�.

Rural communities/areas seem to emphasize "coupling" so that a separated or divorced woman faces difficulty in being assimilated into any positive social activities. Most of these social activities revolve around church and family functions, farm/ag related functions, i.e. rodeos' and fairs. The woman may, in fact, be socially ostracized.

by Shirley Erhart, Advocate for Rural Women

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South Dakota Coalition Against Domestic
Violence and Sexual Assault

PO Box 141
Pierre, SD 57501
(605) 945-0869 Phone
(605) 945-0870 Fax
(Info/Referral only)
Email: [email protected]

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Working for the major social changes necessary to eliminate both personal and societal violence against all women and their children.