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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
for a woman who leaves a domestic violence situation and
chooses to remain in the rural area are not encouraging.
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 café.
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.
Shirley Erhart, Advocate for Rural Women