Domestic violence is something that impacts people in all corners of the world. Different countries have different rules and laws resulting in a different approach or perspective but sometimes, big differences can be found within the same country and in our case, within the same province. Living in a rural environment versus an urban or city environment can do that for a number of reasons. It’s not that city cousin or country cousin have it tougher than the other, it is more about understanding the challenges that folks in each environment have to deal with. This can become frustrating when the folks who make the rules don’t understand what these differences can mean.
There are so many things that need to be taken into account when looking at rural environments and domestic violence. The following list includes some of the more common issues that victims and service providers face when trying to deal with domestic violence issues when in the country.
Isolation is a big one. One of the great things I love about living in the country is the fact that I can’t really see my neighbours from my backyard. It certainly affords me a wonderful sense of privacy that I have come to get used to. It’s also quiet because there are very few cars that come along, especially at night. It’s also dark at night, no lights coming in the windows once the sun goes down. You get to see the stars every night that they’re out if you want and you don’t have to worry about lights keeping you awake. It’s great.
It’s also a great way to make sure that no one ever knows that you’re in trouble or that you’re trapped or that you need help or that your partner is hurting you. It is extremely isolating for people who are not connected with their neighbours and their communities but are rather kept away from the little bits of socializing they might otherwise engage in. Being isolated like this also means a few things like not knowing what services that are available or who or where you would even begin to call. Trying to get information to someone in this situation, provide supports or services is incredibly difficult. If you can’t go to them, they have no way to get to you. There are no buses, no trains, no subways, no streetcars. You really are on your own out there and that’s not always a good thing.
So being physically isolated in today’s age with cell phones and texting and face time and internet and data plans seems like a minor inconvenience. But did you know that I can drive less than five minutes from my office and my cell phone and my pager will stop working. This happens on and off throughout many sections of our region. This happens in many parts of most rural regions. There is one very pretty and popular cottage country town where all staff and volunteers have to ‘check in’ before they get into the town because all communication ends without a land line once they get there. They have to check in again when they’re leaving so that we all know that everyone is well. Imagine living there and having no cell service. Imagine living in a place where your cell phone is nothing more than a glorified paper weight. A lot of rural homes also don’t have a land line anymore. Having no ability to communicate with others makes it almost impossible to know what help is out there and to access it.
It’s not uncommon for the abusive person to not allow their partner to have a cell phone or control the use of it, maybe take it with them when they leave which results in limited options. If you don’t have a car (common) then there are times you have to walk for a few miles just to borrow your neighbour’s phone. Internet is not a guarantee and a lot of homes still have don’t have access.
Aside from the inconvenience and isolation that comes with a lack of internet, many intake processes that could be helpful or important for a domestic violence victim now require you to apply online. Did you know that if you were trying to apply for social assistance or see if you could qualify to hopefully get out of a dangerous relationship, your options are to leave a phone message and someone will call you back when they get the chance or go online and apply. In fact, they will tell you when you call to go online to apply versus setting up an appointment (in a town that you can’t get to without a car). Without telecommunication abilities, you literally cannot start the process you might need to get out.
Some community services rely on and utilize traditional postal services to get information out – us included. We will often mail something to someone at their request or with their permission as a way for them to get the information they might need. Many folks here still have their mail delivered by a mail delivery person. Rural post offices typically know everyone and one of the advantages is that even if someone gets your address wrong, they still get it to your mailbox because they recognize the name. That’s happened to me many times. Imagine getting something in the mail that gives any hint that the person receiving the information might be looking for resources related to domestic violence. If you know everyone and everyone knows you, that means your abusive partner also knows everyone. Chances of him or her finding out that you received that information is very high and that can create another level of risk.
Sometimes the issue relates to animals. Farm animals require daily care and are a lot of work. Having your animals killed in retaliation does and has happened. You can’t leave because the animals will die. You can’t stay because you might not survive. If animals are part of your income and livelihood, you are not only potentially signing the death sentence for your animals, you’re destroying your only source of income. Farming is not a profession that allows you to collect unemployment if you needed to leave. You can find yourself in a very dire financial situation. This is a big barrier for a lot of women and one that needs a coordinated and well thought out response in order to do it right.
Community resources are often based on population. The bigger the population, the higher the need, the more money. That doesn’t mean that urban sites have it better because they are dealing with volume, but it does limit the ability of rural service providers to meet the need. It is expensive to provide services in the country. We have three offices, each one is in a different town. We really need a fourth office in another town in order to provide services there. Some of our community partners have five offices scattered throughout the region. Imagine paying hydro for five offices, paying rent for five buildings, five phone accounts (because different towns mean a different account entirely), five fax machines and so on. That is an expense that is beyond most organization’s ability to pay. That means you put up shop in the most densely populated spot and hope you find a way to catch everyone you can. Without public transportation, providing services to the folks living outside of the town is incredibly difficult. Add on mileage costs to drive 100+ km to one meeting that takes up at least half of your day and you have increased costs in every sector and avenue possible of service delivery. And rural sites get less money, because there aren’t as many people.
Did you know that everyone around here owns a gun. I like that Canada has gun laws. I think they’re very important. If you lived in the city, I wonder if you would know anyone that has a gun in their home. Here, almost everyone has one. My dad had one. I don’t know if he ever used it for anything but he needed it when walking through the property sometimes. One of my brothers had bows and arrows that he would hunt game with. Having a whole bunch of guns that can be used to shoot from a distance is actually really common, not to mention axes and sledgehammers and chainsaws and various other things. It’s a part of life. Hunting and farming means access to weapons and if you don’t have some, you probably know people that do, including family. That doesn’t mean there are all kinds of wild gun fights going on out here in the wild woods of the country but it does mean that gun threats are real and being shot by a partner or former partner who you’re trying to escape from is a potential reality and unfortunately, has happened here.
Knowing the different types of risks can be important as part of the planning process. Understanding why things may not be as easy as they seem on the surface when you’re on the outside looking in is also important if you want to help support and encourage others to get out of a dangerous situation. If you are in a domestic violent relationship, please consider calling someone to find out your options.
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