Domestic violence poses unique problems in rural areas
If a woman or a man is in a domestic situation and lives in a small rural town, out in the country or in an area such as Douglas County, where do they go? Who can they turn to for help?
Would they run to a neighbor's house for help? Would they tell a co-worker? What about a friend?
Now what about if that woman or man lives in a metro area or a larger town? Are there more options or easier access to help?
Susan Keehn, an advocate from Someplace Safe in Alexandria, thinks so.
She stressed that there are resources, such as Someplace Safe, available in small, rural communities, but that the access to getting the needed help may be limited.
Keehn said people in domestic situations living in rural communities could even have limited access to a vehicle, to their own family members and friends, to medical help or even to public transportation.
She said to think about what would happen if a woman, who lived in the country with the nearest neighbor two miles down a gravel road, had to flee a situation and didn't have access to a car.
"Where would she turn? Where would she go?" asked Keehn. "Would she run on foot to the nearest neighbor?"
Unfortunately, it does and has happened.
Another aspect of domestic violence in rural areas is the fact that small-town communities are often close-knit and victims may feel like they can't tell anyone about the abuse because of the "everyone knows everyone" mentality.
"It may be extremely risky to tell someone about an abusive situation because of the ties the person may have in a community," she said. "But that shouldn't stop people from reporting abuse."
She said victims may not seek out assistance at shelters or safe houses or other places that offer help because of the location of the business.
Luckily, she said, Someplace Safe in Douglas County is in a larger building that includes other businesses. People walking into the building aren't necessarily pegged as seeking out help at Someplace Safe, she added.
"We have anonymity here because of our location," stressed Keehn. "Everything here is strictly confidential."
Another item that might be limited is phone access, she said. In rural areas, cell phone service may not be that great or abusers may limit phone access to their victims.
In rural areas, said Keehn, there are more opportunities for victims to be isolated. And oftentimes, victims can become "trapped" with their abuser for longer periods of time.
Another aspect of domestic abuse in rural areas is economics.
With a slower economy, job loss for some families can lead to financial strain, which may lead to higher levels of stress.
And with the higher levels of stress, there could be heightened issues of power and control.
When there is less money coming into a family, it seems everything is heightened, especially anger, she added.
"The severity and frequency of abuse can increase because of economic times," she stressed.
Keehn questioned what happens to a woman, living in a rural area, when she leaves a domestic situation, especially if she has children.
"Where does she find a job? Where does she find a house? Where does she find child care?" she asked. "In a rural community, there are fewer options, plain and simple."
Fortunately, in Douglas County, victims do have resources available, but sometimes, even in this county, said Keehn, it may be hard for someone to take advantage of those resources.
"At Someplace Safe, we will do our utmost to reach out to victims and get them the help they need and deserve," said Keehn. "We don't want people to get discouraged reaching out for help. We are here. That's what we do. We are a response system for the victims. We will do what we can for those who need assistance."
To contact Someplace Safe, call (320) 762-1995 or call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-974-3359.
This is the third in a four-part series about domestic violence. Here are the topics and the issues of the newspaper they will appear:
Wednesday, October 7 - Safety planning, order for protections and harassing restraining orders.
Wednesday, October 14 - Strangulation and other forms of abuse.
Wednesday, October 21 - Domestic violence in rural communities and the economy.
Wednesday, October 28 - How you can help.