“Rural women enduring domestic abuse are half as likely as urban victims to report their suffering and are being failed by authorities with perpetrators shielded by countryside culture, a report says.
Abusers are protected by the isolation of the countryside and traditional patriarchal attitudes, says the report from the National Rural Crime Network. It is the first study of its kind and finds that close-knit rural communities can facilitate abuse which can last, on average, 25% longer than in urban areas.
Some abusers move their partners from urban areas, where detection is more likely, to rural areas.
The report, published on Wednesday, says: “Rurality and isolation are used as a weapon by abusers. Financial control, removal from friends, isolation from family are all well-understood tools of abuse.”
It continues: “We have revealed a traditional society where women (and it is mostly women) are subjugated, abused and controlled, not just by an individual abuser, but de facto by very the communities in which they live, too often left unsupported and unprotected. This is not at all unique to rural areas, but it is very significant, and change is slow.”
Abusers exploiting isolation is a common theme in the report. One woman said: “My partner used to deliberately drive off to work with the kids’ car seats in his car, which meant I could not go anywhere safely because I was stuck in the cottage with the kids … it was just another way he isolated me and kept me from interacting with anyone else.”
The National Rural Crime Network is funded largely by police forces and their police and crime commissioners, to improve public safety in rural areas.
The report says that traditional, patriarchal communities control and subjugate women. “Rural communities are still dominated by men and follow a set of age-old, protected and unwritten principles.
“Men tend to hold the rural positions of power – head of the household, landowner, landlord, policeman, farmer. This patriarchal society makes women more vulnerable to coercion and control, prevented from speaking out and accessing support.”
Some cases have led to murder, such as that of Lance Hart, 57, who shot dead his wife Claire, 50, and daughter Charlotte, 19, in Spalding, Lincolnshire, in 2016, before killing himself. Claire Hart suffered years of controlling behaviour without the authorities realising and was killed after leaving her abusive husband.
One caseworker in County Durham said of the people suffering: “Many of them are in such a stressful situation they have shut down from any kind of rational thinking. It’s like all their effort goes into survival mode or protection for the kids … The longer it goes on the less likely they are to see the dangers.”
Escape is harder than in urban Britain because of shrinking resources and cuts to public services, the report says. “The availability of public services in rural areas more generally is on the decline, limiting the support networks and escape routes available to victims.
“A recently evidenced reduction in rural GP practices and challenges of effective broadband are good examples. This equally extends to services like buses and trains, whereby it remains very difficult (and getting worse) to travel within rural areas without a private vehicle. Abusers use this to limit victims’ movements, rendering already inaccessible services all but impossible to contact. …”