Victims of domestic abuse in rural areas are half as likely to report their abuse due to a ‘largely inadequate’ and less effective support service.
The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) outlined its findings on Wednesday (July 17), suggesting abuse lasted, on average, 25 per cent longer in most rural areas.
Feedback from victims showed the policing response was not as good as in urban areas, partly due to a lack of female police officers available but also because fewer officers had the appropriate training.
NRCN chairwoman Julia Mulligan said the research had uncovered a ‘deeply hidden and disturbing side to rural life’.
She said: “Rural victims are isolated, unsupported and unprotected in a rural hell, which is purposefully normalised.
“In the first instance, we need to acknowledge there is a significant, hidden problem and understand its specific complexities, because by continuing to gloss over the reality we are inadvertently supporting the perpetrators who often employ rurality as a weapon in the abuse.”
Ms Mulligan said the story was previously untold because there was little to no research on the impact that rural geography had on abuse, ‘which in turn has affected how little that abuse is understood, how badly it is addressed and how sparingly victims can access the tailored support necessary to exit abusive relationships and rebuild their lives’.
The report showed clear evidence that abusers specifically move victims to rural settings to further isolate them, or systematically use the isolation to their advantage should they already be there.
It added that rural communities were often still dominated by men with age-old, protected and unwritten principles.
“As many victims are not coming forward, or indeed see themselves as victims, the police need to consider a more pro-active, intelligence-led approach, rather than relying on responding to reports,” the report said.
“Much more needs to be done to ensure that police officers understand the rural context of abuse, such as the impact of physical isolation, the rural characteristics of coercive control, the potential role of the community in abuse, and the patriarchal power structure.”