A shocking picture of domestic abuse in rural Britain

Relationships|July 25th 2019

I mentioned here last Friday a report published by the National Rural Crime Network, looking at the issue of domestic abuse in rural areas. This is such an important matter, particularly having regard to the report’s findings (see the title of this post), that I thought I should devote a whole post to it.

Now, the report is quite long and detailed, and I could not possibly cover it all here (if you want to read the full report, you can find it here). I will therefore be concentrating upon its key findings and recommendations.

The findings do not make easy reading. I will set all ten of them out in full.

  1. Abuse lasts, on average, 25 per cent longer in the most rural areas. As to why this should be, we are told that: “Whereas an urban victim may be able to move within a local authority area, keep their children in school and retain their job, all of these are more challenging for rural victims.” Further: “Services are also much harder to access and societal structures make escape less likely resulting in rural victims being half as likely to report their abuse.”
  2. The policing response is largely inadequate, due to inadequate numbers, especially of female officers, and problems of distance.
  3. The more rural the setting, the higher the risk of harm – I suppose this inevitably follows from the above.
  4. Rurality and isolation are deliberately used as weapons by abusers. This is particularly chilling albeit, I suppose, unsurprising. As the report says: “Physical isolation is the arguably the best weapon an abuser has; and has a profound impact on making the victim feel quite literally captive.”
  5. Close-knit rural communities facilitate abuse. We are told that: “It is almost impossible for a victim to seek help without it being known to others, call the police without further community questioning or even share their fears with others in confidence.”
  6. Traditional, patriarchal communities control and subjugate women, although there is evidence that this is slowly changing.
  7. Support services are scarce – less available, less visible and less effective. Again, sadly no surprise here.
  8. Retreating rural resources, such as GP practices, make help and escape harder.
  9. The short-term, often hand-to-mouth funding model has created competing and fragmented service provision. Once again, I am not surprised about that.
  10. Lastly: “An endemic data bias against rural communities leads to serious gaps in response and support.” In other words, victims in rural areas are less likely to report, for the reasons set out above, and this in turn leads to a perception amongst the powers that be that the problem is not as serious as it actually is, which in turn leads to less resources being devoted to it. A vicious circle.

So what is to be done? The report makes six recommendations, each addressed towards a different target. They are, I think, self-explanatory, if not obvious, so I set them out here with little or no comment:

  1. Government must apply its ‘rural proofing’ policy to domestic abuse (which sets out guidance for government policy makers and analysts to mitigate impact in rural areas), strengthening its commitment with a new duty on policy makers, commissioners and service providers to account for the specific needs of victims and survivors in rural communities.
  2. Chief Constables need to urgently assess and improve their service provision in rural areas.
  3. Support services for rural victims and survivors must be improved.
  4. Commissioners (in all their forms, including police and crime commissioners and domestic abuse service commissioners) need to collaborate more locally and provide simpler, more secure and longer-term funding.
  5. Government, policing and service providers must collectively commit to redressing the urban bias.
  6. Lastly, society must challenge the status quo and societal ‘norms’ in rural communities to redress inequality between women and men.

In other words, we all have a duty to address this issue.

Domestic abuse is a scourge that can affect anyone, but clearly those victims living in rural areas may be more vulnerable. Let us hope that this report acts as a catalyst to change that depressing fact.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, or indeed if you have been accused of committing domestic abuse against a partner or child, Stowe Family Law can provide advice and assistance. For more information see here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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