Domestic Violence in Rural Areas
Introduction Domestic violence is a serious criminal, familial, and societal problem. Statistics indicate that many women fall victim to domestic violence however it is impossible to quantify the actual pain and degradation they face. Fear and terror are equally impossible to quantify as women and family anticipate their next assault. Domestic violence touches all walks of life therefore the use of gender specific language should not be construed to mean that domestic violence is only perpetrated on women or in heterosexual relationships. However, academic research consistently demonstrates that the majority of domestic violence victims are female and the batters male. For the purpose of this paper, violence perpetrated on women from men will be the focus. Battering is the largest cause of injury to women when compared to rape, auto accidents, and mugging combined (Robinson, 2000). The physical violence endured by women has ramifications beyond what women themselves suffer. For example, babies born with birth defects are increased because of pregnant women being battered, and children witnessing domestic violence are more likely to the repeat the cycle of violence as they get older (Robinson, 2000). Not only are children living in abusive homes adversely affected by what they witness, they are at risk of being abused themselves. It is estimated that 40% to 50% of men who batter their spouse also physically and emotionally abuse their children (Robinson, 2000). The most commonly asked question about domestic violence is why do women stay in an abusive relationship. Multitudes of reasons exist that are extremely complex. The book Rural Women Battering and the Justice System (Websdale, 1998) offers several reasons why women stay in an abusive relationship including but not limited to isolation, fear, economics, and negligent criminal justice systems. While these fears are universal among women, women in rural areas seem to be at greater disadvantages than women in urban and suburban communities in terms of "getting away" from their perpetrators or receiving assistance from the criminal justice system. This disadvantage is primarily due to geographical and social isolation. Rural Regions Defined The culture of rural regions differs significantly from urban regions in terms of demographics, homogeneity and diversity. Rural regions in terms of demographics are regions that consist of approximately 2,500 or less persons. These regions are understood to be countrysides or small towns when compared to urban dichotomies. Rural communities are also referred to as "primitive societies" in which farming, hunting, coal mining, and agriculture occupations exist. These occupations exist in urban communities, however in rural regions these occupations are greater. Rural regions are said to be more homogenous in that social interaction is heightened. Rural residents are more likely to either be related to each other, know or know of each other, and to some degree know one another's business (Websdale, 1998). Outsiders are more noticeable and often create suspicion from rural residents. For this very reason diversity is less tolerable. The tolerance of diversity is low in rural regions, while urban regions flourish with diversity. Urban areas attract a variety of cultures making urbanites more private and autonomous. This is not to say that urban regions can not be homogenous but the likelihood of every one knowing each other is unreasonable. Isolations that Rural Women Face Battered women in rural regions often complain of geographical and social isolation. Geographic isolation stems from the greater distances between people and places outside of the rural area. The same is true of social isolation as it, too, is a function of greater distances between people and the institutions with people (i.e. church, social groups, school, etc...). Urban women are at a greater advantage of getting assistance from the criminal justice system as more resource opportunities are within urban or city limits (Websdale, 1998). Although the accessibility of resources may differ for rural and urban women, the violence experienced is the same. Farms and ranches separate many homes in rural regions allowing for residents to not have neighbors for many miles. Living in hollows (secluded areas with relatively small numbers of homes and dirt roads) without access to public transportation makes it difficult for these women to engage in community life. The distance from "hollows" to paved road is usually several miles. It is possible for women to walk to paved roads, however the task of bringing children along makes it difficult. The length of time it may take to get to paved roads may endanger the threat violence on women even more as they run the risk of getting caught by their perpetrator. Control tactics such as removing telephones, disabling vehicles, intimidation, discharging firearms, and monitoring odometer readings are used by batterers to further isolate women. As evidenced by one women "He did not want me to have a car. That way I would have to stay home......he knew I would have no choice (p 6)." These tactics are also used in urban regions however as noted by Websdale, 1998 are more successful in rural regions. Urban regions have resources such as pay phones, public transportation and neighbors that women can access within reasonable distance. Abusers attempt to isolate women from friends, family and work. By not allowing her to work, the abuser limits her financial resources. Being isolated from family and friends battered women have fewer people that observe the abuse, thus fewer people to offer help or encouragement to leave. Many rural women go years without friends due to being so secluded. Community involvement (i.e church, school, social service agencies, etc...) is also limited to women residing in rural regions. Due to the low number of telephone subscriptions it makes it even more difficult for rural women to stay in contact with others. The lack of support and contact with others fuels the resistance women have with leaving their batterers. Rural Domestic Violence versus Urban Domestic Violence Violence is violence no matter where it happens. In my opinion, domestic violence does not differ in rural or urban regions however the use of violence may vary. For example, the threatened use or discharge of a firearm to intimidate women is more common in rural areas than urban areas (Websdale, 1998). This is not to say that in urban regions men do not use guns to intimidate women but it is more difficult for men to discharge firearms without creating suspicion within the community. In rural regions the discharge of firearms is often attributed to legitimate uses such as hunting (Websdale, 1998). For this reason, men in rural areas can use firearms to intimidate women without creating unreasonable suspicion. The rate of gun ownership is slightly higher in rural areas however; rural regions have lower rates of violence despite being well armed. This contradicts the gun ownership leading to higher rates of violence theory often supported by various anti-gun lobbies. Women in both regions experience emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Emotional abuse refers to attacks on self-esteem, instilling fear and terror, false accusations of infidelity and consistent intimidation. Physical battering includes acts of violence such as punching, kicking, biting, throwing objects, choking, and assaultive behaviors. Sexual abuse refers to forced sexual intercourse using violence or intimidation. Some women argue that emotional abuse is worse than that of physical or sexual abuse insofar as physical scars heal and psychological scars are deep rooted (Websdale, 1998). I beg to differ with this notion. Whether or not physical scars are visible, the memories are still present. Women try to suppress as much abuse as possible however the abuse dominates their life. No matter how old or how suppressed the abuse is, the memories are easily remembered. No form of abuse supercedes another form nor is one type easier for a battered women to heal. Generally, a battered woman experiences all forms of abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional) in one form or another that may take years of counseling to overcome. Why Battered Women Stay in Abusive Relationships As mentioned previously women stay in abusive relationship for numerous reasons. Rural Woman Battering and the Justice System (Websdale, 1998) offers fear, isolation, economics, and negligent criminal justice system as reasons why rural women have a much harder time escaping, these negative relationships. While this is true another factor should be considered. The cycle of violence demonstrates the complex dynamics of an abusive relationship. There are three phases in the cycle of violence: tension building phase, followed by the acute battering incident, and finally the honeymoon phase. During the tension building phase minor battering may occur along with verbal abuse. This phase also known as "walking on egg shells. Women anticipate that violence is going to happen and they try placating the batterer or women may escalate the situation to get the battering over. Eventually the tension phase evolves into the acute battering or violent phase. At this phase, the abuse happens. The victim has minimal control over the violent situation. Last in the cycle comes the honeymoon phase. At this stage is when the batterer is remorseful and promises that battering will never happen again. The honeymoon phase is similar to the courtship period in that the batterer is very loving, nurturing, and attentive to the victims needs. Victims are often persuaded during this phase in hopes that the batterer will revert to the person with whom she initially fell in love. Women remain hopeful that the abuse will just end. Other factors need consideration when asking why women stay in abusive relationships. The frequency of violent episodes determines the likelihood of women continuing the relationship. For instance the less severe and less frequent the violence, the more likely the woman is to stay. Another factor to consider is the way women view the role of men and women in family relationships. Women that hold more traditional values such as for better or worse are more likely to stay in abusive relationships (Websdale, 1998). These values set the stage for women to feel that if they leave the children are deprived of a father (Websdale, 1998). The most compelling reason why battered women stay is she fears that if she attempts to leave the violence will escalate. Unfortunately this fear is all too real. Women have been beaten beyond recognition and even murdered as a result of trying to escape violence. Considering all the factors presented women continue to develop coping mechanism that tend to minimize the abuse. Domestic Violence and the Criminal Justice System The battering of women is not just an individual or family problem, but a social problem rooted in the devaluation of women in general. Women's movement groups began focusing attention toward the criminal justice system as a possible solution to this problem. The criminal justice system appears to be a logical resource for abused victims, however this system occasionally re-victimizes. The re-victimization on victims of domestic violence begins with the police and filters into the criminal justice system. Police rarely made arrest at the scene of domestic disputes until the passing of pro-arrest and mandatory arrest laws in 1984 (Websdale, 1998). Women movement groups continue to argue that despite the mandatory arrest laws in domestic disputes a low level of police intervention and arrest are made. Pro-arrest laws require that police make an arrest when there is probable cause to believe that a perpetrator has intentionally or wantonly caused physical injury and presents a clear danger to the victim. Mandatory arrest laws require that an arrest be made when there is probable cause to believe that physical injury has been inflicted and threats have been made using a deadly weapon. Although these laws exist the discretion to make an arrest lies almost exclusively in the hands of police. The courts are not immune to re-victimizing victims of domestic violence. There is history of legalized spousal abuse. For instance, under English common laws men had a legal right to beat their spouses with an instrument as long as it was not bigger than a thumb. In modern law, domestic violence is not tolerated but is very much neglected. Traditionally, prosecutors are zealous in prosecuting domestic violence cases even after police arrested suspected perpetrators. The reluctance that the courts have on these cases is that domestic violence is a family problem unless there is serious injury, victims will not follow through, and little is to be gained by victims or perpetrators. There is also the concern of depriving a family of the "bread winner," which is typically the abuser. Urban and Rural Criminal Justice System As previously mentioned, it is my opinion that there is no difference in domestic violence among women in rural and urban/suburban regions. However, in terms of seeking protection assistance from the criminal justice system there are some distinct differences. It appears that battered women living in rural regions have a more difficult experience in seeking protection. Isolation factors play a significant role in why rural women do not seek protection from the criminal justice system as do women in urban/suburban regions. Due to homogeneity within rural regions and everyone knowing each another rural women are not sure whom to trust. Lower population levels result in law enforcement officials having a intimate knowledge of the population. When rural women seek assistance from the criminal justice system the possibility of the abuser being connected with the police officer or judge is high. Preferential treatment is often given in cases where the arresting officer or judge is connected with the abuser (Websdale, 1998). Rural women also perceive this to be true. As noted by one women "As it turns out, my husband's father worked for the judge, and so the judge's son and my husband grew up together....and although he'd (the abuser) done all these terrible things to me....they (the courts) put more significance and more loyalty to him over me even though I had been hurt... (p 151)." The nature of handling of EPO's (Emergency Protective Orders) in rural regions send wrong messages to both victims and perpetrators. Some sheriff departments in rural regions call perpetrators and encourage them to come to the police department to be served the EPO. The reasoning that some sheriff departments conduct the serving of EPO's in this matter is partly due to the homogeneity of the community and the initimate relationships with the perpetrator. This process sends a clear message that the charges are not serious nor do they require immediate attention. This process is unfair to victims in that their complaints are not taken serious, and places them at an increased rate of violence. Unfortunately, many women are reluctant in testifying against their abuser. Women are reluctant to follow through on charges for various reasons. The need for safety and economic security ranks high on the list especially for rural women. This makes prosecution more difficult. Without the support of the victims statement prosecutors often fail to either fail charges or prosecute the charges once filed. Judges are often do not appreciate the difficulties that battered women face. Clearly stated by one women in Rural Women Battering and the Justice System " when I went in front of him and asked to cancel the domestic violence ruling he asked me why I'd signed it in the first place (p 139)." The asking for dropping charges in order to protect herself and her family is something that warrants understanding not rudeness or chastisement. Religion is fundamental in rural regions. Often times rural judges will order domestic violence cases to religious institutions (Websdale, 1998). This is another factor that allow judicial systems to re-victimize victims. Religious institutions may reinforce rural patriarchy in that they teach families to stick together through thick and thin. Referring battered women to religious institutions runs the risk of continuing to encourage women to stay in abusive relationships. Conclusion The tragedy of domestic violence is not new. Historically not only have men had legal rights to beat their spouse but is presently socially endorsed in rural regions. Woman battering is a problem in rural regions that has been ignored far too long. As noted by Websdale, 1998 social and geographical isolations make if difficult for women in rural region to escape violent perpertrators. Due to the isolations that rural women encounter accessing help from the criminal justice system is difficult. Women in urban/suburban regions are not present with the same isolations therefore the accessibility of the criminal justice system is much more reasonable. The nature of battering as previously stated in no different in rural regions than that of urban regions. Violence is violence no matter where the incidents occur.