Rural Domestic Violence

Domestic violence, also called intimate partner violence, is a critical problem throughout the United States, with negative impact on victims, families, employers, and communities. The nature of close-knit rural communities can make it more difficult for rural victims of intimate partner violence to seek and get help.

Rural areas face challenges such as higher poverty, lower rates of health insurance coverage, and less access to healthcare and human services providers. All of these factors make the problems facing domestic violence survivors more difficult to address.

Frequently Asked Questions

How prevalent is domestic violence?

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2011), sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence are major public health problems in the United States.

The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey is an ongoing, nationally representative telephone survey that collects information about experiences of sexual violence, stalking, and intimate partner violence among non-institutionalized English and/or Spanish-speaking women and men aged 18 or older in the United States.

Key Findings from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey include:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.
  • More than half (51.1%) of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.
  • One in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.

What do we know about rural domestic violence?

An analysis of homicides across a 20-year period from 1980 through 1999 found that rates of intimate partner murder in rural areas were higher than in non-rural areas.

Several differences exist in urban and rural areas that can explain why the rate of family and intimate partner murder might be higher in rural areas. These factors include: the geography of rural areas facilitates the kind of isolation that supports rural family violence as well as in rural communities, people are more likely to know each other.

The literature on rural women and children point to the following factors that influence rates of domestic and family abuse:

  • social and physical isolation
  • lack of education
  • less political and social autonomy for women than for men, along with a more traditionalist, conservative view of women and children
  • poverty and economic distress
  • population loss and particularly the outmigration of young people
  • the inaccessibility of services to enhance the health and well-being of women and children

Source: Rural and Urban Trends in Family and Intimate Partner Homicide: 1980-1999

In a study from the Carsey Institute titled Civil Protective Orders Effective in Stopping or Reducing Partner Violence, they examine urban and rural differences in the community context of partner violence and the effectiveness of protective orders. Key findings include:

  • Civil protective orders are effective in reducing partner violence for many women.
  • The impact of civil protective orders on reducing violence and abuse did not differ for rural and urban women.
  • Community-level barriers to enforce civil protective orders exist for women in rural areas.

Is it more difficult for rural women to seek and get help?

Rural relationships tend to be closely knit. Relationships or familiarity with healthcare providers and/or law enforcement officials may affect victims' willingness to discuss abuse or violence. Similarly, relationships with an abuser may limit the extent to which an abuse or violence claim is investigated. The culture of some rural communities can make it more difficult for women to seek help.

Communities where men and women tend to stay in traditional roles, where people avoid asking for help, and where there is less awareness of domestic violence and its impact on victims and children are communities where it is harder for domestic violence victims to seek out the resources they need.

Source: Rural and Urban Trends in Family and Intimate Partner Homicide: 1980-1999

Are treatment services available to domestic violence offenders in rural areas?

In most rural communities, offender treatment options are limited. Communities and individuals who want to start an offender treatment program in their community can learn more from:

Both provide training on domestic violence offender treatment.

How does rural poverty relate to domestic violence?

Rural poverty is a particular concern regarding domestic violence. Studies have shown that poverty and domestic violence are related. Poverty greatly contributes to family and relationship stress and limits victims' ability to leave abusive partners or family members. Nonmetropolitan poverty rates are higher than those in metropolitan regions for many demographic groups.

In some situations, poverty may exacerbate the likelihood of experiencing domestic violence. Poor women may feel trapped in unhealthy relationships if they have fewer options to support themselves and less social support to offer financial help. Survivors of domestic violence report that successful transition away from their abusers are often made with the assistance of social services such as shelters and counseling.

Source: Domestic Violence, Poverty, and Social Services: Does Location Matter?, 2010

What role does healthcare access play for domestic violence victims and survivors?

A shortage of healthcare providers is a constant challenge for rural Americans, particularly when addressing survivors of domestic violence who may need physical or mental health treatment to recover from the effects of abuse.

Domestic violence survivors may be in need of legal assistance for protection orders, divorces, child custody proceedings and other legal matters that are a consequence of abuse or violence. In rural areas, it can be more difficult to find an affordable lawyer or legal aid. Law enforcement and the courts in rural communities may be less familiar with issues of domestic violence and appropriate responses.

For a list of legal aid services in your state, please see the Legal Services Corporation's list of LSC-funded programs.

What can rural communities do to address domestic violence?

A Coordinated Community Response (CCR), in which healthcare providers, community groups, criminal justice, and social service agencies work together, is considered one of the best approaches to addressing domestic violence. Some of the characteristics of CCR programs include a shared philosophical approach, understanding of the each group's role, and a plan to work together to improve the community's response to violence against women. The CCR approach provides a more unified response to victim needs while holding offenders accountable for their actions.

For more information about using CCR to address domestic violence, please see the Family Violence Prevention Fund's publication Preventing Family Violence: Community Engagement Makes the Difference.

Last Reviewed: 1/2/2014