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Living with family violence in small, rural communities

Jennifer Jackson explains why the differences facing rural victims of family violence must be incorporated into the delivery of services.

14/11/19 10.21am
Victim Survivor Advisory Council's member Jennifer Jackson interviewed by the media

Content warning: Please be aware the following article contains descriptions of family violence experiences, including physical and emotional abuse, which may be triggering for some readers.

The isolation I experienced within my abusive relationship was amplified when my perpetrator moved us to a small country town. I did not know anyone; my family and friends were hours away.

As my perpetrator became more entrenched in the community I felt increasingly more alone.

Knowing how charming and believable he was, I became more aware that if I did reach out for help, I would not be believed.

Whilst there are commonalities in perpetrator behaviour or outworking of violent abusive behaviours, the context of living in small, rural communities brings further complexities and difficulties for the victim. Picture this! A small town where ‘everyone’ knows you and your perpetrator, (in fact describe him as a great bloke!)

That ‘everyone’ includes the local doctor, the local police (only one), the school teacher, the post office staff, the bank staff and anyone else to whom one might reach out for help. In a rural setting, in many respects you might be isolated but yet ironically, more visible. Professional help may not be readily available.

Victims are not only trapped in a lonely life experience of abuse but also geographically and socially isolated. For women from CALD or Aboriginal communities (who may already experience these levels of isolation), add the difficulties that limited communication skills, culture or tight communities may present. This is a big country and despite the accessibility that technology brings, the tyranny of distance is still a very real problem for many victims.

It is for these reasons, and many more, that I have welcomed the advent of The Orange Door. The hubs provide a place of safety, confidentiality, anonymity, and lack of bias which is tremendously important for victims from the type of settings that I have just described. Even though the location of a hub may be at a distance from the victim’s home, it still provides an efficient and accessible service and a range of possibilities in the one location for rural women. Sometimes the distance itself provides a buffer, a safety zone from the victim’s usual setting.

In my role at the Victim Survivors' Advisory Council, I attempt to highlight the distinctions of rural and regional areas in regard to victims of violence and abuse. I firmly believe that we should not unthinkingly apply an urbanised, city-centric template to rural areas. It will have gaping holes in its application, location and provision of services.

We must identify and acknowledge the differences between urban and rural life. The victims of abuse are the same; they are people like us, they experience the same shame, injuries and pain.

How we reach them, how we help them differs greatly from an urban setting. Just one small (but devastating) example is in the amount of firearms available, legally, in country settings.

Let’s keep this in mind when we research, develop or audit the services we provide for women and children.

I realise that in this short piece of writing I have not done justice to the whole of the issues facing rural victims of family violence. Hopefully, I have stimulated an awareness that there are many differences between urban and rural, and these must be investigated and specifically incorporated into our delivery of services.

Jennifer Jackson represents regional and rural people experiencing family violence on the Victim Survivors' Advisory Council.

Reviewed 19 November 2019

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