Canadian rural communities offer an environment and a way of life that many people aspire to experience. Some people feel rural areas are safer, cleaner, and give an overall better quality of life. People in rural areas have a rich history of coming together and supporting each other in times of need.
Despite the positive aspects of living in a rural community, it can also bring forth many challenges and considerations for a victim of interpersonal abuse. This abuse is prevalent in all communities (1 in 4 women in Saskatchewan are abused at the hand of their partner) but living in a rural community increases isolation and special considerations for support and services must be made.
Besides the obvious obstacle of a large geographic area with limited accessibility to services, there are many other obstacles that victims face. Some of these include: a lack of reliable transportation, family care programs and anonymity; instability of household incomes; weather conditions; under-servicing of support services; and isolation. If considering leaving an abusive relationship, a rural victim is also forced to consider leaving her home and her ties to her rural life, such as land, animals, careers, business assets and the small close-knit community for a move to a larger town or city.
Business ownership is another dilemma for farm women who wish to leave their abusive relationships. Most farm partners are not paid a set wage, therefore, no unemployment contributions can be made, no pension plan, and no access to welfare.
As well, access to rifles, guns and other hunting weapons are often more readily available in rural areas, increasing the risk of their use during an assault. In addition, the economy of some rural areas is based on seasonal work. This can increase stressors in an already abusive relationship and can also mean lack of employment or adequate employment, making it difficult for victims to become financially self-sufficient.
- 17% of all homicides between intimate partners take place in rural areas;
- Intimate homicides make up a larger portion of murders in rural areas than in suburban or urban areas;
- 17% of rural households live at or below the poverty level; thus rural women have few economic options and often lack employment of their own. If they do have a job it is normally low paying and therefore barely enough to survive on apart from the inclusion of the wage contributed by their partner.
Special Circumstances That Rural Individuals Face
This is one of the largest and most obvious concerns for individuals in rural communities. When a victim in a rural community is attempting to access services, distance can cause great frustration for them. In order to access services that are not available in their home community, clients are forced to drive to a larger center, which may be a considerable distance away. Factors that create frustration and hardship can be:
- Cost of travel
- Dependability of a vehicle
- Cost of meals
- Time involved for travel
- Babysitting incurred when away from home, if needed
- Poor qualities of roads
- Unpredictable weather
- Controlling partner who monitors the odometer and day-to-day activity
There may not be a telephone in the home. Or, it may not be safe to place long distance calls when seeking assistance, as they will be identified on the billing statements. Envision works with women in rural areas to defeat distance by allowing them to call our offices collect during office hours. Envision’s phone number does not show up on phone bills, and we do not subscribe to call display.
In the rare circumstances where a client cannot come into the office, counsellors can schedule counselling sessions over the phone or individuals can contact Envision through this website. A counsellor will be the only person who reads your message, so you are safe to ask anything.
As we know in Saskatchewan, the weather is always unpredictable, which makes for unpredictable road conditions. Clients may be late for scheduled appointments because of road conditions, or may be forced to reschedule.
Envision strives to meet the needs of rural clients by understanding their unique circumstance. We will work with a client to reschedule or extend appointments when weather is uncooperative.
Families in rural areas are often physically isolated. This makes it difficult to report or escape abuse and have a necessary support system. When people are isolated in rural areas and are unable to share their experience with others, they may start believing the false idea that they are the only one in an abusive situation, and this can lead to feelings of isolation physically and psychologically.
Envision continually assesses the needs of communities in rural Saskatchewan. Communities should be open to expand, adapt and change services to adequately meet community needs.
Police Response Time
Living in a distant rural location causes a delay in response time when emergency services are needed. As well, roads may be in poor condition and especially not navigable in winter and rainy seasons. This makes rescue difficult, increasing response time for police and medical assistance.
Counsellors at Envision spend a great deal of time working on safety plans with clients that take the extended response time into consideration. We also work with police services to provide information about the potential for danger so that the police can have input in helping to develop a plan of response and escape. This may include having at least one support person in the community who can assist the victim until further assistance can be obtained.
Confidentiality in a rural community is difficult to maintain at times. In rural communities there is often sense of familiarity and fellowship. While it is nice to know names and faces of others in the community, it can lead to concern when other people notice a victim entering and accessing buildings which house legal or counselling services. Police or court personnel may be known to the victim and/or abuser. Neighbours may have police scanners and victims may be too ashamed to seek help for fear of the abuse becoming known to the town. Getting assistance can be unsafe if the abuser becomes aware that their partner is seeking any type of intervention.
Because of this, Envision focuses on providing security and maintaining confidentiality for our clients. Therefore, Envision’s counsellors do not hold group meetings or counselling in client’s home rural communities. Even though clients will need to come to Envision’s offices in Estevan or Weyburn, the counsellors will make every attempt to book client appointments well in advance, so that they can plan their trip for counselling around other appointments. Since many people in small communities know one another, there is a chance that the victim and counsellor may know one another. If either party is uncomfortable with each other, we will arrange an alternative counsellor.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where will I live if I leave?
If you decide to leave an abusive situation, Saskatchewan Housing and Transition Houses may be available. Envision’s staff and/or volunteers will meet a woman who lives in Estevan, Weyburn or a surrounding community in a non-threatening place, such as the police or RCMP station, and transport her to a transition house or shelter if needed.
What if I don’t want to leave?
If you don’t want to leave, or you’re not ready to leave, counselling is available at any of Envision’s offices in Estevan, Weyburn, Carlyle or Oxbow. About 75% of Envision’s clients are living with their abusive partner. Counselling focuses on increasing a client’s self-esteem, confidence, and giving them tools to better explore their options. The staff at Envision are available to help and support you in whatever decision you make.
What should I do if I’m in danger and need to leave?
A safety plan can help prepare you and reduce the risk of physical harm if you plan to leave your relationship. It is important to remember that a safety plan is needed whenever the potential for abuse is identified. It can be very helpful to be aware of the resources for abused women in your community. Become familiar with your safety plan, and review and/or revise it regularly. Restraining orders, Peace Bonds, Emergency Intervention and Victim Assistance Orders are available to assist women in rural communities who want to safely leave an abusive partner.
Protective orders are legal resources that a person can take to better protect themselves from potential harm. Click here for a list of orders that may be used in abusive situations.
- You do not deserve to be abused.
- No one has the right to hurt you.
- You have a right to be free from the abuse.
- You can learn to take care of yourself and your children.
There is help available. Please do not be afraid to ask for help, even though you may feel isolated and alone.