Small Town Domestic Violence is Real.
This past week NFL running back Ray Rice was suspended permanently from the NFL and fired from the Baltimore Ravens after a video surfaced via TMZ showing Rice striking his then fiancé (now wife) Janay Rice, and dragging her unconscious body from a casino elevator.
With such a high profile case of domestic violence, I got to wondering – what about domestic violence in small town America? What are the stats, if any? What challenges are unique in small town and rural culture for victims of domestic violence? How can churches respond to the unique challenges of domestic violence in small towns?
The Stats on Small Town Domestic Violence:
When you do some digging (and I did plenty), there are virtually no studies on rural domestic violence. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline (USA)
- More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
- Nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime (48.4% and 48.8%, respectively).
Let that sink in for a minute. That means that potentially, over 30% of women and nearly 30% of men attending your church have been victims of domestic and/or sexual violence. One third.
So what about small towns? Here’s what we do know – In rural culture, the numbers may be higher. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Rural Assistance Center reports that, “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.” The fact that the murder rate among intimate partners in rural areas is higher, almost certainly means that the rate of domestic violence in rural areas is higher.
Why would this be? Aren’t small towns charming places, where every family is like the Cleavers and Main Street feels like Mayberry? Not exactly.
The Challenges to Small Town Domestic Violence
The Rural Assistance Center reports challenges concerning domestic violence in small towns include…
- 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
To that list I add…
- Few womens’ shelters exist in rural areas.
- A lack of anonymity when seeking assistance
- Longer response times from law enforcement and emergency medical units
- Rural places are highly unlikely to have rehab programs for offenders.
To that list the national organization Crisis Connection adds…
- A rural battered woman may not have phone service.
- Usually no public transportation exists, so if she leaves she must use a family vehicle.
- Extreme weather conditions often exaggerate isolation—cold, snow, and mud regularly affect life in rural areas and may extend periods of isolation with an abuser.
- Seasonal work may mean months of unemploymenton a regular basis and result
in women being trapped with an abuser for long periods of time.
- Hunting weapons are common to rural homes and everyday tools like axes, chains, mauls, and pitchforks are also potential weapons.
- Alcohol (and drug) use, which often increases in winter months when rural people are underemployed and isolated in their homes, usually affects the frequently and severity of abuse.
- A woman’s bruises may fade or heal before she sees a neighbor, and working with farm tools and equipment can provide an easy explanation of her injuries.
- Farm families are often one-income families and a woman frequently has no money of her own to support herself and her children.
- A family’s finances are often tied up in land or equipment, so a woman thinking of ending a relationship may face the agonizing reality that she and her partner may lose the family farm or her partner will be left with no means of income.
- Court orders restraining an abuser from having contact with a woman are less viable for rural women because their partners cannot be kept away from the farm if it is the only source of income.
- Rural women frequently have strong emotional ties to the land and to farm animals and if she has an attachment to her animals, she may fear that her animals will be neglected or harmed if she leaves.
- Rural women are usually an integral part of a family farm or business, so if she leaves, the business may fail.
Addressing Small Town Domestic Violence
Overwhelmed yet? What can churches do to address domestic violence in small towns? For starters, they can speak out. Here are three ideas for addressing domestic violence in your church:
1. Talk about it this Sunday. Don’t wait. The rest of America is speaking about domestic violence this week. God forbid it’s the leading story on ESPN for a week and no pulpit addresses it in the context of Sunday worship! Pastors and church leaders can remind congregants that all people are made in God’s image, and that violence against another person is violence against God’s image and creation.
2. Become aware of local resources. Make a list of every womens’ shelter in your area, and have it available for those seeking assistance. If you don’t know who to contact to build such a list, contact your local sheriff or rescue squad and ask for leads. Also check here for the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s list of ways friends and family can assist domestic violence victims.
3. Don’t just talk about it. Begin to think about establishing a ministry in partnership with other area churches to combat domestic violence in your town and county. Find out who’s already doing it, if anyone, and seek to create a network of knowledge, education, and resources that families and victims can turn to in times of need.
Domestic violence in small towns and rural communities is real. Ray Rice won’t be putting up football stats anytime soon, if ever. As Christians, let’s not add to domestic violence stats by our inaction. How will your church minister to those 30% of people who are victimized? Don’t wait. Someone’s life could be on the line.