Rural women delay seeking help for domestic violence

As White Ribbon Day approaches, a new study has shown that women in regional, rural and remote locations have experiences unique to their geography when it comes to how they cope with domestic and family violence.

Women from rural South Australia and Western Australia participated in the study, with Professor Sarah Wendt, from Flinders University’s College of Education, Psychology and Social Work as lead author. 

Many of the women experienced violence in their intimate relationship for a long period of time before accessing support services.

The paper, Seeking help for domestic and family violence: exploring regional, rural, and remote women’s coping experiences, was published by the Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) Horizon Research report earlier this year.

The project used research to gain insights into women’s help-seeking behaviour and coping mechanisms. 

Professor Wendt says many women who participated in the study didn’t view distance as a barrier to accessing services.

“Women from remote or regional areas share similar experiences to all women who face this issue, but they cope alone for long periods. Often a crisis is the catalyst for seeking help,” she says. 

The study also found that strategies for seeking help were often influenced by their network of friends and family outside of the home, with differences in the way Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women experienced domestic and family violence.

Aboriginal women mostly described having strong family networks and support, but most non-Aboriginal women had limited family networks so were more likely to seek support from friends and acquaintances.

In some cases the absence of informal networks means some women did not reach out for help at all.

Domestic violence workers are often working in crisis mode due to limitations and lack of resources; preventative or other work is harder because of this.

Professor Wendt

The study also examined how workforce resources affect service provision in rural and remote regions. Professor Wendt says workers were often impacted by their geographical location.

“Domestic violence workers are often working in crisis mode due to limitations and lack of resources; preventative or other work is harder because of this. Workers felt the geographical isolation, rather than social isolation, negatively affected their wellbeing,” Professor Wendt says.

The study also found that men from regional, rural and remote locations who used violence in their intimate relationships were only offered a legal response.

“Services like counselling or group work, which are offered in urban areas, isn't available because of population size and anonymity issues, so support for men is limited,” Professor Wendt says. 

If you are experiencing domestic violence and need help, support, or information, call the Taree Women’s Refuge on 6551 0011.