Academic journal article Rural Society

Understanding Contexts of Family Violence in Rural, Farming Communities: Implications for Rural Women's Health

Academic journal article Rural Society

Understanding Contexts of Family Violence in Rural, Farming Communities: Implications for Rural Women's Health

Article excerpt


Family violence is not diminishing in frequency or intensity, even though it began to be recognised as a major social problem over 30 years ago (Hanmer, 2000). Family violence has also been labelled as an urgent public health concern, with research showing that it impacts on future generations, development and productivity of communities, cultural preservation, social harmony, and health of families (Fischbach & Herbert, 1997; Fraser, 2003; Helweg-Larsen & Kruse, 2003; World Health Organization, 2002). Recognition from the global stage that family violence is a leading contributor to physical and mental health issues experienced by women has been necessary to keep governments focused on preventing violence in the home (Hanmer, 2000; Itzin, 2000).

In both Australia and Canada there has been continuing debate about the appropriate term to use when talking about violence women experience in the home (Mooney, 2000; Yllo, 2005). For the purpose of this paper we have chosen to use the term 'family violence' since it is used in both Australia and Canada. By family violence we are referring to violence perpetrated by a man against a woman in the context of a heterosexual marital or intimate cohabiting relationship, past or present. Family violence can take many forms and can occur in many contexts. It includes physical, sexual, psychological, economic, financial, and spiritual abuse (Laing, 2000; MacLeod, 1980). Family violence refers to systematic patterns of abusive behavior through which one person seeks to control another. It is about the exercise of power and control, threat, intimidation, humiliation and fear (Dwyer, Smokowski, Bricout, & Wodarski, 1996; Itzin, 2000). Clearly, intimate partner violence against women is oppressive. It is an unjust form of domination and subordination that operates upon women in a way that inflicts harm (Mason, 2002).

The authors' research has focused on dominant western understandings of family violence in rural, non-Indigenous contexts, which locates it within patriarchy and intimate private relationships between adult partners. Thus, we will not report on violence and abuse experienced by Indigenous women. We do acknowledge that family violence is a serious problem in many Indigenous communities, many of which are rural, and are aware that most Indigenous Australians and Canadians have a different view about the nature and context of violence that acknowledges issues of colonization, oppression and dispossession (Blagg, 2000; Cheers et al., 2006; Robertson, 2000).

Rural women are not immune to family violence. Over the last two decades, researchers, particularly in Australia, Canada, and the United States have explored the factors that keep rural women trapped in violent relationships, such as financial dependency and stress, limited access to information and services, physical distance and isolation and a perceived lack of confidentiality and anonymity (Alston, 1997; Bagshaw, Chung, Couch, Liburn & Wadham, 2000; Coorey, 1990, 1992; Davis Taylor & Furniss, 2001; Gagne, 1992; Hogg & Carrington, 1998, 2003; Grama, 2000; Hornosty, 1995; Hornosty and Doherty, 2004; Knowles, 1996; Lloyd, 1996; Lovell, 1996; Martz & Sarauer, 2000; Nicholson, 1998; Sheperd, 2001; Van Hightower & Gorton, 1998; Websdale, 1998; Websdale & Johnston, 1997; Wendt, 2009a). Despite this growing research, studies have not specifically examined the significance of rurality for understanding rural women's physical and mental health concerns as a result of family violence, and how family violence impacts on the health of rural families.

This paper aims to describe some research on the significance of rurality for understanding women's experience of family violence and the impact of violence on their physical and mental health and health seeking behaviour. In so doing, it provides a rationale for why such research is warranted. We argue that preventive and treatment approaches will be stronger and more appropriate if they are formulated with an understanding of the influences of rural social contexts. …

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