Very little research has examined the experiences of Black and White rural battered women. In this exploratory study of 88 participants, 30 rural battered women who sought assistance from domestic violence shelters in southwest Virginia were interviewed. Black and White rural women's experiences in the shelters, helpseeking, and perceived social support during and after their stay in the shelter were compared. Future research directions and suggestions to improve services are presented.
Key Words: African American women, Appalachian and rural family, battered women, domestic violence, domestic violence shelters.
Background and Significance: Rurality and Domestic Violence
According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000), more than 24% of U.S. residents live in rural areas. However, despite an increasing body of research on domestic violence, few research studies focus on domestic violence in rural settings (Van Hightower, Gorton, & DeMoss, 2000). Much of the research on battered women is conducted with samples from urban and college populations, rendering the experiences of rural battered women practically invisible (Van Hightower & Gorton, 2002; Van Hightower, et al.; Websdale, 1995, 1998). This lack of attention to domestic violence in rural communities may result, in part, from existing perceptions and myths about the "idyllic, tranquil, and nonviolent life in rural communities" (Krishnan, Hilbert, & Pase, 2001, p. 2). Yet, research debunks this myth and has consistently found that domestic violence is as prevalent in rural areas as it is in urban areas (Websdale, 1995).
Scholarship on domestic violence in rural areas is necessary as there is some evidence that women in rural contexts face unique barriers in terms of accessing help. Beliefs and values are elements of the rural culture that impact women's experience with violence as well as their helpseeking practices. For example, domestic violence research in rural Kentucky (Websdale, 1995, 1998) and rural Appalachia (Gagne, 1992) indicates that residents of rural communities generally hold patriarchal views of the family, traditional sex-role ideologies, strong religious values, and conventional beliefs about privacy. These beliefs, rules, and values, in turn, promote gender inequality, failure to report incidents to police, and potentially undermine intervention when it does occur (Websdale, 1998; Wendt, Taylor, & Kennedy, 2002).
In addition to challenges in rural life with regard to values and beliefs that make it difficult for rural battered women to seek help, rural battered women also often face logistic barriers. Rural residence is an isolating factor that can reduce access to domestic violence services and contribute to the perpetuation of battering (Van Hightower et al., 2000). Physical isolation can allow battering to go on without neighbors being aware of the violence, and access to services can be challenging in rural areas where shelters may be located many miles away from the battered wife who seeks services.
The overall inattention given to domestic violence in rural settings extends to minority women. This is a particularly glaring omission, given that Blacks are the largest minority group (i.e., 4.1 million) living in rural areas, and rural counties with high concentrations of Blacks frequently are characterized by a greater degree of economic disadvantage, higher rates of family violence, and lower availability of and access to community services than White rural counties (Whitener, Jen, & Kassel, 2004).
For Black women in rural communities, racial status in and of itself can be an isolating factor contributing to their victimization and further compromising intervention. For example, McNair and Neville (1996) suggested that institutional racism and Blacks' historical distrust of social services and mental health facilities were reasons for Blacks' underuse of the domestic violence shelters. …