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Chief Executive’s September 2019 Blog

Rural Life and the Frightening Reality of Domestic Abuse

Having started my professional life in the police, I’m not at all naive to the reality of domestic abuse throughout this country.

Sadly, it’s an issue which is very much alive and well, in homes of wealth, ones experiencing hardship, those in urban locations, and, significantly, in rural settings.

In recent weeks I received the final conclusions of an 18 month study by the National Rural Crime Network, which had sought to specifically understand the realities of domestic abuse in rural life.

Whilst my career insights in both policing and voluntary sector delivery to communities ensure I know this issue to be a problem, I was nonetheless startled by the extent of the findings.

Rural victims were not only half as likely to report their abuse, but they experienced abuse for 25% longer, and found it far more difficult to get appropriate support.

According to the report, in some cases these factors can be exacerbated by a victim having been deliberately moved to a rural setting to heighten the isolation of the individual.

Deeply disturbing, is the concluding sentiment of the report authors that, domestic abuse is now a ‘hidden underbelly of rural communities’.

Of course, I would love to think that such a bold and unnerving claim didn’t apply to the rural communities of Suffolk – but we would be wise to have our eyes open to the experiences of those around us.

We know that across the whole of our county, 40 percent of the population live in rural locations, according to census 2011 data.  These are areas where families and individuals already see pressures around transport access, around broadband reach, support solutions and access to statutory services.

Such access and support issues make every single adult and child more vulnerable and disadvantaged in their daily lives – even in the best of domestic environments.

It’s absolutely right, therefore, that the priority recommendations coming out of this report, include ones which call on the government to help mitigate the impact of living in rural areas.

This so-called ‘rural proofing’ effort is under way, and being taken seriously by the likes of DEFRA, but this particular report is a reminder of how a failure to tackle the inequalities between rural and urban settings, can have such huge consequences for wellbeing, prospects, financial stability…and everyday safety.

I’m proud to say that working with domestic abuse organisations across Suffolk, the issue is something permanently on the radar of us here at Community Action Suffolk, and through our neighbourhood schemes and community events, we continually reiterate the message about being ‘observant’ of the wellbeing and behaviours of others living near you.

Naturally, it takes a lot of sensitivity and discretion to know when you might ask the right question of a neighbour or colleague, but isn’t the alternative – allowing someone to suffer in silence – far worse?

I’d like to end this article with an open request to those reading.

If you do know of initiatives or projects which are actively under way to help deal with domestic abuse in rural settings, or which have a rationale based on combating this problem – perhaps even those which haven’t yet come to life – I would love to hear from you.

Christine Abraham | CEO, Community Action Suffolk

Do not hesitate to email me and discuss your thoughts.

Christine Abraham | Chief Executive

Community Action Suffolk

Chris.abraham@communityactionsuffolk.org.uk