Rural women face unique challenges in escaping domestic violence

Rina Arseneault releases her new report on Monday based on focus groups with counsellors and survivors

By Vanessa Blanch, CBC News Posted: May 30, 2016 11:58 AM AT Last Updated: May 30, 2016 2:08 PM AT


Women in rural New Brunswick face unique challenges in escaping intimate partner violence, according to the findings of a new report released by the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre on Monday.

Rina Arseneault, the associate director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research, said the project included interviews with survivors of domestic violence and the support workers who try to help them in New Brunswick.

She said there are more challenges to escape an abusive partner in rural settings for many reasons.

"It's farther away from urban centres where most of the services are located," Arseneault told Information Morning Moncton.

Travel can be difficult, particularly in the winter, and when limited transportation options could mean having to take the same ferry as their abuser to attend court, for example.

Other barriers include fears about being able to find employment, the lack of access to education, daycare, and health services, and inadequate housing and social services.

"Some of the other issues are certainly with small towns — so living in the same town as your partner."

Arseneault said more conservative attitudes in small communities can make it more difficult for women to come forward, especially if the woman isn't from the community but the man is.

"The community will have a tendency of being more supportive to him than to her because she's seen as an outsider," she said.

She said coming forward can also be more difficult in small towns because memories are long.

"If you are a family that has struggled then the community remembers that and so that family from generation to generation will be looked at differently," Arseneault explains.


Service cut in rural areas adds to challenge

Arseneault said besides community attitudes, rural women are also struggling because many services have been cut in small communities.

"One of [the services] that is not there in a lot of … rural communities is support groups for the women but also treatment groups for the men," she said.

"So even if the judge does say that he does have to go to treatment, if he doesn't have a way to get to the treatment there's a possibility he won't go."

Arseneault adds the justice system is very difficult to navigate and with fewer victim support workers and longer travel distances, challenges are compounded for women every step of the way.

"Calling the police is not easy, going to court is not easy … most of the time if she goes to court so will he," she said.

"So she will have to encounter him somewhere and so it could be the parking garage, which is a very difficult place to encounter your partner if you're scared of him."

Arseneault hopes the report, entitled Rural Realities Faced by Service Providers and Women Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence When Navigating the Justice System, will be the first step to improving support in rural communities by helping rural and urban service providers to work together and share what resources still exist.

"Depending on where you come from and depending on who you are you may receive all the support you need or you may be looked as somebody... asking for trouble."

In New Brunswick, 48 per cent of people live in rural areas in communities with less than 1,000 people.

The project included focus groups held in anglophone and francophone communities, including Charlotte County, Restigouche County and in two First Nations communities in New Brunswick.

The report was launched by the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre For Family Violence Research and the New Brunswick Association of Social Workers during a workshop held at the Crowne Plaza in Fredericton on Monday morning.

'We promised to rural New Brunswick that we're going to be doing some steps towards being able to do something really concrete in order to move forward.'

- Rina Arseneault, associate director

"I've got to tell you, before I started this project [three years ago], I thought I knew the issues, and I thought I knew the opportunities," Arseneault told the crowd of service providers, academics, and policy makers from across the province.

"But I'm here to tell you today that I have a better handle, really what's happening in our rural communities and how amazing they are, how survival is really their second name."

The workshop included a panel and small group discussions aimed at coming up with "doable" recommendations.

"We really want to move this forward," said Arseneault. "We promised to rural New Brunswick that we're going to be doing some steps towards being able to do something really concrete in order to move forward - and moving with their help."

Recommendations from the workshop will be presented to the "leaders of New Brunswick," she said.

Intimate partner violence includes physical, emotional, sexual and economic abuse.

with files from Information Morning Moncton