The Forgotten Crisis: Rural American Women, Domestic Violence, and Murder

Country life is often romanticized as a serene and bucolic lifestyle, an embodiment of the American dream, but for many women in rural areas, this dream is a living nightmare.

Every day in the United States, about three women will be murdered by an intimate partner[1] and countless women will experience domestic violence. Being from a rural area both exacerbates the chances of a woman being involved in intimate partner violence and increases her risk of becoming a victim of intimate partner homicide. This issue has been raging for decades in small towns and isolated areas of America, and is only getting worse.

Unlike in urban and suburban areas, the rates of intimate partner homicide (IPH) have actually been increasing for women in rural areas.[2] Rural domestic violence and incidence of sexual violence in the US are also on the rise.[3] There is some indication that domestic violence rates have increased for all women, but this is especially true of  rural women during the Covid-19 pandemic.[4]

Because of the higher prevalence of firearms in these areas, rural women in violent partnerships may be at increased risk of intimate partner homicide.[5] While the true number of rural women murdered by firearms in incidents of IPH each year is unknown, one study found that 72% of cases of IPH were committed with a firearm.[6] Firearms, rather than other weapons like knives or hands, are often used in these crimes because they are much more deadly, quick, can be fired from a distance, and do not require a partner to touch the victim and are thus a less intimate of a way of committing homicide.

There is a laundry list of factors that lead to these elevated rates of violence against rural women. Teaster, P. B., Roberto, K. A., & Dugar, T. A. (2006) theorize that rural women live in an entire ecosystem of relationships and institutions, past and present, that contributes to greater violence.[7] Some more specific reasons given by a research team in Kentucky include:

  • Lack of phone service
  • Limited or no public transportation
  • Limited access to routine health care
  • Long response times for police and medical emergency teams
  • Weather and road conditions that make driving inaccessible
  • The availability and accessibility of weapons and dangerous tools
  • Seasonality of work that may leave the woman “trapped” with her abuser for long periods of time, as well as the potential for increased alcohol consumption in winter
  • Economic conditions of farm life (including the need for all to work to stay solvent and value being tied to land, which limit the ability of abused women to seek restraining orders when a farm is the only source of income)
  • Emotional conditions of farm life—strong ties to animals and land
  • Intimidation of travel to a ‘big city’ [8]

Additionally, physical isolation means that there are no witnesses and nobody around to ask for help, which could lead to complications. In general, services to curb domestic violence that urban and suburban women can use, like shelters, are not easily accessible for rural women, and “…over 25 percent of women in small rural and isolated areas live more than 40 miles from the closest Intimate Partner Violence Program, compared with less than 1 percent of women living in urban areas”.[9]

As someone who has lived in rural areas, I have heard anecdotal evidence of violence against women that indicates that it is a serious and present phenomenon. Almost everyone I know has a story of abuse themselves, or knows someone in their family or community that has been hurt or killed by their partner.

To address this violence, there must first be more research to fill the palpable gap of knowledge on violence against women in rural areas, and on rural studies in general. This population has been ignored by researchers and the government alike. Similarly, women in rural areas need more access to a broad spectrum of resources to curb rates of violence.

Some plans have been implemented to help women in rural areas. One, known as the Duluth Model[10] and inspired by restorative justice practices, sees violence against women as a communities problem and encourages community services to work together to help stop forms of violence against women before they become deadly.[11] Another solution could be investing in and funding social-emotional education during the school years and throughout adulthood, where students must learn ways of dealing with anger and stress, and how to stand up for themselves. Since children are an investment in the future, giving children tools to deal with emotions could prevent future harm and create more positive and less violent communities.[12] The increasing rates of violence against women in rural areas must be stopped, and these women need to no longer be ingnored.

-R.Z.


[1] Violence and Abuse in Rural America Introduction—Rural Health Information Hub. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/violence-and-abuse

[2] AbiNader, M. A. (2020). Correlates of Intimate Partner Homicide in the Rural United States: Findings From a National Sample of Rural Counties, 2009–2016. Homicide Studies, 24(4), 353–376. https://doi.org/10.1177/1088767919896403

[3] Domestic Violence and Firearms. (n.d.). The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://efsgv.org/learn/type-of-gun-violence/domestic-violence-and-firearms/

[4] Carey, L. (2020, October 19). Domestic Violence in Rural America Increases During Pandemic. Daily Yonder. https://dailyyonder.com/domestic-violence-in-rural-america-increased-during-covid-19/2020/10/19/

[5]  Reckdenwald, A., Szalewski, A., & Yohros, A. (2019). Place, Injury Patterns, and Female-Victim Intimate Partner Homicide. Violence Against Women, 25(6), 654–676. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801218797467

[6] Reckdenwald, A., Szalewski, A., & Yohros, A. (2019). Place, Injury Patterns, and Female-Victim Intimate Partner Homicide. Violence Against Women, 25(6), 654–676. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077801218797467

[7] Teaster, P. B., Roberto, K. A., & Dugar, T. A. (2006). Intimate Partner Violence of Rural Aging Women. Family Relations, 55(5), 636–648.

[8] 8. Rural Domestic Violence | ATrain Education. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.atrainceu.com/content/8-rural-domestic-violence

[9] Domestic Violence and Firearms. (n.d.). The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://efsgv.org/learn/type-of-gun-violence/domestic-violence-and-firearms/

[10] Violence and Abuse in Rural America Introduction—Rural Health Information Hub. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2021, from https://www.ruralhealthinfo.org/topics/violence-and-abuse

[11] What is The Duluth Model? (n.d.). Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs. Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://www.theduluthmodel.org/what-is-the-duluth-model/

[12] Overview of SEL. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2021, from https://casel.org/overview-sel/

Image Sources

Farmhouse with American Flag: Image courtesy of Author, R.Z., 2020

2 thoughts on “The Forgotten Crisis: Rural American Women, Domestic Violence, and Murder

  1. V Hudson says:

    Wow, I had never really thought about how the characteristics of rural life lend themselves to femicide before, but you have convinced me. Excellent blogpost!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s