HERS: Helping End Rural Silence is a new volunteer outreach group that hopes to raise awareness and start conversations about domestic violence in rural settings.
“While we care about all victims of domestic violence, women in rural areas such as small towns and on farms face specific challenges,” says Paola di Paolo, HERS organizer.
“Domestic violence is not an easy topic to discuss; people who are victims rely on us to talk about it.”
Domestic violence is defined as a focused and sustained effort by someone to control another person through threats, violence, financial abuse, or psychological abuse. Elements of domestic violence can involve physical assault such as hitting or throwing things, pushing or shoving, rape, or unwanted sexual touching, according to di Paolo.
It can also involve controlling all access to household finances, name calling, ignoring, isolating the victim from friends and family members, harming or threatening to harm family pets or farm animals.
“Women are often afraid to leave relationships involving domestic violence,” she says.
“They fear the consequences to themselves, their children, pets, and farm animals.”
Research into domestic violence indicates that rural women are at a much higher risk of being victimized by their intimate partners than women in urban settings.
However, women in rural settings face unique challenges such as fewer services for victims, isolation, greater distances to available services, a sense of pressure to live up to the idea that rural life is idyllic and peaceful when the reality may be the opposite.
“Other factors include lack of or poor internet service, fear of ostracization should they be perceived as ‘rocking the boat’ if they were to report their experiences of domestic violence, and fear of loss of both home and job should they have to leave the farm or small town for a city far away,” says di Paolo.
There may also be fear that their husband or boyfriend’s family or friends may be the police officer or health care worker that responds, should they seek emergency assistance. Overall, there could be a fear of upsetting the small community by bringing attention to a ‘dark secret.’
Abusers often intimidate families, friends, and neighbours into silence, she says.
“Abusers have power and control over all of us when we as community members feel unable to talk or act,” di Paolo explains.
HERS is about raising awareness, starting discussions, and letting women who are victims that they are not alone, and not isolated. It’s not a replacement for professional care and advice. If you or someone you know is at immediate risk, please call the police or a shelter emergency line. If you or someone you know is in need of professional care and advice, please contact a local shelter through their intake line.
People who attend HERS talks express a sense of relief in being able to talk about the issue of domestic violence more openly, according to di Paolo. HERS outreach talks are free to community groups in the following areas: Kawartha Lakes, Brock, York, Durham region of Ontario.
There is also a safe, closed Facebook group called HERS: Helping End Rural Silence that people can join to discuss this further. The website is www.endruralsilence.com or contact the group by email at moc.e1560686064cneli1560686064slaru1560686064rdne@1560686064ofni1560686064 or at 705 341 2758.