A report into domestic abuse in rural areas has found that abuse lasts on average 25 per cent longer in rural areas.

The UK-wide report compiled by the National Rural Crime Network (NRCN), which had been a year in the making, has for the first time given a comprehensive examination of the impact of rurality on domestic abuse victims and services, the commonalities and differences between rural and urban experiences.

The report also finds rural victims are half as likely to report their abuse to others, there is a lack of readily accessible support services, victims live in a society that defacto protects the perpetrators and rural victims are isolated, unsupported and unprotected in a “rural hell” which is purposefully “normalised”.

The Domestic Abuse in Rural Areas report said exiting abuse is harder, takes longer and is more complex as there are significant additional in rural communities compared to urban areas such as the difficulties with starting a new life and the accessibility of service are much harder to obtain which make reporting abuse half as likely.

Kerri Flood of Fermanagh Women’s Aid presented the report to an all-party group in November and says that while the research is based in England and Wales, a lot of the findings are translatable to Fermanagh.

“It’s basically just saying the abuse in a rural area is likely to last twice as long, that there is chronic underreporting and what we tend to do is base all our services in Northern Ireland on need.

“So in an area where perhaps reporting is much lower that is kind of seen as there is not a need for additional services there but what that report is really saying is that the lack of reporting in rural areas doesn’t mean that its not happening, it’s actually happening at a higher level and it’s the lack of visibility of support services, even things like not having a visible police presence, simple things like that not having a visible GP presence means that a victim is less likely to come forward and report and that is certainly something we are seeing ourselves in Fermanagh Women’s Aid.”

Kerrie also said that the lack of a clear definition of the word “rural” in Northern Ireland means statistics about rural crime does not really cover domestic violence and the lack of a functioning government means that no matter what we know about domestic violence there is nowhere to go to get changes implemented or funding.

Other key findings from the report were the more rurally you live, the harder it is to get support, the less effective the support is which results in the greater risk and harm in more isolated settings.

The report also found that close knit rural communities facilitate abuse, not knowingly or willingly but because in tight knit communities it is almost impossible for a victim to seek help without it being known to others, call the police without further community questioning or even share their fears with others in confidence.

But she says that no matter what, Fermanagh Women’s Aid is available for those who need them.

“What we would be saying is our service is not about asking or telling anybody to do anything. What we do is we work with that person.

“We don’t make them end the relationship, we don’t make them leave, we basically present them with the options that they have and provide them with the emotional and practical support to explore those options and choose the ones that are right for them.

“We will support any woman in any place in Fermanagh, GP surgeries, car parks anywhere, any safe place if you are in a very rural isolated area.”

Recommendations to come from the report include improved services in rural areas for victims, the application by the government of “rural proofing” policy to domestic abuse, strengthening its commitment with a new duty on policy makers, commissioners and service providers to account for the specific needs of victims and survivors in rural communities and for society to challenge the status quo and societal “norms” in rural communities to redress inequality between women and men.

To read the full report visit https://www.ruralabuse.co.uk.