The shocking picture of domestic abuse in rural areas across the UK can be revealed for the first time today with victims left isolated, unsupported and failed by the system, services and those around them.
An 18 month study by the National Rural Crime Network has revealed domestic abuse lasts, on average, 25 per cent longer in most rural areas and that rurality and isolation are used as a weapon by abusers.
The study has also revealed close-knit rural communities facilitate abuse, albeit not intentionally, and the policing response to this crime is “largely inadequate”.
The report also states that support services in rural areas are scarce, less available, less visible and less effective.
Chair of the National Rural Crime Network Julia Mulligan said: “This report is clear - domestic abuse is hidden under our noses, hidden by abusers who like to keep it that way and on a scale of abuse hitherto unseen.
“All parties with a duty to help victims; the police, support services, charities, Police and Crime Commissioners, health services, and many others, need to understand that we have missed this. We have let victims and survivors down.
“We have collectively failed. We need to put that right. And for all of that, let me be the first to apologise to those we have failed.
Research by the National Rural Crime Network claims that while the number of domestic violence offences recorded per 1,000 people in rural areas is lower, this is because victims are less likely to report the crime to police.
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The report says it is more difficult to access support services in the countryside, which often has poor public transport, and that abusers are drawn to rural areas so that they can keep their victim isolated.
It concludes: “Rurality is a weapon that increases isolation, stigma and shame in small, often closed communities, and which creates barriers that, without pro-active intervention, will prevent many victims accessing support.
“From understanding the vulnerability and demand in rural areas, to responding to the sensitivities of rural culture and communities, to ensuring our services are accessible to all, to supporting victims and survivors to escape and rebuild their lives, in rural areas domestic abuse and the needs of its victims and survivors have remained a hidden and harmful fact.
“The implications of this are serious. Victims and survivors are being let down, and are lacking support that could mean the difference between life and death.
The researchers interviewed 67 victims from seven different areas of England, including a female victim from North Yorkshire
She explained how she went to her GP for blood pressure tablets and that her bruises were clearly visible, but she did not tell of the abuse as her partner was well known to the doctor.
She said: “He was so well known in the area and had so much influence with people who matter in those circles.”
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Odette Robson, North Yorkshire County Council’s Head of Safer Communities said the authority will look at the report findings and “consider any appropriate action.”
Responding to the findings, North Yorkshire Police said domestic abuse continues to be a major priority.
Superintendent Allan Harder said the force understands how challenges for victims are “amplified” in rural communities, but said officers are trained in dealing with the crime.
He said further steps have been taken to provide rural task force PCs with additional domestic abuse training.
Supt Harder said: “Engagement with all of our hard-to-reach communities is one of our key objectives with the aim of building confidence within these communities to speak out.”