Rural roots

Some years, as March 8th approaches, I struggle with how to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). These are not good times for women’s equity, and gender-based violence remains at all-time highs around the globe. But what are we to do about that? Making the system-wide changes that are needed to end gender-based violence and move us closer to a world in which women have true equity  can feel too big. That overwhelmed feeling can lead to despair, which leads to giving up and doing nothing, which is not good for anyone.

This year, how about shifting our focus from the big to the small? Let’s think about how each of us individually can support folks we know who are being subjected to intimate partner violence (IPV). It will take more than our lifetimes to eradicate that violence. Crucial as that work is, it’s important not to forget those who are being victimized and find ways to support them.

The 2022 CKW Inquest into the murders of Carol Culleton, Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam in Renfrew County shone a light on the unique realities of intimate partner violence in rural communities for the first time in Ontario. Since then, rural communities have led much of the advocacy work to see the inquest recommendations implemented.

In March 2023, Neighbours, Friends and Families (NFF), a program of Western University’s Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, hosted a webinar in which NFF’s Barbara McQuarrie, Lanark County Interval House (LCIH) Executive Director Erin Lee and I talked about what rural communities need to know to keep women and children safe. Following that webinar, NFF provided funding to us for the development of new resources on this topic.

The result is Rural Roots: Seeing, Naming and Changing Intimate Partner Violence in Rural Communities, which is being released this week. This collaborative initiative among NFF, LCIH and Luke’s Place (LP) builds on an earlier resource developed by LP called Going the Distance: Supporting rural and remote survivors with family law issues, which explores issues of IPV in rural communities and strategies to address them. Our hope for Rural Roots is that it will equip individuals living in rural communities with the knowledge and tools they need to support survivors of IPV.

Rural realities

Thanks to the work of the inquest, the distinct challenges in rural communities for survivors and those who wish to support them are better known than ever:

  • Distances to services are often far and, with little to no public transportation, it can be very challenging for a woman, especially if she has young children, to get to them
  • Access to legal services is limited, with few family lawyers, fewer still who accept legal aid certificates and even fewer who have expertise in family violence
  • Communication can be a challenge as internet access and cell reception may be spotty
  • Guns are an everyday presence, and women in rural communities are 30% more likely to face firearms threats than are women in urban centres
  • The combination of both isolation and a lack of privacy can make it difficult for a woman to reach out for help

Rural Roots is the most recent in the NFF series of informational resources to assist those who may know someone who is being subjected to IPV:

“When we work collaboratively in our communities and we see it, name it and check it, we are taking an important step not just to keeping victims/survivors safe but to seeing, naming and changing intimate partner violence in rural communities.”

This resource provides critical information about common warning signs of IPV, both generally and more specifically in rural communities, and then offers a framework within which people can take meaningful action:

See it: be aware of common warning signs so you know IPV when you see it

Name it: for what it is, to yourself and to the person you are concerned about

Check it: for danger, for yourself and reach out for community expertise

Rural Roots offers tips for how neighbours, friends and family members can provide practical help: driving the survivor to appointments, caring for pets or farm animals if she needs to leave home, storing important documents, and so on.

Of course, safety for the survivor as well as for anyone supporting her, is critical and requires a different approach in rural communities where everyone’s business tends to be known by everyone else, and Rural Roots provides some suggestions for what neighbours, friends and family members can do.

Together, we can make a difference in the lives of rural survivors of IPV. Join us in championing, safety, support, and empowerment within our communities.

As a participant in the pre-CKW inquest community consultations said:

“To survive, you have to live in a community that takes responsibility for your safety.”

We can see it, name it and change it, one step at a time, beginning with being ready to offer individual support to survivors in our families, workplaces and communities.

Happy International Women’s Day 2024.

One thought on “Rural roots

  1. This is how I support my local women’s shelter, Family Transition Place, in Orangeville, Ontario. They are celebrating Int. Women’s Day tomorrow at the Hockley Resort and the quilt will be there with raffle tickets. The draw is Mar. 20th. It is a queen bed quilt. Made by me.

    I have experienced Intimate Partner Violence over a twenty-one year period. When I called the police finally in August 2021, the young constable took my audiostatement down on an Iphone. Then, he claimed he’d lost it. I was never notified by the police as to its loss, nor was I asked to replace it. I filed a complaint eventually with OIRPD asking why I was not told of this loss, why I was not asked to replace it as the perpetrator, my husband, got off the assault charge. The police have ignored me, the OIRPD has ignored my questions as did the Crown Attorney. You see now why women stay in abusive relationships. My husband is now as a result, seeking to divorce me at the age of eighty-seven and eighty-six claiming that he never once assaulted me in all the years of our marriage when in fact he did so three times.

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