Wednesday, October 17

Why abused women stay

Anyone who has ever wondered why abused women don't just leave their partners should talk to abused women in rural areas.

Deborah Doherty and Jennie Hornosty of Fredericton have done just that. Their study, funded by the Canada Firearms Centre, looked at the experiences of rural abused women.

Their research would be of great interest to New Brunswick even if it had been conducted in another part of Canada, but it was done mostly with New Brunswick women. With half of us living in non-urban areas, and with New Brunswick having such a high rate of gun-related deaths and spousal murder-suicides, we should be paying attention to their results and recommendations.

New study reports that rural abusers threaten their spouses with firearms and with threats or actual harm to animals.

Fortunately the two researchers have embarked on a short tour of the province — soon in Caraquet, Cambpellton and Woodstock — to let rural New Brunswick know about their findings.

We can imagine some of the problems particular to living in a rural area: isolation, poverty and transportation. Many abused women also mentioned police response times — one said when you see two police cars going in one direction in a rural community, you know you can do anything you want in the other direction.

Many also talked about how traditional values, strong in some rural areas, mean that women are supposed to be submissive and that reporting abuse would stigmatize them and their families.

And then there are the guns and animals, both frequently present in rural areas, and, the researchers found, both used as instruments of control, intimidation, and abuse in family violence situations.

Even crisis and victim service workers who participated in the study were amazed at the responses of abused women when asked about the use of firearms and threats to animals. The workers later strongly recommended that these questions become standard on risk assessment and in-take forms.

Almost half of the abused women said that their partner had threatened to harm animals as a means of controlling her. "He would threaten to kill the dog, and describe the dog's death very violently, it was really graphic." Most said their partner had actually harmed or killed an animal. It was common for the women to delay seeking help out of fear for their animals, and because there is no safe haven for these animals.

One woman who owned horses explained that when her partner's abusive behaviour towards her became intolerable, she would end up staying or going back because she had to feed the horses. "Where can you go with a horse or chickens or sheep?" she asked rhetorically.

In homes where firearms were present, two-thirds of the women said knowing about the firearms made them more fearful for their safety. Most of the women said it affected their decision to ask for help, especially if the firearms were not licensed, registered or locked. Indeed, even some family, neighbours and service providers who witness abuse were made too scared to call the police by the knowledge that firearms were present.

Some spoke of actual assaults with a gun, including rape with a gun to their head. But threats can be subtly effective in the context, as is the fact that a gun is always loaded, or always on top of the fridge. As one focus group participant said, "All he has to do is look over at the bed and she knows there is rifle underneath and that she had better do what he says."

In a province with a "hunting" or "gun culture", there can be a cavalier attitude to firearms, to their storage and to their potential lethality even where there is family violence and other problems.

Incredibly, the study found that unless a domestic violence incident specifically involved a firearm, police don't usually search for and seize the firearms in a home where they have answered a call. Some rural abused women said they do not trust that their problem will be taken seriously if they disclose the abuse. Others said that when they do disclose firearms misuse to service providers, often there is no follow-up.

Some did not dare tell police or others about the guns in the home because they were not sure the guns would be taken away. If they were, she was in for a beating, and if they weren't, it could get even worse.

Some women were frightened of calling the police because so many rural people have scanners to listen to police calls. Given perceived police response times, it's not just the shame of their neighbours knowing their business, it's the fear that a neighbour will tell the abuser. Some imagined that if police came to take away his guns, it would end in a standoff.

Dr Doherty and Dr Hornosty heard heart-wrenching stories of women who stayed out of fear for their lives. They heard over and over that if she tried to leave, he had said he would shoot and bury her and no one would ever know or even hear the shot, given where they lived. Some women stayed because their children were so attached to the animals that were being threatened.

Women who eventually left said that some interveners told them they were stupid for having hesitated because of animals. When you are being terrorized and trying to react sanely to an insane situation, you don't need "helpers" to tell you that you are stupid. Even people who understand about women and kids can lack concern about pets, or don't believe anybody would hurt an animal.

Add mental health problems and drugs including alcohol to the situations above, and you can imagine the paralyzing fear that women live with on some farms and rural homes in the province. We have much to do to reach out to them.

Ginette Petitpas-Taylor, of Moncton, is Chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status Of Women. Her column on women's issues appears in the Times & Transcript every Thursday. She may be reached via e-mail at the eddress beloq.

Related addresses:
eMail 1:

No comments: