UI study: Rural women face greater intimate partner violence, less access to resources

Intimate partner violence (IPV) affects millions of women nationwide, yet little had been known about rates of IPV in rural areas as most research has focused on urban women.

The researchers surveyed 1,478 Iowa women seeking an induced abortion, a population that is known to have experienced higher rates of IPV, to determine the one-year prevalence of physical, sexual, and psychological IPV. They found that 61.5 percent of isolated rural women reported four or more events of physical violence in the past year compared with 39.3 percent of urban women. Isolated rural women also reported significantly higher severity of physical abuse, with more than 30 percent reporting severe to very severe physical violence compared with 10 percent of urban women.

In addition to the higher rates of violence, the research team also found that women in rural and isolated areas live much farther away from available domestic violence intervention resources. The average distance to the closest resources was three times farther for women in small rural or isolated areas than for women in urban areas or large rural towns. More than one in four women in rural and isolated areas live more than 40 miles from the closest services, compared with less than 1 percent of urban women. Rural domestic violence intervention programs also served more counties and had fewer on-site shelter services.

“The people who provide services in rural areas are fantastic; they are dedicated, passionate and qualified. But the access to these services is very disparate,” says Corinne Peek-Asa, Ph.D., professor of occupational and environmental health and senior study author. “When you compound distance with the fact that isolation is one of the tenets of domestic violence, the situation is even worse.”

The researchers suggest one possible explanation for the higher rates of IPV in rural communities may be that living in isolation makes it easier to hide domestic violence, so perpetrators choose to live in remote areas. The disparity in access to intervention or prevention services in remote areas may also play a role. The researchers conclude that more IPV resources and interventions are needed in rural and isolated areas.

“We need to think about how to protect isolated women, and from a larger public health context, we need to think about our rural population,” Peek-Asa says.

The research team also included Anne Wallis, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Audrey Saftlas, Ph.D., professor, both in the Department of Epidemiology, and Karisa Harland, Ph.D., senior analyst in the Injury Prevention Research Center. The study is part of a larger research project led by Saftlas and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development looking at IPV among women in Iowa seeking abortion services.

STORY SOURCE: The University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications and External Relations, 4258 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242

MEDIA CONTACT: Bill Barker, 319-384-4277, [email protected]. Writer, Esther Baker