Deputy Staffordshire PPC Sue Arnold leads the way on highlighting issues of rural crime in general in Staffordshire

The National Rural Crime Network has revealed a shocking picture of domestic abuse in rural Britain with hidden victims – isolated, unsupported and unprotected – who are being failed by the system, services and those around them, and Staffordshire is not immune.

The results of an 18-month intensive research project, the study has analysed available evidence, spoken in depth to victims of abuse, assessed local support services and looked at the approach of the police.

Its findings are stark, disturbing and lead to an urgent call for action from government, the police, society and us all.

On behalf of the Staffordshire Commissioner’s Office, Deputy Commissioner Sue Arnold has led on highlighting the very real issues of rural crime in general in Staffordshire and has for some time warned about the hidden victims suffering in silence in our rural communities from domestic abuse.

Mrs Arnold, who sits on the National Rural Crime Network, and was instrumental in making this study happen, said today she was glad to see a spotlight finally being shone on this abuse, but the results of the study were genuinely shocking.

Among the ten key conclusions:

Domestic abuse lasts, on average, 25% longer in most rural areas – the report finds that exiting abuse is harder, takes longer and is more complex for rural victims as there are significant additional barriers in rural communities compared to urban areas.

Rurality and isolation are used as a weapon by abusers - we now have clear evidence that abusers specifically move victims to rural settings to further isolate them, or systematically use the isolation to their advantage should they already be there. It not only facilitates abusers controlling their victims whilst in the relationship but makes it harder for victims to escape that abuse. Physical isolation is the arguably the best weapon an abuser has; and has a profound impact on making the victim feel quite literally captive.

Close-knit rural communities facilitate abuse -strong community spirit is one of the joys of rural life, but it can be equally powerful in keeping domestic abuse hidden and in facilitating abuse – not knowingly, not willingly, but by virtue of the way communities are in rural Britain.

The policing response is largely inadequate - whilst the service provided by the police is improving, feedback from victims shows the response in rural areas is not as good as that in urban areas.  Some of this is due to a lack of women police officers being available in rural areas, as well as fewer officers with appropriate domestic abuse training.  And the further the victim from a visible police presence (i.e. building) the less likely they are to call the police. 

Support services are scarce – less available, less visible and less effective - victims were clear that domestic abuse support services are much harder to find and much harder to engage with than in an urban setting. These services are also less effective in supporting rural victims and survivors once they manage to make contact.

All ten conclusions, and the full research which led to them, can be found at www.ruralabuse.co.uk.

Research for the report took place across the country and the picture for Staffordshire was in line with the national findings.

Mrs Arnold said:

‘I recently commissioned our own survey into rural crime in Staffordshire and that showed rural crime in general is under reported and I believe this affects domestic abuse to an even greater extent.

‘The results of this national report out today are truly shocking and show domestic abuse is hidden under our noses. Hidden by abusers, who like to keep it that way and on a scale hitherto unseen. 

‘This is happening now in Staffordshire and we all have a part to play in helping victims – police, support services, charities, health services and many others. We need to understand this has been ignored for too long and victims and survivors have been let down, we need to put that right.’

The Deputy Commissioner has already discussed this issue with Staffordshire Police when the Staffordshire Rural Crime Strategy was launched last month, but will be discussing again how it is being addressed in Staffordshire as a matter of urgency.

New Era, which the Staffordshire Commissioner’s Office along with the city and county councils commissions to provide DA services to victims and perpetrators across the board, is already focusing on the best way to help those in rural communities in Staffordshire.  

‘New Era, as part of their work across the city and county, are focusing on reaching those in rural communities, it’s essential we get to those who need help and do it without further delay. This will also give us a clearer picture of the situation in Staffordshire today and what we need to address it,’ said Mrs Arnold.

The National Rural Crime Network has issued six recommendations and calls for them to be acted on as soon as possible:

FOR GOVERNMENT - Government must apply its ‘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

FOR THE POLICE - Chief Constables need to urgently assess and improve their service provision in rural areas

FOR SUPPORT SERVICES AND CHARITIES - support services, and those who commission them, must improve their offer to rural victims and survivors

FOR COMMISSIONERS - commissioners (in all their forms) need to collaborate more and provide simpler, more secure and longer-term funding

FOR THE SECTOR - Government, policing and service providers must collectively commit to redressing the urban bias

FOR SOCIETY - Challenge the status quo and societal ‘norms’ in rural communities to redress inequality between women and men.

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network, added:

“This report has been over a year in the making. I have spoken to many people about the emerging themes and everyone has nodded and said, yes we know there is domestic abuse in rural areas, yes we know there are problems for victims. But now, with the publication of this report – the first ever to look at domestic abuse specifically through the lens of rurality – its scale and nature is starkly exposed for the first time. Nodding and promising to carry on much as we do now is not good enough.

“This report must surely be a catalyst to help us better protect the women, children and men in rural communities who suffer daily at the hands of calculating, manipulating, controlling and violent abusers.”

The full report can be seen and downloaded atwww.ruralabuse.co.uk.