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The North Dakota Council on Abused Women's Services began to focus on rural outreach in 1996 with the award of a grant from the Office on Violence Against Women, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice that provides national leadership in developing states capacity to reduce violence against women. This grant was a collaborative effort among the states of North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana with a primary focus on examining ways to deliver services to victims of domestic violence in rural/remote and reservation areas of our states.
In 2009, the Rural Outreach Project-with twelve rural ND domestic violence and rape crisis programs-is continuing efforts to deliver collaborative and comprehensive services to victims of domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking as well as strengthening the response to violence against women in those victims' local communities. This Project is also supporting the enhancement of formerly battered women's leadership to guide those response efforts. Drawing together law enforcement, social services, legal, advocacy, and other organizations to address the sweeping issues of violence against women, these unified efforts are challenging the barriers presented by distance and fragmentation.
Programs Participating in the Project
Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, and Stalking Victims' Issues
There are many common factors for women who are battered, abused, or assaulted. However, for women in rural areas, there are several unique and important factors that have an effect on their experience of violence, and other's perception and understanding of that violence.
Small Town characteristics. There is a distinct lack of anonymity in North Dakota's rural communities, as "everyone knows everyone." Out of a total of 357 incorporated cities in ND, there are 345 with a population of 5,000 or less.
Traditional belief system. North Dakotan's beliefs and rural cultural values have brought safety and prosperity for many. Women in rural areas, however, frequently struggle for equality in male-dominated professions such as farming and ranching.
Geographic isolation. Remote and rural counties have an average of 1.75 persons per square mile. Many victims living in rural areas are also a great distance from their nearest neighbor, and up to an 80-100 mile drive to the nearest town offering services.
Transportation. A recent public survey showed that women in North Dakota most often get from one place to another by means of a car or other vehicle. Many victims, however, are "stranded," without their own car, or are lacking the money to pay for gas. In addition, public transportation is all but non-existent in ND's smaller towns and rural areas.
Weather. North Dakota is a land of extremes. Winters can be as long as five months, with below freezing temperatures, wind, and massive amounts of snow hindering travel and activities. Summer temperatures can reach above 100 degrees. The past several summers have been especially hot and dry, creating drought conditions in many parts of the state, which affects the livelihood of farmers and ranchers.
Housing. A lack of decent affordable and available housing means many victims and their children are often unable to leave an abusive situation. Victims are many times forced to either live in substandard housing or move into then overcrowded friends' or family's homes.
Economy. Since 2006, rural couples are making $18,000 less than urban married couples, and rural families are turning to women to sustain their families. Rural married mothers of young children are more likely to work than their urban peers, more rural college-educated women work and earn less than their urban peers, and women are more often sole providers in rural families than ever before.
Prevalence of weapons. While North Dakota does require a permit to carry a concealed weapon, there is no state requirement that gun owners register their firearms. Police do not know how many guns are ND or where they are. The lack of registration data makes it more difficult for police to trace guns used in crime, identify illegal gun traffickers or hold gun owners accountable for their weapons.
Youth risk behaviors. With a direct link between alcohol use and increased dating and sexual violence, rural areas of the state can be of the most dangerous for youth and teens. North Dakota's culture has traditionally been accepting of teenage drinking. We have the highest rate of binge drinking in the nation, at 31.4 percent, and are seeing numerous incidences of "hard partying" sexual violence and rape.
Service Providers' Issues
Low staffing and limited financial resources. Many domestic violence programs and rape crisis centers in rural areas are staffed by only one or two advocates, who struggle to keep up with the increasing numbers of urgent and emergency situations and victims' needs.
Scarcity of professional and other referral sources. Often, there are "gaps" in available assistance for victims in rural areas, with small towns often lacking needed and necessary legal and medical services as well as any batterer's treatment and/or programs for children who are witnesses to domestic violence. When professional services are available, there may be a lack of training to increase education in and awareness of the issues of domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking.
Power Structure. Historically, North Dakota has maintained a male power structure that upholds an informal system of judicial, social, religious, business, and political associations. For those working to decrease violence against women in rural areas, this means taking on a system which exerts considerable influence over many aspects of local communities' government, business, and law enforcement.
Project Focus Areas
Rural Issues Outreach Committee. A group of local program directors and rural outreach staff who are working to both identify the unique issues of violence against women in rural areas, and pursue strategies for intervention in and prevention of this violence.
ND Chaplaincy Network. Clergy are often the closest and most accessible and acceptable responders to domestic violence in rural areas. With over 31 member clergy (17 of which are in rural areas) who are connected to law enforcement through chaplaincy programs, the Network continues to build knowledge and awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault, and the intervention skills of its members to increase and integrate the rural outreach efforts of law enforcement and advocacy programs.
Rural Media Project. Established through the Rural Grant program, this Project supports rural domestic violence and sexual assault programs in addressing key priority issues of victim safety, well-being, and self-sufficiency. Through innovative collaborations and creative partnerships to promote public outreach and to provide needed information and materials, rural programs will reduce the isolation of victims and enhance communities and victims' awareness of and access to available domestic violence and sexual assault services.
Life After Fear (LAF). This formerly battered women's group makes presentations, reviews domestic violence policies, and engages in local ND community organization and advocacy. LAF recently has moved into a primary leadership role, assisting local advocacy programs in responding to the sensitive issue of sexual assault in domestic violence relationships.
Community Outreach. Local rural programs and their communities are working together to develop innovative methods of promoting the identification of, intervention in, and prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault. By forging new alliances between existing agencies and community organizations plus individual stakeholders and professionals, rural areas are actively looking for and implementing initiatives to bring people together in helping women and children maintain their health and safety.
Publications and Other Materials
To promote a better understanding of rural area domestic violence and sexual assault victimization, our office has several booklets plus other materials available which offer some guidelines for professionals who may be working with these victims. Please contact Linda or Suzie at 701-255-6240 for more information.