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This report presents the results of a qualitative study examining the experiences of women seeking help for domestic and family violence who live in regional, rural, and remote areas in Australia. The study contributes to the limited evidence on how geographical and social isolation shapes women’s coping with and decisions to seek assistance for domestic and family violence, and their efforts to live safely.
A qualitative design enabled the research team to work in partnership with domestic and family violence service providers located at each site and to ensure the active participation of both service providers and women who had experienced domestic and family violence. A total of 23 women participated in the study. Five women were interviewed from each site (only three were interviewed in Whyalla). Six women were Aboriginal and 17 were non-Aboriginal. One focus group was held with managers and practitioners from specialist domestic and family violence agencies at each site, totalling five focus groups, including 16 managers and practitioners from South Australia and nine from Derby, Western Australia. An additional focus group was held with regional managers of domestic and family violence services in South Australia (n = 4) and the Kimberley region of Western Australia (n = 8), totalling 12 regional managers from across the two states. In total, 37 managers and practitioners participated in the study.
This study found:
• Women experienced a range of behaviours and tactics used by men to exercise power and control, including physical, sexual, psychological, financial, social, and spiritual abuse. Women experiencing domestic and family violence initially coped on their own by trying to understand and help their partner to stop his use of violence.
• Women dealing with multiple and unpredictable forms of violence and abuse mostly tried to seek help from informal networks (family, friends, acquaintances) when they felt they could not cope alone. The strategies that women employed and their options for seeking help were influenced by their own networks of relationships, for example: ○ Aboriginal women mostly described having strong family networks and support.
- Most non-Aboriginal women had limited family networks and hence reached out to friends or acquaintances.
- The complete absence of informal networks for some women meant they did not reach out for help.
• Women experienced feelings of shame and embarrassment whilst experiencing domestic and family violence, and for many whilst in processes of recovery and rebuilding. Aboriginal women spoke of their pride being eroded due to living with, and seeking help about, family violence. Although these findings are not new, they are an important reminder of how community attitudes towards domestic and family violence impact directly on women’s perceptions of themselves and their help-seeking decisions.
• Despite women’s efforts to cope alone or seek help from informal networks, all the women experienced intervention by police and support from the specialist domestic and family violence service in their region.
• Most women reported positive experiences with police and all reported positive support from the specialist domestic and family violence service. Having access to emergency specialist accommodation that was secure was crucial for the women as it gave them a safe space to take care of themselves and their children. It also provided an entry point into support regardless of the decisions they made about the future of their relationship.