Beyond the city skyline and the essence of metropolitan life are places wholly removed from civilisation. Life on the land in rural Queensland can be an unpredictable whirlwind. One day the outback can be flourishing as heavy rain brings with it large harvests of crops. The next year, severe droughts can strike, drying up all that is left of life on the land. Now, all remaining energy is poured into just getting by in the face of adversity – an unsettling and very real parallel between life on the land and domestic violence.
Released in February this year, domestic violence action report Not Now, Not Ever disclosed the hard facts about isolation in rural locations, and how it presents a very tangible danger for those in an abusive partnerships.
Unlike the city and surrounding areas, help is often not as easily accessible, if at all. The familiarity of small towns contributes to privacy concerns for rural victims.
The ten percent of people living in Queensland’s more secluded regions are limited in their choices. However a group of counsellors dedicated to helping rural victims suffering with domestic violence have shared their stories, highlighting the prevalence of the issues and possible ways to combat them.
“I’ve seen a bit.”
This was one of psychotherapist Brian Hunt’s first statements. It was simple enough, yet his defeated tone and the uneasy chuckle that followed was telling; the subject matter about to be discussed was anything but simple.
Mr Hunt has spent the past six years providing counselling to country and remote victims of domestic violence in New Zealand, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
“How humans can be so cruel to each other is just beyond imagination,” Mr Hunt said.
In 2009 Alicia Harris graduated from University and went straight into her job as a domestic violence counsellor at the Rockhampton Women’s Health Centre. Six years on, she still struggles to remain completely neutral when victims tell their often heartbreaking tales of abuse.
“Hearing about what people live with, day in and day out, it can be really harrowing,” Ms Harris said.
“It absolutely does affect you and I think you wouldn’t be human if it didn’t, but it’s what you do with that then that’s important.
“You do have to reframe things and say ‘well to be able to help them [people suffering DV] to the best of my ability I need to stay outside of their stuff and stay impartial’.”
Matthew Moss has worked in several fields in the Mount Isa area, including youth, homelessness, drugs and alcohol, and mental health. For the past four and a half years, he has applied his background in social work to support domestic violence victims through the North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service (NQDVRS).
“Safety – that’s my main concern for any client, whether they’re in rural or remote or here in town, safety has to be their priority,” Mr Moss said.
“Working on what they can do and how they can do it, which doesn’t necessarily mean leaving a relationship straight away.”
Mr Hunt, Ms Harris and Mr Moss all agree the closeness of small communities is a barrier in making the decision to get help and subsequently, receiving the help.
There is an unspoken law in the country; you pitch in when someone else is in need. Whether it is fighting a bushfire, fixing a creek crossing or looking after your neighbour’s place when they’re away. However comradeship amongst domestic violence victims and perpetrators in rural communities can become blurred and is not always a positive.
“Women have told me ‘well what bloody hope have I got when Joe Blow the local town solicitor drinks with my husband or partner’,” Mr Hunt said.
“Sometimes those close community relationships can be used against them and they feel quite overwhelmed and powerless.”
Ms Harris continued this line of thought.
“In small towns everyone can know the perpetrator and their experience of the perpetrator is nothing like the victim’s,” Ms Harris said.
As Mr Moss puts it, domestic violence is all about “choice, power and control”, and living on the land only heightens the perpetrator’s capacity to impose their will. To imprison another’s autonomy through a combination of violence and monitoring techniques.
“If your partner’s keeping you completely isolated, you don’t get out, you’re not allowed to listen to the radio except what they want to hear, there’s no newspapers brought into the home or you can’t talk to anyone, you don’t know what services are available,” Mr Moss said.
“They are so financially entrenched with the partner and they have nowhere to go, no other option, they can’t get out.”
When the opportunity to leave presents itself and the victim makes their move, the most immediate form of danger is replaced by unpredictable terrain and other geographical obstacles.
“It’s remote and it’s dangerous to travel on your own and then invariably they’ve got young children in tow too, so it’s sometimes risky for a mum to throw the kids in the car like they can do in the city and go to a refuge,” Mr Hunt said.
“The mums here have a 2 to 300 kilometre drive on dirt roads.”
During a drought it is easy to wonder how drought-stricken ground could ever be fruitful again after enduring such damage. However one day it will rain and the cracks will heal. Admirably, the ground is able to withstand the long-term damage inflicted upon it, the same goes for some victims of domestic violence; they are strong individuals, resilient enough to withstand the damage so cruelly forced upon them.
Ultimately, whether people experiencing domestic violence are aware of it or not, a better life is possible. With the ongoing selflessness and generosity of domestic violence counsellors, rural victims and their families have the opportunity to heal and grow – to confront the storm and navigate through it in pursuit of their best selves
All three counsellors recognise that pursuing help is often frightening for domestic violence victims. They offered their most important piece of advice for those in isolated living situations with no direct access to services.
Mr Hunt’s advice was straight to the point.
“The first thing you must do is ring someone, ring a helpline or ring DV Connect or the police,” Mr Hunt said.
Ms Harris spoke about alternative options if confidentiality is a concern.
“Someone might be in Emerald but it might be easier for them to call here into Rocky because they don’t know us,” Ms Harris said.
Finally, Mr Moss emphasised the importance of resourcefulness.
“Having a plan so if things do get to the point where they need to leave and if it’s a remote area, maybe next time the flying doctors are in town, have a chat with them and see if you can get a lift with them,” Mr Moss said.
If you, or anybody you know is in danger please consider calling 1800 RESPECT and they can assist in getting you to safety.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence in any capacity you should reach out for support.
In an emergency dial 000