BY NICK PEARCE
The National Rural Crime Network Chairwoman, Julia Mulligan, has been helpful in the past in taking steps to expose the lack of rural policing and the gross underestimation of crime in rural communities. 13,000 people answered the National Rural Crime Survey in 2015. However, her recent pronouncements on domestic abuse being a “deeply hidden and disturbing side to rural life” are, for the most part, tosh.
Of course, the BBC has immediately picked up on her pronouncements. Any stick with which to bash the unruly Brexiteering countryside with, is something the BBC cannot resist. Mulligan’s words and tone play into the countryside-bashers’ hands – the BBC, the Guardian and the leftist blog that used to be the Independent newspaper are the only news media reporting on them as this article is published. Really don’t be surprised to find this smear used in some way by animal rights crazies over coming days – “domestic abuse apparently leads to animal abuse hence why country folk fox hunt and kill animals with guns in the countryside”.
“We have uncovered a deeply hidden and disturbing side to rural life. Far from the peaceful idyll most people have in their mind when conjuring up the countryside, this report bares the souls and scars of domestic abuse victims, who all too often are lost to support, policing and criminal justice services.”
Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or background. Yes, it needs stamping out wherever it happens. However, the statistics show that domestic abusers amongst immigrant communities, who are far less represented in the countryside than in towns and cities and far less likely to report incidents than anyone, are the most likely to be perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse.
Furthermore, rural communities – despite connections being a tad ropy in some places – are hardly disconnected from the outside world. We rural dwellers possess telephones and have access to the Internet. We tend to own dogs and meet neighbours walking theirs. We drop our kids off at schools where we meet other villagers, some attend churches, visit local farm shops and village stores, we have to shop at supermarkets, frequent doctors’ surgeries and hospitals just as townies do, as well as pull aside and nod to our neighbours as we pass them down our country lanes in the car. There are village events in most villages too, even the occasional cricket match and pub quiz. Yes, it’s possible some domestic abuse victims (men as well as women) are stuck down some farm lane in the middle of nowhere but even they get daily visits from the postman and have the police ride by every now and again on a horse or in a panda car – even they are not exempt from Jehovah’s Witness visits.
So Mulligan claims “rural victims were half as likely to report their abuse to others, and experienced abuse for 25% longer”. That is based on the latest survey and perhaps deserves some credence but some of the individual answers in the survey seem a little too handy for a headline-grabbing scare story, no? As if fabricated?
“I found it so hard to find anyone in the village to talk to. They are all perfectly nice people on the surface, but after he shouted at me in the pub that night it was like everyone took a step back from me.”
“You don’t really have a choice – the police are at least an hour away and if it happens on a Friday or a Saturday night, which it always did, they are busy dealing with other things.”
The police are at least an hour away? Where does this respondent live? In a lighthouse off the Shetlands?
According to Mulligan’s report, “abusers move victims to rural settings to further isolate them or systematically use isolation to their advantage if they already live in an isolated place. This not only helped abusers control their victims while in the relationship, but made it harder for victims to escape that abuse.” Again, Mulligan should get out into the countryside a bit more. Even though rural communities may seem disparate and good hiding places for weirdos the reality is that if a weirdo moves into a rural community then all the locals know soon enough and rural gossip is like no other. In the countryside it is really difficult to remain an island. It is far more logical for a domestic abuser to move their victim into a London flat, where neighbours barely say hello to each other, than risk landing in a rural spider’s web of gossip.
These surveys are really useful and Mulligan should be commended for her role in getting the rural perspective across. However, using the language she has used in her report and painting a “dark” side to rural life undermines rural communities and could result in all kinds of rural repercussions from curtain twitchers and gossipers, wasting precious rural police time. Far better to deliver leaflets about domestic abuse to the mums at the school gates and at the supermarket, or have local police deliver them to houses where there may be suspicion of nefarious activity occurring.
As for the BBC, stop bashing the countryside. We’re not a theme park (Countryfile) and we’re not “dark” or “hidden”. You wonder why fewer of us bother with TV licences? Stick your negative coverage of the countryside where the sun doesn’t shine. You townies want rural opinion? Get out of the towns more.