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Study Finds Domestic Violence a Serious Problem in Rural Minnesota
By Dan Gunderson
September 24, 1998
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During Minnesota researchers say a study released today provides the first solid evidence domestic violence is a serious problem in rural areas. Nearly 1700 rural Minnesota women were surveyed about physical, emotional and sexual violence.

WHEN MARION KERSHNER decided to find out more about rural domestic violence as a graduate student, she was surprised and dismayed to find nearly all the research had been done in urban areas. Kershner, who works for Ottertail County Public Health, approached several agencies and developed a study conducted done last year across west-central Minnesota. She found abuse is at least as common in rural areas as big cities.
Kershner: Part of me, because I'm a health care provider I know its happening ... but as a community member and a rural dweller, I didn't want to really believe it, probably.
Nearly 40 percent of women surveyed reported they had been victims of domestic abuse. And the study found the women's level of education and income was not a factor.
Kershner: That blows a stereotype about what a battered woman is ... she's poor, she's uneducated. We found in west-central Minnesota that is not the case.
Kershner says health-care providers need to do a better job of looking for evidence of abuse. Eighty percent of women surveyed had never been asked by their doctor about abuse.

Kershner says another disturbing finding was 35 percent of women had been abused before the age of 18, and those women were much more likely to be abused as adults.

Rose Thelen says that finding shows domestic abuse is about more than a fight between a man and woman.

Thelen: People are so concerned about kids and their violence. Well, one of the root causes of kids and their violence is what dad is doing to mom in the home.
Thelen is co-founder of the gender violence institute in Clearwater,Minnesota and helps train law-enforcement agencies statewide. She says domestic violence is a community issue. Children in abusive homes are more likely to be violent, use drugs, join gangs, and commit suicide. Still, she says, many people in rural and urban areas consider domestic violence a private family matter.
Thelen: It takes people who have power to listen to people who don't and go: "OK, I have the power to change policy procedure and protocol in my bailiwick, and I'm going to do that." It takes a whole state-load of men to stand up and do that, because they are the policymakers.
Thelen says significant progress has been made in the 18 years she's been working on domestic violence programs. But she says in too many communities beating a woman is still not considered a serious crime.
Thelen: People knowing each other well makes it hard for her to call. Maybe the police sympathize with the batterer cause he's on the bowling team with him, or he knows her to be a "problem" too. I think victim blaming is still rampant.
Researchers hope this study will help stimulate a debate about how domestic violence is handled by the authorities and society and will bring increased funding for programs in rural areas.

Diane Long says it's hard to build support for domestic violence programs when not everyone agrees its a problem. Long is director of domestic violence programs in west-central Minnesota. She says just bringing abuse out of the closet would be a victory.

Long: If we just would acknowledge it we could do wonders. We have good laws. lets just make sure people are arrested and prosecuted. I think it would make a big difference.
Full results of the survey are still being analyzed. A full report will be published in a National Public Health Journal in December.