11 Women+ and Intimate Partner Violence in Rural, Remote and Northern Communities

Kristie Panchuk; Curtis Hart; and Dillon R. Lewchuk

In line with a feministic perspective the authors would like to recognize that there is no hierarchy in the contributive efforts of this chapter and acknowledge that this chapter would not have been possible without the differing intersectional perspectives of each author.

Violence against women is still prevalent in Canadian society and directly impacts not only women and their families, but also the collective community. In rural, remote, and northern communities across Canada, pre-existing vulnerabilities and risk of violence against women[1] is increased and often experienced through Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and Domestic Violence (DV). The frequency of violence against women is a direct reflection of the ongoing social problems in Canada resulting in the inequality of women (e.g., historical, social, political, cultural, and economic, etc.). Conroy (2021) identifies that in 2019, the rates of family violence in remote and rural Canadian communities was 2.0 times higher than in the rest of Canada, and intimate partner violence was 1.8 times higher in rural and remote communities.

While these statistics are concerning, Gracia (2004) suggests that the majority of IPV and DV against women often goes unreported due to a multiplicity of societal oppression(s), personal circumstances, and barriers  to accessing support. However, those who live with multiple intersectional ties may be at a higher risk of violence, particularly Indigenous, immigrant, and Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender/Intersex (LBTI) women living in rural, remote, and northern regions (Calton et al., 2016; Daoud et al., 2013; Murshid & Bowen, 2018).

This chapter focuses on IPV against women in rural, remote, and northern regions. However, it should be noted that while women may also perpetuate violence, that will not be the focus of this chapter. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to learn and reflect on the prevalence of IPV and DV in rural, remote, and northern communities within Canada and how social work practitioners support the work being done at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. Social workers providing services in these communities need to be aware of risks, how to provide risk assessment, and how to incorporate safety considerations for those who may be experiencing IPV and DV.

[1] In this chapter the term “woman/women” refers to cisgender, trans, intersex, and anyone identifying as a “woman.”

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, the following learning objectives should be achieved:

  • Understanding of definitions of IPV and DV and awareness of the rates and the historical context for this issue in Canada, specifically in rural, remote and northern communities
  • Awareness of implications for social workers working with victims of IPV and DV in rural, remote, and northern communities across Canada
  • Understanding of specific safety planning and practice considerations for social work professionals on a micro, mezzo, and macro level
  • Awareness of the importance for social workers to develop collaborative working relationships, and educational and advocacy opportunities to reduce the severity and frequency of IPV and DV occurrences.

Theoretical Framework

The complexity of violence and its impact may be best understood through a feminist, trauma-informed, intersectional lens. In alignment with a feminist perspective, this chapter uses the term “survivor,” rather than “victim,” as the word “victim” pathologizes and disempowers the woman who has experienced violence (Walker, 2002). Feminist theology serves to empower women and raise awareness that disparity and oppression within larger, structural, and political systems exist (Corbeil et al., 1983, as cited in Walker, 2002). In combination with a trauma-informed lens, principles grounding our understanding of domestic violence include the following: safety, trustworthiness and transparency, collaboration and peer support, empowerment, and choice for survivors (Bowen & Murshid, 2016). Applying these principles in understanding violence, in order to support survivors, highlights a useful approach to providing care that is not re-traumatizing. In addition, using an intersectional lens allows individuals to gain a deeper understanding of IPV and DV. For example, Sokoloff and Dupont (2005) explain that violence experienced and reflected among an individual’s social locators (e.g., culture) may be interpreted by the survivor differently than by witnesses or observers. Therefore, it is important to be aware that cultural differences should not mask the larger systemic and structural forms of oppression (e.g. racism, colonialism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, patriarchy, economic exploitation, etc.) that impact and increase violence for women across diverse social locators (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005).

History of Domestic Violence in Rural, Remote and Northern Communities

Canada is a vast country,   with most of its population residing in large urban cities (Moffitt et al., 2020) and an estimated 19% of Canadians in rural and remote areas (Statistics Canada, as cited in Graham et al., 2017). Historically, the violence perpetrated against women has been embedded in many institutions and remains entrenched  covertly and overtly in our current systems. For example, the women’s suffrage movement and resistance against the dominant, patriarchal Canadian society began in Manitoba in 1916 (Parliament of Canada, n.d.). Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Alberta, followed suit until, on a federal platform, Canada conceded to the pressures of change (Parliament of Canada, n.d.). However, while there were a number of significant changes and rights acknowledged in the 20th century, violence against women continues to be a significant issue (Sitter, 2017). Walker (2002) highlights that during the 1970s, a network of shelters was developed across North America in response to violence against women (Government of Canada, 2021b).

Service Delivery

The delivery of safety services for survivors of IPV continues to be an area of advocacy research/development and ongoing evaluation for social workers in Canada. While DV does not differentiate among geographical locations, social workers working in rural, remote and northern areas of Canada have unique service delivery needs and limitations based on resources and location. The implementation of IPV policies that have been developed and implemented in more densely populated areas of Canada are often inadequate in meeting the needs of rural, remote, and northern communities.


Policy development for IPV and DV continues to be an area of concern, since several Canadian provinces lack legislation to support the survivors of violence. In 2021, six provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan) and three territories  had implemented legislation to support survivors of IPV, in addition to the laws set forth in the Canadian Criminal Code (Government of Canada, 2021b). The Criminal Code is meant to prohibit some forms of IPV, including “physical and sexual assault, some forms of emotional/psychological abuse and neglect, and financial abuse” (Government of Canada, 2021a, para. 3); however, further support is required to address intimate partner violence (IPV) across Canada.

As part of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women’s work conducted in 1980, there were key changes and suggestions made and implemented in the Criminal Code to address the issue of IP V at the time (Ad Hoc Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group, 2017). Other examples include an amendment in 1983 to protect partners in their intimate relationships from such acts as spousal rape, and in 1993 to include criminal harassment (i.e., stalking) (Government of Canada, 2021b). More recently,

…in June 2019, the Criminal Code was amended to strengthen the criminal justice’s response to IPV, including by defining ‘intimate partner’ for all Criminal Code purposes and clarifying that the term includes a current or former spouse, common-law partner and dating partner. (Government of Canada, 2021b, para. 5)

With that said, between 1974 and 2001, there was a 62% decrease of spousal homicides, suggesting that many of the changes had the desired effect (Ad Hoc Federal-Provincial-Territorial Working Group, 2017).

Provincial policymakers have continued to address the issue of IPV in provinces, such as in Saskatchewan where rates are above the national average, by developing legislation such as the Interpersonal Violence Disclosure Protocol “Clare’s Law” (Government of Saskatchewan, 2021). First implemented in Britain in 2014, Clare’s Law has been adopted, not only by the vast majority of municipal police in cities across Saskatchewan, but also more recently by the RCMP  (Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative, 2021; Government of Saskatchewan, 2021). With Clare’s Law, an applicant can make a request regarding access to information about an individual’s history and past criminal charges which may be disclosed by the proper authorities if they believe that the person they are disclosing to is currently at risk (Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative, 2021). These policy changes provide increased safety options for survivors of violence and promote choice and empowerment for survivors in collaboration with social workers and RCMP/police professionals.

The Impact of Domestic Violence

Not only is IPV and DV devastating for the survivor of the relationship, but its implications are also far reaching and may affect the entire family, particularly if children and/or adolescents are living in the family home. IPV also has impact on communities (large and small) and can be particularly devastating when combined with factors that further enhance the vulnerability of individuals and communities.

Childhood & Adolescence

As researchers, organizations and frontline staff who work with women and children who experience IPV and DV, there is an emphasis on interventions and prevention strategies. Cervantes and Sherman (2021) state that early exposure to violence in the home increases the chances that the cycle of violence will continue later in life for those children. Repeated witnessing of these behaviours normalizes this interaction, and children further learn this behaviour by imitating what they observe (Bandura, 1997). Therefore, exposure to violence in the home may increase a child’s risk of expecting, engaging in, and tolerating violent behaviour in their own intimate relationships, thus continuing the cycle of violence intergenerationally (Cervantes & Sherman, 2021). The schemas developed by children and adolescents in terms of intimate relationships are often replicated, unless an individual is exposed to a new environment, which can then become a catalyst for change (Cervantes & Sherman, 2021).  Martz et al. (2016) note that their research demonstrated that rural adolescents were at an increased risk for physical and sexual violence with their intimate partners, when compared to urban adolescents. This research is troubling as rural adolescents, and adults, have even less access to information, social supports, and formal services in their communities.

First Nations, Metis & Inuit Women

Colonialism has damaged and changed  traditional cultural beliefs in First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities towards women. Daoud et al. (2013) note that ​​before colonialism, women in these cultural communities held respected and valued roles, and it was unthinkable to engage in violence against women. Conroy (2021) identifies that due to  historical and ongoing colonialism in Canada, IPV is a direct result of compounding factors such as residential schools, the 60s Scoop, the child welfare system, and murdered and missing Indigenous women. These factors can combine in creating intergenerational trauma, addiction, and poverty, as well as enforcing traditional, euro-centric, christian  gender roles on Indigenous women (Daoud et al., 2013). Studies demonstrate that rates of violence are considerably higher among Indigenous women, especially in rural and remote areas in Canada (Brownridge, 2008) where Indigenous women experience IPV eight times more than non-Indigenous women (Daoud et al., 2013). In consideration of these disturbing statistics, Moreau (2019) notes that in 2017/2018 there were 522 domestic violence shelters across Canada, and only 30 of these shelters located on reserves. Daoud et al. (2013) argues that due to colonization, violence was introduced and still impacts the community in multiple ways. The first is through collective violence in the form of institutional discrimination that attacks human rights for Indigenous communities. The next is forcing patriarchal and Christian values onto Indigenous communities resulting in a shift in their gender roles and the balance of power among  genders. The third distinction is a result of colonial policies, such as residential schools. Intergenerational trauma was perpetrated with the removal of children from their families, communities and culture, and the experience of abuse (physical/emotional/sexual/cultural) while in care. Intergenerational trauma from childhood experiences often results in family and intimate partner violence later in children’s lives.

The violence continues to be so pervasive that campaigns, such as Amnesty International’s Stolen Sisters, have been initiated to increase awareness around the higher rates of violence and discrimination perpetrated against First Nations women (Amnesty International, 2004). Statistics suggest that this group is six times more likely to be killed (Howard, 2021), and Oppal (2012) reported that First Nations, Metis, and Inuit women represent 10% of all female homicides, which is significantly disproportionate compared to the overall national crime rate against women.

Indigenous women living in remote, rural, and northern communities in Canada can also face significant barriers to leaving an abusive relationship, such as not wanting to leave one’s family community or reserve (Campbell et al., 2003), limited or no access to a shelter, lack of  support, and the cost of travel. These compounding challenges, combined with intergenerational trauma, contributes to ongoing colonialism in First Nations communities. Elders tell stories of the impact of colonization, the introduction of alcohol and disease, and the mistreatment of women (Moffitt et al., 2020). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol consumption can further increase the risk for IPV. For example, excessive use of alcohol was identified as a risk factor for intimate partner homicide in 40% of cases reviewed in Ontario between 2003 and 2017 (Office of the Chief Coroner Province of Ontario, 2018).

Newcomers to Canada

Another vulnerable population to consider in rural, remote, and northern locations is newcomers to Canada. These women face further unique barriers when living in these regions, such as discrimination (e.g. racism), culture shock, communication (e.g. language) and immigration status (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015; Murshid & Bowen, 2018; Sandberg, 2013; Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). While many immigrant and refugee women experience barriers, these women are often dependent on their partners who perpetuate the abuse (Sandberg, 2013). This dependency may include financial dependency (education in other countries may not transfer), isolation from the cultural community, understanding IPV laws in Canada (Murshid & Bowen, 2018), lack of awareness of services (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015), and the inability to leave the current home (Sandberg, 2013). The individuals perpetrating violence gain power and control by exploiting threats of deportation, reinforcement of patriarchal gender roles and relationships, and fear of losing custody of their children (Murshid & Bowen, 2018). Leaving the relationship is difficult due to discrimination experienced from a variety of sources including consideration of housing options and police involvement (Murshid & Bowen, 2018). Police may be under-educated or hold immigration bias/racist beliefs and may view the violence as a cultural attribute (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005).

Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LBTI) Women

One major unique barrier facing women in the Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex (LBTI) community is a lack of knowledge and information possessed by service providers regarding LBTI issues and various forms of discrimination connected with this intersectionality. Kay and Jefferies (2010) explain that due to our heteronormative society, the classical definition and understanding of IPV is that a woman is harmed by a male. Furthermore, the two spirited, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersex and a-sexual plus (2SLGBTQIA+) community education around IPV is insufficient and 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals experiencing IPV may not classify their experiences as violence due to dominant cultural templates (Calton et al., 2016). Further, education in this area for professionals is severely lacking. Survivors seeking help may encounter further discrimination and stigma by law enforcement, the court system, and by helping professionals (e.g. homo/bi/transphobia), which may result in returning to their abuser and/or not reporting or seeking help for future occurrences (Calton et al., 2016; Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). Renzetti (1998) notes the complexity that internalized homophobia plays as a contributing factor, as the survivor fears disclosing the violence. LBTI perpetrators of violence use internalized homophobia and the fear of discrimination by service providers and the community to gain more power and control over their partners (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). They often use the tactic of threatening to “out” their partner (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005), and emphasize the potential risk of losing one’s children, employment, relationships (family/friends/community) or housing (Calton et al., 2016). Peterman and Dixon (2003) identified that if shelters are available for LBTI users, there is a unique risk that the perpetrator may enter the “safe” space (i.e. shelter) and commit further abuse and/or harass their partner. As well, service providers or residents at these shelters may be homo/bi/transphobic making them unsafe (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005).

Barriers to Service Delivery

Due to the complexity and multilevel experiences of oppression, Murray et al. (2015) note that women often do not make an immediate decision to leave a violent partner/situation after a single incident; it is usually after gradual increases in violence that survivors make this decision. Furthermore, survivors of intimate partner violence and domestic violence will often leave and later return to their partner who perpetrated abuse multiple times before leaving for good (Murray et al., 2015). To begin understanding the barriers that face women living in rural, remote, and northern geographies experiencing IPV and DV, we suggest that social workers reflect on the four levels of oppression that are involved: societal/cultural, institutional, interpersonal, and personal.

Societal and Cultural

Sexism, patriarchy, Catholicism, racism and traditional “family values” still affect the lives of Canadian women. These oppressive ideologies often are more prominent and reinforced in rural communities. Wendt and Hornosty (2010) state that patriarchal attitudes, gender stereotypes, traditional family units, and traditional gender roles are interwoven with rural values. These large oppressive structures and ideologies trickle down and reinforce violence against women which can make it difficult for them to leave abusive situations in rural, remote, and northern communities.

The impact of COVID-19 on IPV and DV situations has also added an additional layer of complexity for women. Women who were experiencing IPV/DV before and into the pandemic were further isolated from opportunities/resources as health orders for public safety iterated stay home orders and physical distancing. Fears of exposure to the virus, not being able to access shelters, and feeling the need to stay home with their partners prevented many survivors from reaching out during this time (Moffitt et al., 2020). Survivors who were already isolated due to geographical location had a decrease in chances that a neighbour might potentially overhear/witness or intervene during a violent episode (Sandberg, 2013), and a new barrier was thus created by the virus with the narrative that isolation equals safety  (Moffitt et al., 2020). In addition, the impact of the pandemic with factors of higher stress levels on individuals and families (e.g., partners losing work, children’s remote learning) led to increased risk for controlling behaviors and/or heightened barriers for accessing support (Moffitt et al., 2020).


Women living in rural, remote, and northern communities face further oppression as the societal beliefs recur within institutions, and survivors encounter unique barriers due to the geographical location they reside in. Research shows that many rural communities pride themselves on  “moral lifestyles,”  including the sanctity of marriage, family life, and Christian- centered values that serve as the foundation of their town. For example, the institution of marriage impacts survivors of IPV and DV; Cervantes and Sherman (2021) conclude that many women believe that the abuse they encounter is a consequence of marriage. This patriarchal belief instills in women the conviction that, due to their decision to marry (“for better or for worse”), they must endure the abuse no matter how violent the experience. Furthermore, Wendt and Hornosty (2010) comment that in rural life, masculine power and privilege is publicly visible. This privilege is often seen in farming organizations, bars, municipal governments, and sports teams. In terms of local municipal government, Edwards (2015) comments that in certain rural, remote and northern communities, individuals in power may hold the belief that IPV is non-existent and therefore less government involvement in providing preventative or crisis services is needed.

Women experiencing IPV and DV living in rural, remote, and northern locations face increased difficulty accessing services than their urban counterparts. These services may include daycare, community resources, law enforcement (Edwards, 2015), transportation, social services, courts, and shelters (Sandberg, 2013).  Services are frequently lacking and limited due to lower population density than is needed to create or receive funding (Phillips & McLeroy, 2004), and the information regarding services  is not easily accessible. If services are available, barriers may include issues related to privacy and anonymity, poverty (Edwards, 2015), lack of response from service providers due to long waitlists, being placed on a waitlist, difficulty getting information (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015), and geographical isolation from community and social support (Sandberg, 2013). Sandberg (2013) notes that the often-low socioeconomic reality of isolated communities results in lack of infrastructure, poor road conditions, lack of job opportunities, and fewer voluntary supports. Regarding law enforcement, Websdale and Johnson (1997) found that rural law enforcement had longer wait times when called and individuals were lucky if police even showed up regarding DV situations. This delay in time-sensitive support and medical care in rural, remote, and northern communities results in increased risk of homicide, due the severity of the inflicted injuries (Gallup-Black, 2005). Additionally, specialized services ranging from police, lawyers, social supports, local courts, and judges often lacked specialized training in IPV and DV (Sandberg, 2013).


Cervantes and Sherman (2021) identify that, within rural, remote and northern contexts, a commonly-held belief is that domestic violence is not a community problem/responsibility but a personal issue that should remain private. Cohen and Nisbetter (1994) emphasize that rural communities pride themselves on a “culture of honor” which stays quiet and accepts violence, especially if it puts a family’s reputation at risk. This self-preservation at the community level, with the additional barriers of geographic location, makes it difficult for women to find support or resources. Dekeseredy and Schwartz (2009) identify that a safety risk more specific to rural communities occurs when the individual who perpetuates violence has high social capital and, as a result, the likelihood of the tight-knit community supporting the woman is low. Regarding safety, Sandberg (2013) comments that in rural life, conflicts of interest and anonymity are almost non-existent. Law enforcement, social workers, and medical professionals are likely to have a personal relationship with the individual who perpetuates abuse, and safe houses may be difficult to keep invisible from that individual.


Identity for rural women becomes a potential barrier to services, as Wendt and Hornosty (2010) state that many rural women who have a strong identity with the land, community, and preservation of the family may stay in abusive relationships longer due to internal conflict related to what they would potentially lose. The lifelong ties to the land on which many women have grown up is also what they depend on economically (farmland) and plan on pass down to future generations. In addition, the community element of feeling a sense of belonging and connection is also extremely important to many individuals living in small rural and remote communities. Communities in rural, remote, and northern regions are often close knit and depicted as a “rural idyll” (Harvey, 2009). Harvey (2009) defines this term as an ideal place that promotes and reinforces peace, health, home, and family. This term includes the concept that women hold the central role in families and communities. Lastly, the traditional role of the woman ensures the family’s preservation and the moral expectation of self-sacrifice (Cervantes & Sherman, 2021). Wendt and Hornosty (2010) point out the reality of disclosing the abuse or exiting the situation most often results in the woman losing their economic investment (inherited family farm), family, and supports (shunned from community); survivors feel isolated starting over in another location, if that is even viable. Women experiencing abuse may also struggle with posttraumatic stress disorder and/or other mental health concerns (Tutty, 2015). More specifically, the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder and mental health struggles often leads to difficulty accessing social support (withdrawing), lowered self-esteem, and reduced problem-solving skills and advocacy for oneself (Beck et al., 2014). It is important to recognize that women experiencing IPV and DV, who then also experience mental health concerns, are often at an increased risk to return to the abusive relationship (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015).

The severity of the violence experienced by women in rural, remote, and northern Canada is significantly elevated by the unique factors of isolated geographic locations and rural values. Martz et al. (2016) reports that due to isolated geography the high potential of increased economic poverty often magnifies the severity of IPV. Furthermore, economic dependency, in combination with the increased likelihood or possibility of the perpetrator being unemployed, or engaging in substance abuse, contributes to even higher rates of chronic and severe IPV (Edwards, 2015). Often, those who perpetrate violence may intentionally move their partner to an even more isolated area, away from their established social networks and communities (Dekeseredy & Schwartz, 2009). Finally, lack of access to reliable telephone and internet services, which is often the case outside of urban centres, serves to further enhance social isolation and hinder the ability to seek support services when needed (Moffitt et al., 2020).

Barriers to Support and the Cycle of Violence

It may take multiple attempts to leave an abusive relationship (Griffing et al., 2002) due to the multiplicity of barriers present and the immense difficulty of breaking the cycle of violence. Murray et al. (2015) reports that clinicians working with those attempting to leave abusive relationships call this moment the “window of opportunity.” Khaw and Hardesty (2007) describe this opportunity as a “turning point” that redirects an individual’s path and helps them move from one life stage to another. These turning points are vital for professionals to notice, and are the result of four distinct factors: severity of abuse (e.g., when the individual hits their breaking point), personal resources (e.g. financial independence), social influences (e.g., formal, and informal supports) and child-related influences (e.g. if it is perceived that the children are in danger) (Murray et al., 2015). Other external indicators are education on abuse, informing friends and family members about the past/current abuse, and empowering themselves (e.g. accessing employment opportunities, seeking counselling and other professional services) (Chang et al., 2006).

After Care Support Services

The focus of the helpers supporting the survivor  is on their safety and wellbeing. Ford-Gilboe et al. (2015) argue that after the separation, women are in a period of time highlighted by increased potential danger, as a result of financial insecurity, lack of social support, and health risks (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015), and retaliation by the perpetrator. Financial stress may include suddenly becoming a single parent, childcare costs, transportation costs, finding affordable housing, finding stable employment, or legal costs (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015). Ford-Gilboe et al. (2015) comment that the lack of social support and health risks include starting over in a new community for safety but without familiarity and social supports, residue of emotional (mental health), and physical impacts (injuries) of the abuse. Finally, helpers should take into consideration that after women exit the violent relationship, the harassment and potential danger of further violence continues or escalates which increases the survivor’s stress levels (Wuest, 2003).

Safety Planning and Assessment

The Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) is a tool that has gained popularity across Canada over the past 10 years. It is the first empirically-tested and validated tool to assess risk of future domestic violence when an assault has already occurred in a relationship, as well as the frequency and severity of the assaults (Hilton et al., 2010). The ODARA asks thirteen questions and each question (historical, current abuse, access to firearms, and assault in pregnancy) reveals a score to look at rates of recidivism (Hilton et  al., 2010). Being trained in, and working with, specific risk assessment tools is beneficial for a variety of reasons, including development of a collaborative understanding of the nature of the violence the client is experiencing. The ODARA is an assessment that is accessible for use by police, victim services, social workers, health care, and correctional agencies and enhancing evidence in court (Hilton et al., 2010).  The ODARA specifically can inform a client of their overall level of risk, provide information and assistance in taking precautions, and contribute to a safety plan (Hilton et al., 2010).

The choice to leave one’s home is often difficult for individuals who live in rural and remote areas, or for those who live on reserves (Moffitt, 2020) and may include unique obstacles such as the safety of pets or livestock. Research shows that many survivors have strong bonds with their pets (Barrett et al., 2018). However, having a cohesive safety planning template and assessment specific to challenges in rural, remote and northern communities is imperative to ensure continuity of services. Educating RCMP members, healthcare professionals, and community social workers on the cycle of violence, the nature of domestic violence and enhance wrap-around services to support survivors is essential.

While there are several risks that may elevate the potential and severity of violence, one of the most fatal considerations is the access to firearms. Firearms can become weapons of fear, control and violence in intimate partner relationships and studies have revealed that rural families are twice as likely to have access to a firearm and 2.5 times more likely to use a firearm to kill their partner (Banman, 2015). Of the rural, remote, and northern domestic homicides in Canada, 1 in 3 homicides were completed using firearms (Dawson et al., 2018). These types of risks require consideration of safety for the survivor, family and/or the social work practitioner when working in rural, remote, and northern communities.

Further Implications for Social Workers

Social workers working and/or living in rural, remote, and northern communities face unique challenges from their urban practicing counterparts. These factors often include the complexity of client needs without specialized services/specialized trainings (Moffitt et al., 2020), social workers filling multiple roles, lack of available and accessible services/resources (Sandberg, 2013), and the realities of isolation (Wuerch et al., 2019). Other impacts include constantly navigating dual roles with clients and within the community (Turbett, 2009), as well as the lack of anonymity and fearing the person perpetrating the violence may find out about the support given and retaliate against the professional (Ford-Gilboe et al., 2015). These challenges can contribute to a cycle of high turnover and professional burnout of social workers in rural and remote locations (Wuerch et al., 2019).

Micro, Mezzo & Macro Social Work Practice/ Service Delivery

Social workers working in rural, remote, and northern communities are often tasked with engaging in service delivery on multiple levels. Micro social work in communities focuses on engaging with individuals and groups in a therapeutic capacity. Mezzo social work involves a social worker developing and implementing initiatives at a small community level. Macro social work looks more specifically at helping large groups of people through research and policy advocacy and addressing prevalent issues within the community (communities served).


Social workers in rural, remote, and northern regions who want to create change at the micro level may intervene in diverse ways, such as creating awareness and educational support for individuals, addressing safety concerns, and supporting individuals in accessing services. Edwards (2015) identifies creating awareness of available services by identifying and advertising the services offered in each unique community (e.g. satellite offices, crisis hotlines, etc.). After the first step of creating the initial awareness of available support/services, social workers can support individuals in providing further education (about IPV/DV), pro-actively safety plan (considering all aspects) and help individuals navigate potential barriers to service.

Recommendations for professional practice include increasing anonymity and confidentiality, troubleshooting the lack of transportation, navigating shelters/transitioning houses/safe houses if available (Edwards, 2015), ensuring access to telephone and internet services (Fikowski & Moffitt, n.d.), and engaging in a collaborative process alongside other community services (Pruitt, 2008). Sokoloff and Dupont (2005) advocate for social workers to seek further specialized training when working with women experiencing IPV and DV. Social workers must engage in self-reflective practice so their work can be more effective and considerate of the intersectionalities of each client. Working within rural, remote and northern communities also requires self-reflection to ensure that confidentiality and safety implications and collaborative efforts can be maintained, while also reducing the risk of practitioner burn out.


Research indicates that the community can be a protective factor for women in relation to how the community understands, responds, and prevents IPV (Edwards et al., 2014). Edwards (2015) notes that communities can play a pivotal role in protecting the women in their community through raising awareness of intimate partner violence through public and community education. This awareness, education and coming together begin to shift the dominant harmful narratives in rural communities and may ripple into funding for more intimate partner violence services (volunteer and/or paid) (Edwards, 2015). Social workers can play a crucial role in the community through education, creating community understanding and raising awareness of the prevalence of intimate partner violence in rural, remote and northern communities to ensure that one’s community becomes a protective factor rather than a barrier to accessing supports and services for survivors.


Rural, remote, and northern communities have varying needs and require voices from these communities to advocate for policy changes related to resource allocation and coordination. Improvements needed include specialized services, safety measures (e.g. shelters), and improved response times. ​​As well, social workers can advocate for improving service response rates for protection orders and increasing resources and funding for IPV intervention and prevention efforts (Edwards, 2015).

Increasing access to affordable housing, transportation, financial security, childcare supports and culturally-appropriate resources is crucial in reducing barriers and stressors that lead to violence (Moffitt et al., 2020).

Finally, it is imperative for social workers and policy makers to work together to shift the cultural norms that support beliefs in traditional gender roles and patriarchy, as well as continuing to educate and increase knowledge about domestic violence, healthy relationships, sexual respect, and the impacts of substance use on families (Barton et al., 2015).

Ethical Considerations

There are a number of ethical considerations for social work practitioners working with survivors of intimate partner violence and domestic violence who practice in rural, remote and northern communities. There are several considerations that a social worker may need to be aware of, such as dual roles which may be defined as when “the social worker interacts in any capacity beyond the worker’s professional role” (Dolgoff et al., 2009). Social workers must engage in reflexive practice regarding the power differential in their relationships. For example, the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW, 2005) Code of Ethics speaks directly about the “respect for the inherent dignity and worth of persons” (p. 4) which m ay become increasingly difficult when personal and professional boundaries are blurred (CASW, 2005). In smaller communities, this element can become particularly challenging because members are aware of the multiple roles, and attempt to elicit information, or the community may witness  individuals at various social services locations. To provide effective services, social workers practicing in these areas should be cognizant of their boundaries and consider how to navigate their personal and professional lives.

The CASW Code of Ethics (2005) emphasizes the importance of confidentiality and privacy where trust is required for the safety of the client or community. For example, in smaller communities it may be possible that law enforcement or the social worker may be connected with the individual who perpetrated the violence; or anonymity becomes difficult for victims to access support services (Sandberg, 2013).  Additionally, research suggests due to the potential lack of anonymity and availability of shelters (if any in or near the community), the perpetrator of violence may easily track down the victim decreasing immediate safety for the victim. (Sandberg, 2013).

As previously discussed, the concept of rurality and maintaining traditional ideals may contribute to further ethical considerations for social workers. Zerbe Enns (2014) highlights that a feminist approach to problems includes two themes, specifically “(1) the personal is political, and (2) problems and symptoms often arise as methods of coping with and surviving in oppressive circumstances” (p. 10). In relation to IPV, this type of perspective shift may be in drastic contrast for a community that may believe IPV is a personal  rather than a communal, political, or structural matter.

Social workers practicing in these communities require the ability to be objective and differentiate between objective and subjective perspectives; they likely need to address their biases more frequently than their urban counterparts because of the dual roles they often have. A social worker must be aware of their personal values in relation to the CASW Code of Ethics as there may be competing values and they will need to ensure they are acting in the interest of the client.

Future Implications and Recommendations

In this chapter, we have outlined the importance of intersecting considerations (sex, orientation, ethnicity, rurality), and present challenges with respect to supporting survivors of intimate partner violence in rural, remote and northern communities. Further education, training (e.g., risk assessment), and collaboration between the community and professionals will be pivotal to reducing the impact of violence and the ripple effects in these communities.

Social workers working in these locations need to be cognizant of their own understanding of violence and engage in self-reflexive practice to identify what their community’s needs are so they can advocate in the community and beyond, to stakeholders and policymakers, to cultivate change across all practice levels (micro, macro and mezzo). While this chapter has focused on IPV against women social workers and service providers must have an understanding that IPV and familial violence also impacts other populations (e.g. the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and heterosexual, cisgender men).

Further recommendations for improving social work interventions and best practice include advocating for improved services in rural, remote, and northern communities to address the current shortage of shelters and support services in rural areas (Barton et al., 2015). To be effective, these services would benefit from addressing the challenges and risk factors specific to rural, remote, and northern communities. Multisector collaboration and coordinated community responses may also help reduce barriers to  access in these communities (Eastman et al., 2007). “Wrap around” services for individuals such as shelter services, mental health services, financial support, childcare, housing and transportation support, and education/employment support may also be useful in response to the ever-changing needs of survivors (Eastman et al., 2007). Risk management and safety planning in rural, remote, and northern communities would also benefit from collaboration with police, healthcare, child welfare, victim services, and other social services that can  help create a feasible, holistic action plan with the client (Ending Violence Association of B.C., 2021).

Lastly, as future research in this area of concern is conducted, Sandberg (2013) states that researchers should avoid creating a generalized narrative that rural, remote, and northern communities are places of violence. This generalization results in  further marginalizing the individuals whom they aim to support (Sokoloff & Dupont, 2005). It is important to understand the oppressive social, colonial, and systemic structures in place that continue to disempower individuals, and to address this detrimental harm in further research, social work practice, and policies and strategies on reporting.


IPV and DV in remote, rural, and northern communities is a significant and ongoing issue. As a social worker working in rural, remote, and northern communities, one is more than likely to encounter IPV at some point during their career. Having a foundational knowledge of IPV, the historical context for DV, and the implications for social workers working with survivors in rural, remote, and northern communities is crucial. Working in collaboration with other professionals and at various practice levels to advocate for social and policy change is necessary to ensure the long-term safety of Canadian women.  Further research on the impact and prevalence of women with disabilities and within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in these geographical contexts will also be crucial in understanding the far-reaching impacts of IPV.  Not only do social workers need to collaborate with community members, but federal, provincial, and territorial governments also must begin to work together to challenge the safety of women and vulnerable   populations living in rural, remote, and northern communities.

Activities and Assignments

In a small town (i.e. population under 700) located in northern Ontario, Sally lived with her partner, Maliki, her boyfriend of approximately 3 years. Sally is a 22-year-old female who worked part-time at the local grocery store until the birth of her son. Maliki is a 42-year-old general labourer who struggles with maintaining employment and has issues with prescription medications due to a back injury which occurred in his late 20s. In his spare time, Maliki enjoys watching television, fishing, hunting, and knitting. During the first year of their relationship, Maliki had been working consistently; however, he lost his job, and his use of prescription medications increased. Sally then became pregnant. During Sally’s pregnancy, Maliki became quite concerned about money and began controlling the household finances more strictly. When Sally needed money for groceries or bills, Maliki would allot her some cash, although this support often did not cover all the expenses. Financial pressures led to conflicts in their relationship.

When conflicts did arise in their relationship during the first year, there was no violence; however, Maliki would often begin to yell at Sally and then stop talking to her for days or weeks at a time. Then, Sally became pregnant and had a baby boy, Hannigan, who is currently 6-months. In her first trimester, Sally and Maliki had a disagreement and Sally began walking out of the house; Maliki slammed the door, catching Sally’s fingers. The next day, Maliki apologized by taking Sally out for lunch and bringing her flowers. He promised that nothing like that would ever occur again.

As Sally’s pregnancy progressed, Maliki became more concerned about finances and about the upcoming birth. For several months, there were no violent incidents but when Maliki would become angry, he started cleaning his firearms at the kitchen table which made Sally nervous. Sally had attempted to discuss her concern with Maliki, but these conversations often led to conflict; therefore, Sally has not brought up the issue again.

Please answer the following questions in relation to the above case study:

  • What are some of the red flags present in this case study?
  • With limited resources available in the community, how can you, as the social worker, create a safety plan with Sally?
  • What ethical considerations will you need to reflect on?
Additional Resources
  • Wuerch, M., Zorn, K., Juschka, D., & Hampton, M. (2019). Responding to intimate partner violence: Challenges faced among service providers in northern communities. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 34(4), 691–711.


Types of Abuse
Physical Abuse: describes a range of physical contact intended to intimidate, inflict pain and/or bodily harm (Government of Canada, 2019). Psychological Abuse: describes a range of mental tactics to force, manipulate and or control an individual(s) (Government of Canada, 2019).
Sexual Abuse: describes involuntary and non-consensual sexual activity obtained either by threats or force (Government of Canada, 2019).
Financial Abuse: describes an individual’s access to economic resources controlled by another individual resulting in forced dependence on the perpetrator (Government of Canada, 2019).
Neglect: describes a family member who is responsible for another individual but fails to provide basic needs (e.g. shelter, food, medical care, psychological, etc.) (Government of Canada, 2019).
Spiritual Abuse: describes abuse perpetrated by trusted spiritual practitioners and/or restrictions and defilement of sacred objects and/or ceremonial practices (Gray et al., 2021).
Criminal Harassment & Stalking: describes an individual who repeatedly follows, communicates and/or watches over an individual or an individual’s home for the intent of power and control over a person (Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, 2011).
Cycle of Violence: describes the cyclical, repeating interaction between dichotomous behaviours of abuse and love; tension-building phase, acute/crisis phase and honeymoon phase (Sitter, 2017).
The Power and Control Wheel: describes the eight tactics (e.g. coercion/threats, intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, minimizing/denying/blaming, male privilege, economic abuse) that abusers often use to gain power and control over their victim and which victims often don’t associate as abuse (Cervantes & Sherman, 2021).


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Rural and Northern Social Work Practice: Canadian Perspectives Copyright © 2022 by Kristie Panchuk; Curtis Hart; and Dillon R. Lewchuk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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