Not Just Another Saturday Night: Strategizing Safety with Non-Urban Women Experiencing Intimate Partner Violence in Ontario

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Bader, Danielle

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University of Guelph


Women living in non-urban communities are a high-risk population for intimate partner homicide (Dawson et al., 2019; Northcott, 2011). However, studies that have examined strategies women employed to respond to intimate partner violence (IPV) and safety planning are limited and urban-centric (Doherty, 2017). This dissertation answers four research questions related to increasing safety for women experiencing IPV in non-urban communities: (1) How do women living in non-urban communities experiencing IPV conceptualize safety? (2) How do women living in non-urban communities protect themselves from violence perpetrated by an intimate partner? (3) What challenges do service providers encounter when developing safety plans with women living in non-urban communities experiencing IPV?; and (4) How do women and service providers’ perspectives align on how to increase safety in non-urban communities? This dissertation embraced methodological pluralism, drawing from social ecology, intersectionality and emotional geography to investigate women’s perceptions of fear and safety, strategies women employed to be safer and challenges service providers encountered developing safety plans. In-depth interviews with 20 women who were living in a non-urban community and experienced IPV revealed that safety is a holistic and multidimensional concept, encompassing spatial, mental, physical, social, and cultural dimensions, which addresses the first research question. To answer the second research question, women primarily deflected physical danger and relied on private strategies (i.e., placating, resistance) to protect themselves and their child(ren). Women’s responses were influenced by the geographic environment and their social positioning. Based on eight in-depth interviews with service providers, the inadequate police response and meeting women’s basic needs (e.g., housing, transportation, groceries) were among the greatest challenges when safety planning, which addresses the third research question. To answer the fourth research question, a rural-specific poverty strategy and increased funding for social, emergency, and transportation services are needed to protect women from abusive men in non-urban communities. Overall, this dissertation demonstrates that place matters (Pruitt, 2008) for understanding women’s experiences of IPV and increasing their safety. Therefore, policies and initiatives aimed at reducing gender-based violence in Canada must consider the geographic context in which women are living to overcome postcode (in)justice (George & Harris, 2014).



intimate partner violence, safety, rurality, intersectionality, emotional geography, social ecology