Despite common perceptions that big cities have more violence, women living in small towns are most at risk of violence from a current or former spouses and partners, say researchers. For the study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, the research team analyzed the responses of more than 570,000 women from the National Crime Victimization Survey from 1994 to 2015.
They found that women from small towns were 27 percent more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence than women from the center of big cities and 42 percent more likely than suburban women.
"In criminology, we often have this urban bias. We assume big cities are the worst and paint other places as idyllic," said study author Kathryn DuBois from the Washington State University in the US. "We tend to think in a continuum from urban to suburban to rural, but for intimate partner violence, it's actually the suburban areas that are the safest, and small towns that have the highest risk, DuBois added.
While the survey defines many locations as simply urban or rural, the research team analyzed the data by population density to delineate urban, suburban, small-town and rural areas. Small towns were defined as urbanized portions of non-metropolitan counties with populations up to 50,000.
They are distinct from suburban areas that exist just outside of big cities. "Many surveys assume that everyone in those nonmetropolitan counties are the same, but there's a lot more heterogeneity across them," Dubois said.
High Rate of Intimate Partner Violence
DuBois originally undertook the study to try and reconcile the inconsistency between national surveys, which typically find rural areas have less or similar rates of intimate partner violence to urban areas--and ethnographic research, in-depth qualitative studies that have indicated that rural isolation can exacerbate gender-based violence.
While the study data cannot reveal the reasons behind the violence, the finding of the high rate of intimate partner violence in small towns indicates that there may be a different set of factors at play.
"Small towns have populations large enough to have the difficult problems of a big city, while at the same time these are some of the hardest-hit areas economically, so they don't have specialized services and policing needed to deal with family violence," DuBois said.