Exploring the links: firearms, family violence and animal abuse in rural communities

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Despite the growing body of literature on family violence, there are few studies which deal specifically with family violence in a rural context. None have examined extensively the social and cultural context of firearms in rural homes and the impact this may have on women dealing with abuse. Yet we know from our previous research that the availability of firearms in rural homes is a perceived threat by abused rural women (see Doherty, Hornosty & McCallum, 1997; Hornosty & Doherty, 2004; Doherty & Hornosty, 2004; Hornosty & Doherty, 2003). We also know that threats often extend to family pets and farm animals. The current study, which was funded by the Canada Firearms Centre, examines family violence, firearms, and pet abuse within a rural context where firearms are positively valued. The research was by conducted by Drs Doherty and Hornosty, as part of a research team, Family Violence on the Farm and in Rural Communities, at the University of New Brunswick. The research partners in the study included all the transition houses in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Victim Services in Prince Edward Island, the Chief Firearms Officers in both provinces, Victim Services of the Fredericton City Police and Codiac RCMP in New Brunswick, and the RCMP “J” Division. The major goal of the study was to examine, from a broad regional perspective, the various dimensions or forms in which firearms serve as instruments of control, intimidation and abuse in family violence situations with a view to expanding the information base and gaining a better understanding of the risk factors that lead to, or escalate, firearms victimization of women and children in rural homes. The research documents the experiences of abused rural women and explores service providers’/crisis workers’ perceptions of domestic firearms abuse and its influence on safety planning and intervention strategies. It also sheds light on rural perceptions, norms and values on the relationships between firearms, family violence and animal abuse. The research was carried out in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in 2005-2007, over an 18 month period. We used both surveys (quantitative data) and semi-structured interviews and focus groups (qualitative data). The research instruments were available in both official languages. We conducted a review of the literature on firearms misuse, family violence, and animal abuse as a backdrop to the research. In addition, a media content analysis of newspaper articles on selected family violence issues helped us to understand public perceptions, particularly in association with firearms. Finally, an analysis of court cases in Atlantic Canada over the past several years relating to family violence provided insights into the justice system’s response to family violence, particularly when it involved firearms victimization and/or abuse of pets.