Intimate partner homicide in rural areas: an exploration in three parts
AbiNader, Millan Alexander
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PROBLEM STATEMENT: Prior research has indicated that intimate partner homicide (IPH) increased in rural areas between 1980 and 1999, while all other types of homicide across all communities decreased during the same time period. This suggests that there are structural differences in rural communities that make rural IPH different than IPH in other communities and that make IPH different from familial and acquaintance/stranger homicide in rural communities. Moreover, research indicates that there are several barriers to victims’ accessing current community interventions that may be able to interrupt violence before it escalates to homicide. Understanding the relationship between rural communities and IPH—both how community characteristics increase the risk of IPH and how community interventions respond before and after an IPH—is a critical step towards the development and evaluation of rural IPH prevention methods. METHODS: A parallel mixed methods design was used to explore these associations. The quantitative and qualitative data collections and analyses occurred in tandem. Their findings were then interpreted together to develop practice, policy, and research implications. Study 1: The first study used a multilevel model to test the extent to which individual-level (e.g., victim sex), county-level (e.g., unemployment rate), and state-level (e.g., firearm prevalence) characteristics associated with IPH in a national sample of rural counties between 2009 and 2016. Study 2: The second study utilized spatial and non-spatial analytic techniques to examine how the clustering of community characteristics predicted intimate partner homicide (IPH) rates in Massachusetts' towns between 2005 and 2014. Study 3: The third study examined the effect of IPH on worker and organizational health among victim advocacy agencies. Nine advocates were recruited from a rural New England state and interviewed in 2016 about their perceptions of organizational responses after IPH. Advocate interviews were analyzed using narrative and thematic approaches to explore how advocates talked about IPH and patterns of responses they received. Findings from both approaches were examined in tandem to describe advocate perceptions of organizational responses after IPH. IMPLICATIONS: Despite the significant association between IPH and rural communities, there has historically been a dearth of research on rural IPH; this dissertation contributed to a nascent understanding of rural IPH and its relationship to the community. Findings from both quantitative studies indicated that an increased community economic need, as measured by the receipt of public assistance among households, was associated with IPH and an increased IPH rate. Causal studies are needed to examine this relationship further, particularly as public assistance is a key intervention used by advocates and social workers to enable victims of intimate partner violence to live independently of their abusive partner. The qualitative study indicated that advocates wanted opportunities to connect and act after an IPH, a desire that could be capitalized on to collaborate with other sectors to develop new programming to intervene in violence and prevent IPH. All three studies highlighted the importance of considering place when examining IPH, and contributed to the literature on how to operationalize rural, urban, and semi-urban using more precise and nuanced methods. Future studies should consider the use of multiple, continuous measurements when defining place. More causal research that examines the extent to which community characteristics predict IPH and evaluative research on rural prevention interventions are needed in order to begin to uncouple the association between rurality and IPH.