A NEW report has revealed a shocking picture of domestic abuse in rural areas, highlighting hidden victims who are being failed by the system and their communities.

The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN) has published the results of an 18-month research project which analysed available evidence, used in-depth interviews with 67 abuse victims, assessed local support services and looked at the approach of the police to domestic violence.

County Durham and North Yorkshire were two of seven policing areas that were particularly focused on during the study.

The researchers found that domestic abuse lasts, on average, 25 per cent longer in most rural areas and that escaping it is harder for countryside residents due to significant additional barriers in rural communities.

The report says there is ‘clear evidence’ that abusers specifically move victims to rural settings to further isolate them, or systematically use the isolation to their advantage should they already live there.

Close-knit rural communities were also found to facilitate abuse - even if unknowingly - and the policing response is largely inadequate, according to the report.

One of the abuse victims interviewed for the study explained: “I found it so hard to find anyone in the village to talk to.

“They are all perfectly nice people on the surface, but after he shouted at me in the pub that night it was like everyone took a step back from me.”

The report calls for the government, police, support services and wider society to improve how it reacts to reports or suspicions of domestic abuse.

Julia Mulligan, Chair of the NRCN and North Yorkshire PCC, said: “This report is clear – domestic abuse is hidden under our noses, hidden by abusers who like to keep it that way and on a scale of abuse hitherto unseen.”

She apologised to victims who had been failed in the past and said the report should act as a catalyst for the police and relevant services to improve.