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National Sexual Violence Resource = Center
A=20 project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
The NSVRC is = funded by=20 the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
Atlanta, = GA
This=20 publication was supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement
Number=20 H28/CCU317184-04 from the Centers for Disease Control
and = Prevention. Its=20 contents are solely the responsibility of the
authors and do not = necessarily=20 represent the official views of
the Centers for Disease Control and=20 Prevention.

The content of this publication may be = reprinted=20 with the following
acknowledgment: This = material was=20 reprinted from
Unspoken Crimes: Sexual Assault in Rural America, a=20 publication
of the National Sexual Violence Resource = Center.

Unspoken Crimes:
Sexual Assault in Rural=20 America

National Sexual Violence Resource = Center
A=20 Project of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape

Susan H. Lewis, Ph.D.

Copyright =A9 2003 by the National = Sexual Violence=20 Resource Center


The National Sexual Violence Resource Center wishes to = express=20 its appreciation to the following people for their assistance in the = development=20 of this booklet. A special thanks to the rural advocates and service = providers=20 who shared their insights and comments.

Kim M=E9nard, Barry Ruback, Betty Royse, Michael de = Arellano, Dean=20 Kilpatrick, Lt. Ralph Reyes, Lou Ann Williams, Ann Lowrance, Elise = Turner,=20 Brandi Woods Littlejohn, Delilah Rumburg, Ellen Reed, Katherine TePas, = Myra=20 Frosolon, Richard Price, Jennifer Levy, Janet Howard, Debbie Rollo, = Tanya Osman,=20 Nell Grissom, Michelle DeWitt, Renee Aguilar, Ginger Baim, JoAnne = Weyant, Deb=20 Knaff, Debbie LeFlesh, Tondra Malone-Bradley, Sgt. Robert Baty, Lynna = Clark,=20 Mary Goodin, Grace Brooks, Theresa Killham, Eileen Hudon, Cindy = Pennington,=20 Renee Cavin, Paul Fockler, and Laurie Hugonin.

Unspoken Crimes: Sexual Assault in = Rural=20 America

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
The Meaning of Rural 2
<= FONT=20 size=3D4>Sexual Assault: A Rural Perspective 3
Barriers to Reporting and Services 4
Is There Less Sexual Assault in Rural = Communities? 7
National data and information from = several=20 states
= Difficulties for Rural Advocates 15
Funding Issues
Rural Law=20 Enforcement
Rural Advocates Speak Out 17
Comments, Insights
What=92s=20 Working
Summary 21
Bibliography 22

Rape in a Rural Setting

The morning after a party hosted in her home by her = abusive=20 husband, =93Jane=94 was given the task of driving the male guests home. = After=20 dropping one of them off, she was left in the car with her husband=92s = cousin who=20 offered to show her a shortcut to his house. Tired, and wanting to get = rid of=20 him as quickly as possible, Jane agreed. The shortcut did not go to his = house=20 but rather to a strip-mining site far from anything else. The man forced = Jane=20 into the back seat of the car where he forcibly raped her. Afterward he = threw=20 her out of the car and physically assaulted her. On instinct, Jane ran. = Being in=20 the middle of nowhere, she ran toward the sound of equipment running. = She=20 finally came upon a man driving heavy equipment, approximately one mile = from the=20 site of her assault. The man called 911 in an effort to get some help = for Jane.=20 Because the site was in such a remote area, the police responding to the = call=20 got lost on their way.

Jane now faces the ensuing police investigation and = prosecution=20 with little or no support from family and friends. She experiences a = legal=20 system that may place the blame for the incident on her, the victim. She = lives=20 in a community that does not want to believe =93it=94 happens here =96 = and if it does=20 the woman must have asked for it. Jane is also facing the memory of = childhood=20 sexual abuse stirred up by this recent assault. Fortunately for her, = however,=20 there is a small rape crisis center that is able to provide her with = support and=20 advocacy. The center, which is under-funded, under-staffed and relies = heavily on=20 volunteers, will be there for Jane 24-hours a day for as long as it = takes. In=20 essence Jane and the center will struggle together in the face of = isolation and=20 lack of resources.


In this booklet, the National Sexual Violence Resource = Center=20 (NSVRC) considers sexual assault from a rural perspective, a viewpoint = that is=20 rarely presented. Social scientists and researchers who have looked at = sexual=20 assault have often considered diverse cultures and populations and asked = how=20 these cultures may confound reporting, accountability and service = delivery, but=20 they have virtually ignored the fact that rural America may also have=20 deep-seated cultural and geographic characteristics that carry similar=20 difficulties.

Service providers generally view sexual assault = victims in rural=20 areas as an underserved population, mostly because of a well-recognized, = low=20 rate of reporting and because of the often dispersed nature of services. = In a=20 sense, underserved means underreported and not very well understood, if = at all.=20 To varying degrees, rural
populations are often marginalized from = the=20 mainstream power structure, which holds the opportunities for assistance = and=20 services through resources and policy

Many questions come to mind, for example: How = prevalent is=20 sexual assault in rural areas of America? Is the rate higher or lower = than in=20 urban America? How do rural conditions impact the work of service = providers?=20 Which characteristics present the greatest barriers to reporting and = services?=20 There are few clear answers to such questions because crime statistics = are not=20 very revealing with regard to sexual assault, and especially with regard = to=20 rural sexual assault, and few practitioners have written on the topic. = This=20 means that we know little about the extent, unique characteristics or = predictors=20 of sexual victimization of rural populations.

This booklet considers rural characteristics that = deter=20 reporting and helps explain why sexual assaults in rural areas are often = unspoken crimes. Importantly, it will also review some of the data on = the=20 prevalence of rural sexual assault because although rural sexual = victimizations=20 may be unspoken and unreported, it does not mean that they are not = occurring.=20 The booklet also reviews many of the difficulties encountered by = advocates and=20 offers insight and best practices of rural advocates.

Although this booklet discusses various issues of = rural sexual=20 assault for the entire nation, the NSVRC acknowledges the limitations of = broad=20 generalizations. In an attempt to be more specific, it examined the = situation=20 for rural populations in several states somewhat more closely. The NSVRC = conducted phone interviews with some rural advocates. Regretfully, this = project=20 could not examine all states with rural populations, but this booklet = represents=20 a preliminary foray into the rural perspective. The NSVRC expects that = other=20 research and resources will
This booklet examines sexual = assault from a=20 rural perspective. Its goal is to present service providers with a = better=20 sense of the unique characteristics that are so often a part of = rural=20 regions. It considers the issue of prevalence of rural sexual = assault by=20 examining national data as well as information from several = states. In=20 general, it suggests that rural sexual assault may be more = prevalent than=20 indicated by national data, and that in order to provide effective = services in rural areas we must adopt a culturally sensitive = approach.=20 Finally, we offer comments, insights and some best practices as = expressed=20 by rural advocates.

The Meaning of Rural

In general, low population density makes an area, = county or=20 region rural. Picture approximately 80 percent of the population crowded = on 20=20 percent of the land; this leaves the rest of the population spread = across a=20 large area, often in isolated situations. In fact, according to 1997 = data, more=20 than 20 percent of the nation=92s population lives in non-metropolitan = areas=20 (Beale, 1999).

Rural counties account for nearly 75 percent of all = counties and=20 83 percent of the nation=92s land. Seventy-four percent of the 3,040 = counties in=20 the US have a
population of less than 50,000 and 24 percent have a=20 population of less than 10,000. Poverty levels are generally higher in = rural=20 areas. =93As a whole, rural areas tend to be more racially homogenous = than urban=20 areas. However, there is a great variation between sub-regions of the = nation=94=20 (Nord, 1997).

Measurements of =93rural=94 vary, often making it = difficult to=20 compare data. For example, the US Census demarks rural as =93places with = less than=20 2,500 and not in places incorporated or in census designated places or = rural=20 portions of extended cities.=94 The Office of Management and Budget uses = county=20 figures as the basis for defining metropolitan and non-metropolitan = areas.=20 Researchers often use demarcations that include demographic = characteristics.=20

A wide variety of rural situations means that it is = difficult to=20 generalize about rural characteristics or to adopt a universal, concise=20 definition. Rural can mean many things in terms of living = configurations. For=20 example, it can mean a single family living on a farm miles from the = next=20 building or person, a small dispersed community with limited community = services,=20 pockets of families and ethnic groupings, or a small town that has = experienced=20 economic and population decline, just to name a few.

Rural also suggests a kind of cultural uniqueness that = has led=20 some to see =93rurality=94 as a concept more than a specific region. One = researcher=20 suggests =93(p)erhaps rurality exists more as a state of mind and = attitude than as=20 an area on a map or a ratio of persons per square mile. Rurality may be = best=20 defined subjectively=94 (Sims, 1988).

Others have explained rural areas essentially as a = culture. =93A=20 rural area is not simply a physical place but a social place as well=94 = (Weisheit,=20 Wells & Falcone, 1994). This idea carries implications for service = delivery=20 because it suggests that we may need to adopt an approach that is = sensitive to=20 the cultural characteristics of rural

Various ethnic, racial or religious groups living in = rural areas=20 may experience certain reinforcing or mitigating effects to the rural = culture=92s=20 social and insular characteristics. Later in this text, the discussion = of rural=20 Alaska suggests just such an effect among the rural Alaskan Native=20 populations.

In general, low population density = makes an=20 area, county or region rural. Beyond that, however, rural cannot = be=20 concisely or simply defined. Various organizations and researchers = use=20 different demarcations. Low population density means that people = living in=20 a rural area have a high degree of familiarity with each other. = This has=20 led many observers to speak about rural as a subjective situation, = attitude or culture.

Sexual Assault: A Rural Perspective

Our general understanding of rural sexual assault = largely comes=20 from those advocates who work in rural areas. They see, first hand, that = the=20 culture and geographic conditions can confound the process of reporting = and=20 service delivery, which ultimately can limit justice and healing for = victims.=20 Their portrayals include acquaintance sexual assaults, lack of = anonymity, very=20 low reporting, few services and a rural culture that is insular (Royse, = 1999).=20

In general we know that many survivors experience = great=20 difficulty in disclosing a sexual assault, especially when the = perpetrator is=20 known to the victim. In rural
communities the propensity to not = report may=20 be reinforced by informal social codes that dictate privacy and = maintaining=20 family reputation. Sexual assaults in rural areas are mostly hidden = crimes,=20 hidden both intentionally and unintentionally by characteristics of a = close-knit=20 culture or an isolated lifestyle. This discussion of rural
sexual = assault=20 includes incest, which may not be necessarily higher in rural areas, but = based=20 on lower anonymity in sparsely populated areas, appears to be a likely = element.=20

In general, underreporting of sexual assault has long = been=20 recognized as a problem. Low rates of reporting mean that it is = difficult to=20 have a clear picture of the extent of sexual assault. It is estimated = that for=20 the nation, over 70% of sexual assaults are never reported to law = enforcement=20 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000). Many rural advocates believe that = the=20 extent of underreporting is much higher. Although some rural residents = can be=20 quite isolated and relatively unknown, in general, the lower population = density=20 in rural areas and the often close-knit nature of rural communities = translates=20 into a lack of anonymity.

Non-reporting in rural areas is typically more of a = problem=20 because of the high rate of non-stranger sexual assault. In rural = communities=20 that are often portrayed as a place where =93everybody knows = everybody=94 the=20 likelihood of knowing your assailant is quite high. Betty Royse asserts = that,=20 =93It is obvious that the most frequently occurring sexual assault, = non-stranger=20 sexual assault, is not only occurring in rural America, but may be a = hidden and=20 unidentified epidemic.=94 Put another way, the high level of familiarity = in rural=20 communities means the level of non-stranger rape is necessarily = high.

Rural areas have low population density and high = levels of=20 familiarity. In other words, a victim will have little anonymity. It = means she,=20 or a friend or family member is likely to be acquainted with or related = to the=20 perpetrator and that she may reencounter the perpetrator, even on a = regular=20 basis. Furthermore, =93the closer the relationship between victim and = assailant,=20 the less likely the woman is to report the crime=94 (Hunter, = Burns-Smith, Walsh,=20 1996). Studies have quite consistently pointed to the importance of the=20 victim-offender relationship in affecting the propensity to report = (Pollard,=20 1995; Ruback, 1993, Ruback & M=E9nard, 2001). In rural areas, law = enforcement=20 is likely to be part of the social network (Sims, 1988; Weisheit, Wells = &=20 Falcone, 1994; Weisheit, Wells & Falcome, 1995). This compounds the = problem=20 of reporting non-stranger sexual assaults.

In rural communities, the high = level of=20 familiarity among residents means that the sexual assaults that = occur are=20 quite likely to be perpetrated by an acquaintance and the victim = is not=20 likely to report the crime to police, and perhaps not to anyone.=20

Barriers to Reporting and Services

Lack of Anonymity

Sociologists sometimes describe rural areas as having = high=20 levels of acquaintance density, which means that most residents have = some level=20 of familiarity with
others in the community. They could be friends,=20 relatives, or casual acquaintances. For a victim of sexual assault this=20 translates into nearly a total lack of anonymity
and little chance = for=20 confidentiality. Service providers understand how important = confidentiality is=20 for victims. When everyone knows what=92s going on, how can
you = expect much=20 confidentiality? Joanne, a director for a program in two rural = Pennsylvania=20 counties explains that confidentiality is the biggest issue in rural = service.=20

If a rape victim parks her car at the police station = or the=20 local rape crisis center, the entire community could know this very = quickly. The=20 police or elected sheriffs may be friends or relatives of the = perpetrator, and=20 they may care more about maintaining friendly community relations than = pursuing=20 justice. Tanya, who also directs a rural program in Pennsylvania, = explains,=20 =93Rural people don=92t report unless they have to. There is very little = reporting=20 right away. The majority reports months after the attack, only when they = are=20 having trouble functioning. People in rural communities victimize each = other.=94=20 In areas of low population density a person is not only more likely to = have less=20 anonymity, but the victimization that does occur will likely involve = people who=20 know each other.

Greater Physical Isolation

Since rural populations often find themselves at great = distances=20 from social services, medical care and law enforcement, victims may = discover=20 that it is too difficult, or virtually impossible, to report the crime = or call=20 for support. For very rural areas, the dispersed nature of services and = programs=20 can serve as a major deterrent to reporting.

Some people opt to live in quite isolated rural areas = because=20 they want solitude and privacy. These people may be personally unknown, = even to=20 the nearest
neighbors, and very reticent about using civil and = social=20 assistance even in cases of emergency.

Traveling great distances offers a real challenge to = victims and=20 service providers. The roads are often poorly lit, very rough and not = well=20 marked. Finding transportation can be very difficult. Victims may not = have=20 access to private transportation, and there may be no public = transportation or=20 only infrequent service. With long distances, increased response time = and=20 difficulties in finding transportation, victims are less likely to = report the=20 assault.

Distances and terrain vary greatly across the nation. = It is not=20 unusual in some rural states for an advocate to drive several hours = through the=20 countryside at night to respond to a call. Alaska, with the nation=92s = highest=20 rate of rape, is a very rural state. With an estimated ninety percent of = the=20 state not being accessible via a road system, servicing victims usually = requires=20 traveling by air or sea. It often takes several days to respond to a=20 call.

Some places are so remote that cell phones may not = work, radio=20 reception is spotty and public telephones are rare. Victims who want to = report=20 may not be able to. This greater physical isolation carries a heavier = toll for=20 victims of sexual assault because they can have very immediate physical = needs=20 and they may not be able to get to or even contact medical help. = Forensic=20 examinations should be conducted as soon as possible and the victim may = have=20 other physical injuries requiring immediate attention. Hospitals can be = a long=20 distance away.

Informal Social Controls

Rural areas often have unwritten cultural rules that = dictate=20 secrecy of personal problems. =93(S)ocial climate may have the biggest = impact on=20 failure to report in rural areas=94 (Ruback & M=E9nard, 2001). This = social=20 climate can cover a variety of attitudes about the needs and survival of = the=20 family and its interaction with the outside world.

One underlying value in many rural communities = stresses the=20 importance of family reputation over personal justice and sometimes, = even over=20 personal safety. Some recent studies suggest that it may be limiting to=20 concentrate on the characteristics of the individual victim or offender = instead=20 of exploring familial aspects of sexual abuse (Fontes, 1995). Fontes = explains=20 that =93these writings include discussions of roles and rules in = families with=20 incest.=94

Distrust of Outside Assistance

Informal rural social regulations often include = disdain for=20 outside involvement. It means keeping things away from public = organizations and=20 agencies and dealing with any problem in a quieter, private way. Tanya = reports=20 that she has found that in Pennsylvania, =93rural people tend to be = suspicious of=20 strangers.=94 Experienced service providers in rural areas understand = this=20 hesitancy to deal with organizations and have found that one solution is = to=20 build strong trusting relationships in the community over time. Renee = says that=20 in rural Mississippi it helps to go out and speak at schools, community = clubs=20 and forums.

Perceptions of Sexual Assault

In very isolated areas, attitudes toward sexual = assault may=20 appear relatively accepting. In fact, in all communities and not just in = rural=20 communities, what seems normal or acceptable is usually framed by the=20 perspective of the family and community. What can develop is a degree of = intergenerational tolerance of social and familial characteristics. For = example,=20 although a victim feels discomfort, fear or dread, the family may = influence her=20 attitudes to accept a situation as the reality or =93just the way it=20 is.=94

In very remote communities, however, this effect may = be more=20 intense because of less frequent exposure to broader social norms that = challenge=20 the status quo. Some rural advocates have reported that a degree of = tolerance of=20 sexual assault is not uncommon. Ginger, who directs one of Alaska=92s = rural=20 centers, says that sexual assault of adult women is not only nearly = universal in=20 her rural region but that there is a great deal of tolerance for adult = sexual=20 assault. In Mississippi, Renee points to a big problem with rural = sheriffs who=20 will not take sexual assault seriously; she quotes them as saying, = =93Honey, don=92t=20 worry about it!=94

Concern for Family Continuation and = Survival

Depending on the situation, a wide range of practical=20 considerations may stop a victim from reporting. Concerns over the = family may=20 range from fear for safety, agency intervention, lack of childcare, the = need for=20 transportation and income. These considerations can translate into = reasons for=20 not reporting sexual assault. Reporting and arrest could mean that the = family=20 income and viability would be reduced significantly, or in the case of = very=20 rural Alaska, reporting may literally lead to the removal of the family = food=20 getter. For example, an Alaska woman who was raped by her brother-in-law = recanted after realizing that continuing with her charge would = significantly=20 affect her sister=92s survival. While these concerns are not unique to = rural=20 victims, in general, the isolation and the fewer social and economic = options in=20 rural areas may augment these concerns for rural residents.

Concerns Accessing Human Services

Rural residents may experience anxiety or concern over = accessing=20 human services, in part due to lack of experience in using them. Since = many=20 services are not available in their community, rural residents may not = have the=20 comfort level to even call a hotline. Additionally, according to some = rural=20 advocates, residents often resist going to the next community or town = for=20 services.

Other Barriers

The size and configuration of various rural = communities, as well=20 as other conditions, may also impact the willingness to report. = Sometimes there=20 can be language barriers, ethnic codes or unusual authoritarian = relationships=20 that impact social behavior. For example, in small towns, especially in = rural=20 Alaska, there are frequently a few dominant families that control much = of social=20 reactions. Perceptions of local law enforcement may vary significantly = from one=20 rural community to the next. More discussion on rural law enforcement = follows in=20 a later section. In general, however, rural communities often have = unique=20 characteristics and social configurations that may impact the = willingness to=20 report sexual assaults.

Rural populations often face = intensified=20 difficulties in reporting sexual assaults and finding services = because of=20 unique cultural characteristics. Some of these concerns and = conditions in=20 rural areas are: lack of anonymity, greater physical isolation, = informal=20 social controls, distrust of outside assistance, unclear = perception of=20 sexual assault, and concern for family continuation and=20 survival.

Is There Less Sexual Assault in Rural Communities?

A strong logic points to the importance of examining = the=20 prevalence of rural sexual assault. To what extent do rural sexual = assault=20 victims constitute an underserved population? On the one hand, a few = government=20 reports indicated generally lower rates of rural sexual assault. On the = other,=20 rural advocates and some researchers have pointed to equal or even = greater=20 number of sexual assault victims per capita in rural communities. This = document=20 reviews some data on prevalence and argues that the many pragmatic and = cultural=20 barriers to reporting and services make it particularly difficult to = measure,=20 reach or assist rural sexual assault victims.

National Data

In general, crime tends to be higher in urban than in = rural=20 areas (Bachman, 1992; Duhart, 2000). Although usually attributed to = higher=20 population density, more ethnic diversity, higher residential mobility, = and=20 poverty, some of the conditions often associated with increased crime, = such as=20 poverty and unemployment, are often as high or higher in rural = communities=20 (Ruback & M=E9nard, 2001).

On the subject of sexual assault, national crime data = are=20 generally limited by both the definition of sexual assault and survey=20 methodology. The FBI=92s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) provides information = only=20 about =93rapes=94 reported to police, based on a narrow definition of = rape; it=20 defines rape as =93the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and = against her=20 will.=94 It includes only forcible rapes of females involving = penile/vaginal=20 penetration and excludes male and spousal victims as well as forms of = sexual=20 penetrations and incapacitation by means other than force. The National = Crime=20 Victimization Survey (NCVS) takes a broader approach and looks at sexual = assault, but only includes individuals over the age of 12. =93Both = measures are=20 almost certainly incorrect, in that there is general consensus that all = measures=20 of sexual assault in the United States underestimate the true extent of = the=20 crime. The only disagreements center on how much the particular measure = of crime=20 used affects the degree of this underestimation=94 (Ruback & = M=E9nard=20 2001).

Using NCVS data, the Bureau of Justice Statistics = (BJS)=20 promulgated two special reports in 1992 and 2000 that compared criminal=20 victimization in urban, suburban and rural areas (Bachman, 1992; Duhart, = 2000).=20 These reports examined longitudinal data; one covers 1973 to 1989 and = the other,=20 1993 to 1998. In general, both indicate lower rape and sexual assault = rates in=20 rural areas for most years, although 1998 data indicated that rape and = sexual=20 assault were similar across all areas. A closer look at these reports = suggests=20 that they reflect inherent methodological problems that render them = unrevealing=20 and not very credible with respect to sexual assault figures and most=20 particularly with regard to rural sexual assault data.

The National Women=92s Study, conducted in 1989, was a = national=20 telephone survey of 4008 adult US women, age 18 and older. The = methodology=20 employed screening questions and follow-up interviews in order to = increase the=20 credibility of the data. The survey reported 12.65 percent completed = rapes over=20 the lifetime of responders. Although not initially reported with the = survey=20 findings, the data set included location information on 4002 responses. = Recently=20 researchers analyzed this location data and found that 10.1 percent of = women=20 living in rural areas of the country reported that they had experienced = a=20 completed rape and 13.6 percent of those living in urban/suburban = communities=20 reported such experiences (de Arellano, Ruggiero, Kilpatrick, 2002). =

Even this national survey, with its more sensitive = methodology,=20 suggests that women living in rural areas have lower rates of completed = rape=20 experiences. There are, however, a number of important aspects of rural = sexual=20 assault that might contribute to this and make the incidence of such = assault=20 difficult to measure. For example, the propensity of those living in = rural=20 communities to distrust outsiders and agencies may make it less likely = that they=20 will participate in telephone or other surveys. The question of whether = sexual=20 assault will be reported to or discussed with law enforcement, survey=20 researchers, rape crisis centers, or even friends has not been well = explored.=20

The literature suggests that the victim-offender = relationship is=20 important in predicting reporting. In part this relationship functions = to help=20 define rape as such. Ruback reports, =93conceptually, the = victim-offender=20 relationship is important because it helps both the victim and others = define=20 whether or not an action is rape and whether or not reporting the crime = to=20 police would be worthwhile=94 (Ruback, 1993). In rural areas where most = sexual=20 assaults are by non-strangers, or even more likely, by closer = acquaintances or=20 relatives, the perception of the crime and the perceived utility of = reporting it=20 would likely deter the victim from reporting, or even from talking about = it with=20 others.

National surveys suggest that = rates of rural=20 sexual assault are lower than in urban areas. However, various = aspects of=20 rural culture may deter reporting or speaking with anyone, and = survey=20 methodologies cannot easily counter such tendencies. Given the low = rate of=20 reporting of non-stranger rape and the high level of familiarity = in rural=20 areas, rates of sexual assault may be as high or higher in rural=20 communities than in urban areas.

Focus on Several States

Moving beyond national level data, the question of the = prevalence of rural sexual assaults will be examined by considering = information=20 and data from several states: Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Alaska and = Mississippi.=20 Discussion of these states does not imply that they are representative = of the=20 rural configurations throughout the country. Rather, we look at these=20 geographically diverse areas to demonstrate that rural sexual assault is = both=20 difficult to measure and may actually be as prevalent or more prevalent = than is=20 suggested by national data.


Although Pennsylvania has some large cites and densely = populated=20 counties, nearly one-third of the population lives in rural areas = accounting for=20
approximately 60 percent of the counties.

A recent statistical analysis of rural sexual assault = in=20 Pennsylvania looked at two different sets of data (Ruback & = M=E9nard, 2001).=20 The authors examined data from the FBI=92s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) = and crisis=20 center data for all 67 counties in Pennsylvania. The analysis included=20 examination of various contextual factors that might affect prevalence = and=20 reporting. They found that county type (urban vs. rural) did affect the = outcome.=20 They concluded that =93(a)lthough absolute numbers of
sexual = victimization=20 were higher in urban counties, rates of sexual victimization were = higher=20 in rural counties.=94 UCR data showed no statistical difference between = rural and=20 urban rates of sexual assault, but Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape = (PCAR)=20 data from rape crisis centers (July 1, 1994 through June 30, 1998) had=20 significantly higher rates in rural areas (Ruback & M=E9nard, = 2001).=20

In general, reporting tends to be higher for stranger = rape than=20 acquaintance rape. Urban areas have higher rates of stranger sexual = assault.=20 When the analysis in this paper controlled for the effect of stranger = sexual=20 assault, the researchers found that urban counties had lower rates of = reporting.=20 That is, the higher rate of reporting
sexual assault in urban = counties is=20 due to the higher rate of stranger sexual assaults in these = counties.

In a second paper, using similar methodology, these = researchers=20 examined child sexual assault figures by analyzing PCAR data from rape = crisis=20 centers with data from Pennsylvania Office of Children, Youth and = Families=20 (CYS). This study also found that rural counties had higher rates of = sexual=20 assault. Both PCAR and CYS data indicated higher rates of sexual assault = in=20 rural counties (M=E9nard & Ruback, 2003).

Additionally, a review of PCAR data on county rates of = per=20 capita forcible adult rapes for the period July 2001 through June 2002 = show that=20 the eight highest rates were in rural counties. These eight rural = counties had=20 rates that exceeded all urban counties and they include the three most = rural=20 counties in the state. Additionally, of the forty rural counties, = fourteen (or=20 35 percent) had rates that exceeded the average of all counties in the=20 state.

Although one cannot generalize to = the entire=20 country, this Pennsylvania study indicated significantly higher = rates of=20 sexual assault in rural areas as compared to urban areas. The = findings=20 also underscore the fact that UCR data reflects only limited = reporting and=20 a narrow definition of rape.


Principally a rural state, Oklahoma has 77 counties of = which=20 only three are considered to be urban: Comanche, Oklahoma and Tulsa. = County data=20 of forcible rapes for 1998 and 1999 showed consistency in these urban = counties:=20 all three continued to have rates that were higher than the state = average.=20 However, there were more than a dozen rural counties in each of those = years that=20 also exceeded the state rate of sexual assault.

In 1998, the rural county of Harmon had the highest = rate per=20 county, but it represented only 3 rapes per 100,000. The following year = the same=20 county moved from first on the list to 75th. Similarly, the rural county = of=20 Cimmeron had no reported rapes in 1998, but with 2 per 100,000 moved to = the top=20 of the list for 1999. These dramatic fluctuations in rates demonstrate = that=20 populations can be so low that averages are severely affected by minute = changes.=20 It also underscores the fact that the decision to report a rape = seriously=20 affects the numbers. In fact, of the 14 counties in 1998 and the 16 = counties in=20 1999 that had a rape rate higher than the state average, only 2 rural = counties=20 appear on both lists. Put another way, we cannot easily tell if rural = rates are=20 higher or lower because they are so sensitive to fluctuations in=20 reporting.

In the case of the two rural counties in the = above-state-rate=20 category for both years, Okmulgee and Kay, the higher rates appear to be = reflective of higher reporting
related to programmatic efforts. The = director=20 of the program in Kay County felt that the establishment of a SANE = (Sexual=20 Assault Nurse Examiner) program has made a big difference; hospitals and = law=20 enforcement involvement has promoted the rate of reporting. The director = in=20 Okmulgee County felt that their consistently high rates of reporting = resulted=20 from their education/ public awareness campaigns and the training of law = enforcement.

The Director of the program in the northwestern and = most rural=20 counties in Oklahoma explained that because so many of the counties have = such=20 low populations, the fluctuations in reporting indeed make a big = difference in=20 their relative rankings statewide.

When we look at the data another way, 74 rural = counties compared=20 to the three urban counties, we see a relative consistency of urban and = rural=20 rates. The county data viewed in this way does not react so dramatically = to=20 minor fluctuations in reporting. We also see that the decline from 1998 = to 1999=20 in absolute number is reflected more in the rate of urban reporting than = rural.=20 The proportion of rural rapes to all rapes actually rose from 1998 to=20 1999.

The Oklahoma situation suggests = that=20 reported rapes do not clearly or consistently reflect the extent = of sexual=20 assault in rural areas. Low population density means the rates are = extremely sensitive to fluctuations in reporting. The two cases of = higher=20 rural rates suggest that strong programmatic initiatives may = account for=20 consistently higher rates of reporting. =


Alaska, the largest state in the US, measures roughly = twice the=20 size of Texas and about one-fifth the size of the lower 48 combined. = With more=20 than half the state=92s population concentrated in Anchorage, small = towns and=20 villages speckle the rest of the Alaskan landscape. Approximately 90 = percent of=20 Alaska cannot be reached by a road system but must be accessed by air or = sea=20 travel.

Police in cities and towns carry out law enforcement = in those=20 areas, but in fact, most communities in the state do not have police=20 departments. Instead, state
troopers conduct roving patrols over = vast areas=20 known as Detachment Coverage Areas. Rural Alaska is made up of five = detachments.=20 State troopers assigned to each detachment have jurisdiction over = felonies. In=20 lieu of a constant police presence, communities in these detachments = have VPSOs,=20 Village Public Safety Officers, who have jurisdiction only over = misdemeanors.=20 They do not carry weapons and are usually the first responder in law = enforcement=20 situations.

The FBI has quite consistently ranked Alaska with the = highest=20 rate of rape in the nation. =93Alaska has topped that crime category = about=20 two-thirds of the time over the past two decades=94 (Pemberton, 2000). = This is=20 particularly alarming because the ranking reflects rapes only and not = the=20 broader category of sexual assault. Anchorage, Alaska=92s principal = urban area=20 with nearly half the state=92s population, has an exceedingly high rate = of rape.=20 Although the 1999 rate for Anchorage ranked less than the state average = for that=20 year, it still had a rate nearly two times higher than the rest of the = nation.=20 Again, these rates are for forcible rape only as reported by the UCR.=20

1999 Rate of Rape per 100,000=20 Residents

Nation Alaska Anchorage
32.7 83.5 62.8
Figures provided by = Municipality of=20 Anchorage, Department of Health and Human Services, with a source = of=20 Uniform Crime Report.

Even more dramatic, Alaska=92s rape rates, when = calculated in=20 relationship to the number of female inhabitants, show that for 1999, = Anchorage=20 had a rate of 128 rapes per 100,000 females and Alaska had a rate of 173 = per=20 100,000 females. Note that the state rate exceeds the Anchorage rate = pointing=20 to the fact that rural areas of the state figure prominently in the high = figures=20 for the state.

Since Alaska has the highest state rate of rape in the = nation=20 based on the UCR=92s narrow definition, it would be informative to = consider the=20 rate of sexual assault that includes other kinds of sexual violence. =

The Alaska State Troopers provided additional data on = sexual=20 assault arrests in rural detachments for various categories of sexual = assault=20 and abuse that are not part of the data reflected in the UCR. These data = for=20 1999 and 2000 present a compelling picture of the extent of sexual = assault in=20 all five of Alaska=92s rural detachments.

The degree of ruralness of each detachment can be = determined by=20 calculating the number of square miles per resident. Detachment C is = most rural=20 with one resident per 6.72 square miles followed by Detachment A with = one=20 resident per 4.85 square miles. The most rural detachments, C and A also = had the=20 highest rates of sexual assault. These rates suggest a higher degree of = sexual=20 violence rather than a higher than typical rate of reporting. Rural = service=20 providers explain that they are aware of very high levels of sexual = assault,=20 saying that it is especially common among adult rural women.

Rural Detachments
(Rates of sexual assaults per 100,000 = residents)
1999 Adult 233.6 97.2 370.0 96.3 58.5
  Minors* 282.2 184.3 498.3 192.6 203.1
  Combined 515.8 281.5 868.3 289.0 261.5
2000 Adults 204.4 91.1 380.0 96.3 58.5
  Minors* 243.3 261.2 578.9 118.8 230.8
  Combined 447.7 352.4 959.0 215.1 89.2
*Figures represent minors (under = 17 years=20 old).

Much of the reporting that does occur reflects the = mandatory=20 reporting by various professionals such as the village=92s health aids = and=20 teachers. Ginger says that in her rural region of Alaska there is a = growing=20 willingness to report sexual assault of children but not of adults. =

Although rural Alaskan communities experience similar = problems=20 of isolation and barriers to assistance as do other remote communities, = Alaskan=20 Native communities also have cultural characteristics that may intensify = these=20 barriers. Advocates point out that there are cultural aspects of the = Alaskan=20 Native population that figure
prominently into the decision to = report an=20 assault or to seek outside assistance. These cultural factors may range = from=20 fear of retribution by the community=92s powerful
family to belief = in ultimate=20 spiritual justice.

These cultural concerns even when added to the remote = lifestyle=20 represent only part of the difficulty. Ginger, working in rural Alaska = says that=20 often victims do not come forward because they do not see it as = particularly=20 worthwhile because they recognize that there are virtually no resources=20 available to help them.

Data concerning Alaska demonstrate = very high=20 rates of rape and sexual assault in rural areas. The rates from = UCR data=20 alone show that rural rates in some years were higher than in = urban areas.=20 With Anchorage having half the state=92s population, UCR data = provides a=20 view of how prominently rural rapes figure into the state=92s = rate. These=20 rural rates often exceed Anchorage=92s high rate of rape. Data on = sexual=20 assaults in rural detachments, provided by the Alaska State = Troopers,=20 similarly shows that rural areas experience very high rates of = sexual=20 assaults with the most rural detachments having the highest rates = of=20 sexual assault.


Mississippi is a mostly rural state with 82 counties, = eleven of=20 which are considered urban. According to 2000 census data, the = population per=20 square mile in the state is 60.6 compared to a national figure of 79.6 = persons=20 per square mile. Among the urban counties, only two have = census-designated In=20 Urban Populations over 100,000 residents. This means that even urban = counties=20 can be quite rural and that as a whole the state is very rural. Adding = to the=20 demographic picture, 1999
census data indicate that 19.9 percent of=20 Mississippi=92s population lives below the poverty level with a per = capita income=20 more than five thousand dollars less than the
national per capita=20 income.

Ten sexual assault programs serve the state, with each = covering=20 multiple counties. Most centers have some mixture of rural and urban = communities=20 and counties, although a number of these centers serve mostly rural = areas.=20

The Mississippi Department of Public Health provided = data on the=20 sexual assaults reported by the ten sexual assault centers for the = period=20 covering 10/01/2000 through 9/30/2001. These data offer sexual assault = figures=20 by county, although a number of counties did not report assaults. = Sixty-nine=20 percent of the counties indicated sexual assaults for that year, but the = report=20 included many additional cases that were categorized as either Out of = State or=20 Unknown. These were not assigned to any particular counties and = therefore are=20 not considered as part of this review. Using U.S. Census population data = for=20 each county, the rates were calculated per 100,000 residents. =

The analysis examined the rate of sexual = assault in each=20 county with respect to county type (urban vs. rural). The resulting = rates=20 indicated that many rural counties had rates of sexual assault higher = than many=20 urban counties. For example, Kemper, the most rural county, with a = population of=20 10,453 and a population density of 13.6 persons per square mile, had the = second=20 highest rate of sexual assault in the state. Kemper=92s rate was higher = than all=20 other counties in the state, except for Lauderdale, an urban county. = This means=20 that except for Lauderdale, the rural county of Kemper had a rate of = sexual=20 assault that exceeded all urban counties.

With the second highest rate of sexual assault in the = state,=20 Kemper is the most rural county in the state based on population = density.=20 Lauderdale, with the state=92s highest rate of sexual assault, is not = the most=20 urban county with respect to population density. Part of the explanation = for the=20 rates in these two counties may be explained by programmatic = initiatives. Both=20 Kemper and Lauderdale are counties served by the East Mississippi Sexual = Assault=20 Center. This program indicates that its emphasis on education has made a = real=20 difference in reporting. These programmatic efforts help explain why = these=20 counties have higher rates of reporting.

The data and the opinions of rural advocates confirm = that, in=20 general, reporting tends to be low in rural Mississippi with the average = rate=20 for all rural counties being lower than the average rate for urban = counties. The=20 average of 46 reporting rural counties is 24.4 compared with a 35.3 rate = for the=20 11 urban counties. The median rate for rural counties, however, was 1.9 = higher=20 than the urban median. Additionally, if you remove the highest urban=20 (Lauderdale) rate and the highest rural (Kemper) rate, the average rates = become=20 much closer: 22.6 rural compared with 24.0 urban. Importantly, here = again the=20 median rural score is higher than the urban score by 1.98 points. There = were=20 over four times as many rural counties reporting as compared to urban = ones. This=20 means that some high and low scores can obscure a meaningful picture of = rates.=20

This analysis indicates that rural sexual assaults are = not=20 necessarily lower than urban sexual assaults with many rural counties = having=20 rates higher than many urban counties. This becomes more obvious when = the=20 highest scores are omitted. It suggests that aggregate rates respond=20 dramatically to both extremes in reporting and that programmatic efforts = may=20 make a noticeable difference in reporting.

The examination of one year of = sexual=20 assault data from Mississippi indicates that rural sexual assault = rates=20 are often higher than urban rates. The median rate of rural sexual = assault=20 was higher than the median urban rate. The high rates reported by=20 Lauderdale and Kemper counties also suggest that
programmatic = efforts=20 can promote reporting in both urban and rural=20 areas.

In general, rural advocates face many difficulties. = Most of=20 these problems fall into two general areas: funding issues and = relationships=20 with rural law enforcement. For example, addressing rural attitudes and = lack of=20 anonymity requires a great deal of understanding, skill and patience on = the part=20 of advocates. Honing these
capabilities requires things such as = training and=20 regular outreach into the community, efforts that require = funding.

Difficulties for Rural Advocates

Funding Issues

Travel and Assistance Budget A frequent = complaint of=20 rural service providers is lack of funding and the great cost of working = in=20 rural areas. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the = travel=20 budget for rural advocates. This money may be used for advocates to = travel long=20 distances or for transportation for victims to reach their nearest = center,=20 clinic or hospital. Rural advocates commonly require an enormous travel = budget=20 to facilitate their work. For example, Mary, director of a rural = Oklahoma=20 program, says that to get to the crisis center, it=92s not unusual to = travel an=20 hour and a half. She reports spending fifteen to sixteen thousand = dollars=20 annually just to provide transportation for victims. Michelle, director = of a=20 program in rural Alaska, says she also spends many thousands of dollars = annually=20 on travel, and in Alaska traveling often requires a plane.

Receiving Funding on an Urban Standard Rural = advocates=20 sometimes complain that they are assessed somewhat unfairly, especially = when it=20 comes to funding. They explain that they must compete on an urban = standard. In=20 general the time and money required to respond to and process a rural = case=20 exceeds that for urban cases; that is, time and money spent per rural = caseload=20 is often higher than for urban cases. Working all week long, the rural = advocate=20 is not likely to process as many cases as her urban counterpart. This is = a=20 particular problem given that funding is often provided based on high = numbers of=20 victimizations. Ruback and M=E9nard in their studies of rural = Pennsylvania sexual=20 assaults found that despite the higher per capita rates of sexual = assault in=20 rural areas, VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) funding was dispensed on = absolute=20 numbers. They found that in Pennsylvania, both funding of emergency = services and=20 VOCA monies were higher in urban counties.

Because rural areas generally have lower levels of = funding,=20 rural service providers have to be more efficient with their funding. = Mary, of=20 rural Oklahoma, says that she needs to raise three dollars for every one = dollar=20 provided by the government. She also has to be extremely cost-efficient. = This=20 type of frugal, efficient spending has been confirmed in Pennsylvania = with the=20 studies of Ruback and M=E9nard who found that, dollar for dollar, rural = counties=20 spent their money in a more
cost-effective manner (Ruback & = M=E9nard,=20 2001).

A Need for Additional Advocates, Training and = Outreach=20 Rural advocates plead that they need additional help =96 more advocates. = In=20 programs that deal with domestic violence and sexual assault, their wish = is=20 often for an advocate specializing in sexual assault. Finally, most = service=20 providers interviewed stress the positive impact that outreach has in = rural=20 areas. Some have used radio shows for outreach and others make regular = visits in=20 the community as a way of building trust. The
bottom line is that = outreach=20 costs money. Rural service providers speak quite compellingly on the = need for=20 funding. Tanya says, =93In some sense it all comes down to = money.=94

Rural Law Enforcement

Repeatedly, rural advocates stress the fact that the=20 relationship with the local law enforcement is critical to service = delivery. As=20 previously noted, most rural law enforcement personnel are part of the = social=20 network (Sims, 1988; Weisheit, Wells & Falcone, 1994). Rural and = small town=20 police departments are neither perceived entirely as a problem or as an = ally. In=20 many cases the police are first responders, so rural service providers=20 understand the importance of police to their work. They also understand = that to=20 rural populations, police usually play an important community relations = role as=20 well. This community relations role, according to one researcher, is the = single=20 most distinctive difference between urban and rural police and comprises = 90=20 percent of the rural police=92s function (Sims, 1988).

This closeness means that rural police respond to a = call for=20 assistance with a more personal, social demeanor, and this can be quite = pleasing=20 to the community. However, the closeness of police can make = confidentiality a=20 real concern, especially for sexual assault victims. The rural sheriff = or police=20 may know the victim or the
perpetrator. Additionally =93since county = Sheriffs=20 are elected officials in nearly all fifty states, this makes rural law=20 enforcement very sensitive to the power of public
opinion=94 (Royse, = 1999).=20 Small rural law enforcement departments also tend to have a = disproportionately=20 high level of political influence because they must handle so many = things within=20 the community. This smallness means many rural police are general = practitioners=20 and have little specialized training with respect to sexual = assaults.

In some rural areas the police have been quite = problematic for=20 sexual assault advocates. Assessments range from perceiving rural police = as very=20 conservative or negative with behavior that often serves to revictimize = the=20 victim to very positive and skillful in processing cases. Michelle = explains that=20 in rural Alaska, law
enforcement does not always understand how to=20 communicate with the Native population. The pace must be quite slow. = Natives=20 take long pauses in their speech, and she says the police can often = cause=20 problems by not understanding this style. Renee explains that in her = rural=20 region of Mississippi, there is a big problem with the sheriffs and = police not=20 taking sexual assault seriously.

Tondra, a sexual assault service provider in = Mississippi,=20 expresses a similar lack of awareness on the part of the police. She = feels=20 training makes a big difference. She says the biggest problem with the = police is=20 that they are very territorial. If a victim lives in one county and is = raped in=20 another, the advocate often has to act as
mediator between the = police. She=20 also notes that there have been many problems with the police in the = eight very=20 rural counties she serves. She says =93police haven=92t lived up to = moral=20 standards.=94 She explains that the problems have included embezzlement, = drug=20 abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault. While such complaints may = also be=20 true of urban police, the greater level of familiarity within rural = communities=20 and the generally smaller size of rural police departments means that = community=20 residents would likely know of the improprieties and be concerned about = finding=20 sensitivity and fairness.

In general, all interviewed advocates noted that = training of law=20 enforcement helps significantly and that such training is a high = priority for=20 them.

Rural Advocates Speak Out

What's Working

The NSVRC asked rural service providers to give us = some idea of=20 the kinds of things they do that have been successful. Many of these = practices=20 fall into areas of training, awareness and community outreach. All = require an=20 investment of funds and time.


Ellen, a rural advocate in Missouri, feels that the = single most=20 important kind of training is sexual assault training of advocates for = those who=20 usually work with domestic violence victims. She insists that the = understanding=20 and sensitivity required for sexual assault advocates is especially = needed in=20 rural areas where there is great difficulty in trusting and reporting. = For=20 centers that serve both domestic and sexual violence victims and for = shelters,=20 Ellen feels it is critical to have at least one trained person solely = dedicated=20 to sexual assault services. She has found that sexual assault training = and=20 speaking openly about that training, promotes reporting.

Rural advocates have noted that training of rural = police and=20 nurses from rural hospitals has had a very positive effect. Theresa says = that in=20 Oklahoma police training has been very positive and believes it has = helped in=20 increasing reporting. She laments, however, the fact that it is = difficult to=20 maintain trained officers due to a high turnover rate. Tanya says that = in her=20 rural area of Pennsylvania building a relationship with law enforcement = is=20 essential because it helps to build trust and a better working = relationship. =93It=20 takes time to build trust in rural areas.=94 Over time she has seen more = general=20 cooperation with the police.

Other advocates have pointed to the lack of sexual = assault=20 awareness and experience among rural police. Tondra says that in rural=20 Mississippi, police are not very aware of how to process sexual assault = cases or=20 even what statutes apply. When it is difficult to organize a training, = she has=20 found that conducting even a day long
training to a very small group = of=20 three or so is well worth the time and effort. Paul finds that in rural = Oklahoma=20 his program has been quite successful in educating and changing the = attitudes of=20 rural law enforcement and asserts, =93they can be real allies because = they have a=20 lot of the information.=94

Awareness & Community Outreach

Many advocates point to the importance of going into = rural=20 communities to build alliances with community groups and service = providers, to=20 raise awareness of sexual assault services, and especially to establish = the=20 trust that is so necessary to rural service delivery. Some recent = literature=20 discusses the relative value of interacting with community groups and = agencies=20 as possible allies in dealing with rural violence against women = (CALCASA, 2001;=20 Van Hightower & Gorton, 2002). Advocates argue that outreach is = important,=20 although many of their efforts appear to mostly build community presence = and=20 trust rather than significant collaboration.

Four general techniques for promoting awareness and = community=20 outreach have met with reported success. While the success is not always = measurable in numbers, the rural advocates report a noticeable benefit,=20 especially over time. Community visits, community collaboration, media = outreach=20 and satellite offices have all been reported as successful methods. =

Community Visits

In Alaska, Michelle found that non-emergency community = visits=20 are a very positive practice, even though it requires plane travel into = the=20 region. She usually takes a trooper and a teen advocate with her, and = they speak=20 to community service providers and at public gatherings.

In Mississippi, Renee uses a volunteer coordinator to = get the=20 word out by speaking at local public forums, such as clubs and schools. = She says=20 that it is important to consistently go out into the = community.

Community Collaboration

In Pennsylvania, Joanne instituted a SA/DV Task Force = to involve=20 community organizations and agencies. The group includes representatives = from=20 hospitals, law enforcement, the judiciary and human services agencies. = The Task=20 Force meets regularly and Joanne says sending the minutes from the = meeting to=20 participants is a way of keeping everyone connected and informed. She = says=20 building a relationship with community members facilitates reporting and = referrals.

In Mississippi, Tondra has found that going into the = hospitals=20 for visits has helped a lot because health professionals are often the = first=20 responders. She also interacts with the United Way and auxiliary and = gardening=20 groups to help build credibility in the community.

In Pennsylvania, Tanya visits the schools=92 guidance = counselors=20 on a fairly consistent basis. She says it is important to make on-going = visits=20 because they promote referrals that are so very essential in rural areas = where=20 people do not easily report on their own.

Media Outreach

In Alaska, Michelle has a yearly, one-hour radio show = during=20 Sexual Assault Awareness Month that goes out to all the villages in her = very=20 rural region. The show includes representatives from the district = attorney=92s=20 office, the state troopers, and program advocates. She says this program = has=20 made a tremendous difference; they receive many comments and calls. Many = other=20 advocates have reported the value of Public Service Announcements. In = Missouri,=20 Ellen writes frequent letters to the editor as a mechanism to raise = awareness=20 and promote the availability of sexual assault services.

Satellite Offices

Several rural advocates feel that establishing = satellite offices=20 in rural communities can be quite helpful because it brings services = closer to=20 potential victims and helps to build trust. A few advocates note, = however, that=20 in very rural areas, sometimes a victim might prefer to travel a = distance as a=20 way of being more anonymous. Nevertheless, Ellen in Missouri and Paul in = Oklahoma have found satellite offices to increase reporting rates. Paul = says=20 that when he opened satellite offices in two rural counties, people came = to=20 access services almost immediately. He adds, it=92s =93hard to rebuild a = life from=20 70-80 miles away.=94 Nell in Mississippi has a traveling rural advocate = that=20 spends one day in an office in each rural county.

Other Considerations for Rural Advocacy

Remember to leave your business card. The small act of = leaving=20 your card has proven to be a very important step for Tondra in rural=20 Mississippi. She reports that even when a victim does not seem = interested in=20 talking, they will usually call later when they feel the situation is = more=20 confidential. This hesitancy to disclose an assault, even to service = providers,=20 is often pronounced in rural areas, and the call for help may occur long = after=20 the assault. Tanya has been working in her rural Pennsylvania program = for 14=20 years and she says that rural people usually don=92t report unless they = have to.=20 =93There is very little reporting right away.=94 She says that the = majority of those=20 reporting do so sometimes months after the fact when they are having = trouble=20 functioning.

Program offices should be in a building with other = services and=20 businesses. Locating program facilities in buildings with multiple = organizations=20 and services helps to promote confidentiality. This is particularly = important=20 for sexual assault services. Nell in Mississippi says that it has really = helped=20 that her program is in a building with ten other services. She says this = way=20 people don=92t know the reason for someone going in the building. = Psychologists=20 and counselors have also found this to be an effective way to increase=20 confidentiality. For sexual assault in rural areas, this is particularly = important.

Program Identity

Often, programs doing work in rural regions of the = country=20 provide both domestic violence and sexual assault services. In many of = these=20 cases the public identity of the program is as a =93shelter=94 and does = not project=20 an image of advocacy and assistance, especially for sexual assault = victims.=20 Ellen found that in her rural region of Missouri it has helped a great = deal to=20 change the identity of her program away from one that is merely a = shelter to one=20 that does sexual assault advocacy as much as it does domestic violence = advocacy.=20 She insists that sexual assault should not merely be an add-on. She also = says=20 that a specifically dedicated sexual assault advocate is especially = needed in=20 rural areas. She feels that a significant reason for an increase in = reporting=20 stems from this identity change. She also says that
advocates must = become=20 comfortable in identifying themselves as sexual assault advocates and = not just,=20 =93oh yes, I also handle sexual assault cases, sometimes.=94

Ellen also speaks about rural advocacy throughout the = nation.=20 She reports that her many encounters with rural advocates have = reinforced the=20 importance of this idea of =93identity.=94 She finds that they often = feel=20 uncomfortable working on sexual assault cases. This fact certainly makes = a=20 strong case for more training and more conscious attention to identity. = It also=20 suggests that if the advocates feel uncomfortable and unsure, victims = may also=20 perceive their uncertainty and lack of comfort.


Sometimes in very rural areas, opportunities for = assistance and=20 services are very limited. Advocates often find that the practical and = personal=20 approach proves most relevant. Ginger explains that in the past her = approach in=20 rural Alaska had been a grassroots, human-to-human approach, but in = recent years=20 the emphasis has changed to a more criminal justice approach. With this=20 opportunity to contrast the two approaches, she has been moving back to = a more=20 individual approach as more relevant to this rural region. She feels = that=20 helping and teaching on a one-to-one basis is very important in rural = areas. She=20 uses the concept of =93Depend on Yourself!=94 as a way of empowering = people.=20


Rural communities in this country, though widely = varied in=20 characteristics and configuration, often experience similar difficulties = in=20 providing adequate services for sexual assault victims. In part this = reflects=20 difficulties in providing services to rural populations who may have = certain=20 attitudes that do not make it easy for them to turn to others for help.=20 Additionally, it reflects substantial barriers to reporting sexual = victimization=20 such as transportation problems and geographic isolation, making it = difficult to=20 report and find services. In turn, this low reporting results in a = general=20 perception of limited need, which affects funding levels, and may also=20 de-emphasize the significance of this underserved population.

Although aggregate, national data reflect lower rates = of sexual=20 assault in rural areas; this investigation, and the research of Ruback = and=20 M=E9nard, demonstrate that by examining rates of sexual assault per = capita by=20 county type, (rural vs urban) the result may be different. Such an = approach=20 could reveal a situation in which sexual assaults in certain rural areas = are as=20 common per capita or even more common than in urban areas. While it is = difficult=20 to generalize to the many, diverse types of rural communities in this = nation,=20 this examination found that in some states and regions, rates of sexual = assault=20 victimization were higher in rural than in urban areas.

Looking at rural sexual assault from this new = perspective=20 suggests that sexual victimization of some rural populations may be more = prevalent than previously
recognized. It carries implications for = further=20 research, for service providers, trainers and Most important, for those = in the=20 anti-sexual violence movement who work on the tough task of prevention, = the=20 implications of this review cast new light on the deep-seated, social = codes and=20 the often isolated and insulated rural conditions that have made rural=20 populations neither easy to serve or easy to reach. Clearly, a first = step in=20 working on prevention must be to investigate the extent and nature of = rural=20 sexual victimization.

Notwithstanding these rural difficulties and = characteristics,=20 the need is compelling and the task is important. Researchers and = service=20 providers should begin to collect and maintain location data that will=20 ultimately help answer many questions regarding various factors in rural = communities that impact victimization and
reporting. Rural advocates = should=20 be recognized for the very difficult work they do and be given = assistance and=20 support. Finally, victims must be afforded a
culturally relevant = approach=20 which necessarily means building trust and investing time.

If as Royse suggests, there is really a =93hidden = epidemic=94 of=20 rural sexual assault, we must begin to understand the real nature of = that=20 epidemic before we can confront it, or even before we can adequately = provide=20 services. While we try to struggle with tough research questions, we = must be=20 concerned about those who live in isolated areas and those who live in = small=20 close-knit communities where =93everybody knows everybody.=94 Our task = is to=20 recognize that in many rural communities, there are hidden crimes, = unspoken=20 crimes, that are often hushed and sometimes ignored, crimes of sexual = violence=20 that require sensitivity and understanding in order to promote safety = and=20 justice.


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Beale, Calvin. =93Nonmetro Population Rebound: Still = Real but=20 Diminishing.=94 Rural Conditions and Trends. 9(2). 1999.
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Duhart, Detis T. =93Urban, Suburban and Rural = Victimization,=20 1993-98 Special Report of the National Crime Victimization Survey=94 = Bureau of=20 Justice Statistics. October 2000, NCJ 182031.

Fontes, Lisa Aronson, Editor. Sexual Abuse in Nine = North=20 American Cultures: Treatment and Prevention. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage=20 Publications. 1995.

Hunter, Sharon, Burns-Smith, Gail, & Walsh, Carol. = =93Equal=20 Justice? Not Yet for Victims of Sexual Assault.=94 Newsletter of the = Connecticut=20 Sexual Assault Crisis Services. 1996.

M=E9nard, Kim S. & Ruback, Barry R. =93Prevalence = and Processing=20 of Child Sexual Abuse: A Multi-dataset Analysis of Urban and Rural = Counties.=94=20 Law and Human Behavior. 2003.

Nord, Mark. =93Rural Poverty Rate Unchanged.=94 Rural = Conditions and=20 Trends. 9(2): 1999.
Pemberton, Mary. =93Police, Native Groups Working = Together=20 To Reduce Rapes.=94 Associated Press, September 25, 2000, Anchorage,=20 AK.

Pollard, Paul, =93Rape Reporting as a Function of = Victim-Offender=20 Relationship: A Critique of the Lack of Effect Reported by Bachman = (1993),=94=20 Criminal Justice and Behavior. 22(1): 74-80. March 1995.

Royse, Betty. =93Non-Stranger Sexual Assault, Rural = Realities.=94=20 National Non-Stranger Sexual Assault Symposium, Proceedings Report, = Denver=20 Sexual Assault Interagency Council. September 1999.

Ruback, Barry R. =93Comment On Bachman (1993) The = Victim-Offender=20 Relationship Does Affect Victims=92 Decisions to Report Sexual = Assaults.=94 Criminal=20 Justice and Behavior, 20(3) : 271-279. September 1993.

Ruback, Barry R. & M=E9nard, Kim S. =93Rural-Urban = Differences=20 In Sexual Victimization and Reporting: Analyses Using UCR and Crisis = Center=20 Data=94 Criminal Justice and Behavior. 28(2) : 131-155. April = 2001.

Sims, Victor H. Small Town And Rural Police. = Springfield, IL:=20 Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1988.

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Geographical Information Alaska Scenes,=20, Date of Access 7/23/00.


Aguilar, Renee, - Municipality of Anchorage, = Anchorage,=20 AK
Baim, Ginger, - Safe and Free Environment (SAFE), Dillingham, = AK
Baty,=20 Robert, Sgt., - Alaska State Troopers, Anchorage, AK
Brooks, Grace, - = Sitkans=20 Against Family Violence (SAFV), Sitka, AK
Cavin, Renee, - Guardian = Sexual=20 Assault Center, Natchez, MS
Clark, Lynna, - Domestic Violence = Program of=20 North Central Oklahoma, Ponca City, OK
DeWitt, Michelle, - Tundra = Women=92s=20 Coalition, Bethel, AK
Fockler, Paul, - Northwest Domestic Crisis = Services,=20 Woodward, OK
Goodin, Mary, - SOS for Families, Idabel, OK =
Grissom, Nell,=20 - East Mississippi Sexual Assault Center, Meridian, MS
Howard, Janet, = -=20 Mississippi Department of Health, Jackson, MS
Hugonin, Laurie, - = Alaska=20 Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, Juneau, = AK
Killham,=20 Theresa, - Okmulgee Safehouse, Okmulgee, OK
Knaff, Deb, - Sitkans = Against=20 Family Violence (SAFV), Sitka, AK
LeFlesh, Debbie, - Standing = Together=20 Against Rape, Anchorage, AK
Malone-Bradley, Tondra, - Salvation Army = /=20 Catherine Booth Center, Cleveland, MS
Osman, Tanya, - Your Safe = Haven, Inc.=20 Everett, PA
Pennington, Cindy, - Alaska Native Heritage Center, = Anchorage,=20 AK
Reed, Ellen, - AVENUES Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocacy = Agency,=20 Hannibal, MO
Reyes, Ralph Lt., - Alaska State Trooper, Anchorage,=20 AK
Weyant, JoAnne, - Citizens Against Physical, Sexual and Emotional = Abuse=20 (CAPSEA) Ridgeway, PA