Sexual Assault in Rural Communities

This document addresses our current level of understanding of sexual assault in rural areas as it affects both victims and service providers, identifying the need to recognize a wide variety of rural configurations and cultural characteristics.

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VAWnet Summary:

Sexual Assault in Rural Communities by Susan H. Lewis (September 2003).

In Brief:

This article addresses our current level of understanding of sexual assault in rural areas as it affects both victims and rural service providers. It recognizes that sexually victimized rural populations are largely underserved, understudied, and often overlooked. This can partly be explained by a reticence to report sexual assaults in rural areas. In turn, low reporting promotes a general impression that sexual assault is not a large problem for rural populations. That said, however, this article suggests that this impression may be wrong and that rural sexual assault is, indeed, a larger problem than has been, heretofore, recognized.

This document reviews literature by practitioners, researchers, and others who wish to provide assistance. It proceeds from the recognition that there is a general dearth of materials on this underserved population and attempts to distill from the existing work salient characteristics, concerns and findings.

The article points to a few descriptive statements by practitioners. They are of a general nature and usually discuss the close-knit nature of rural populations and the resulting lack of anonymity and confidentiality. They also describe various barriers to reporting such as transportation problems, isolation, and a lack of facilities, to name a few. The article also summarizes some of the findings of a few researchers who have investigated the question of the prevalence of rural sexual assaults. It points to research that now calls into question the notion that sexual assault is occurring at a lower rate in rural areas.

Finally, this document highlights other work on the subject that should prove to be useful for rural advocates looking for insight and practices that relate to community involvement, training and funding concerns.

In summation, the article recognizes the need for additional research regarding the question of prevalence, and the need to focus attention and perspective on a wide variety of rural configurations and cultural characteristics. The author asserts that what we do not know about rural sexual assault far outweighs what we know. In order to increase our understanding and better serve rural populations research must be conducted at all levels; building a foundation of understanding must be the concern of researchers and practitioners alike.

Distribution Rights

The production and dissemination of this publication was supported by Cooperative Agreement Number U1V/CCU324010-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC, VAWnet, or the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.