When sexually assaulted in a rural community, victims often find that opportunities for medical, legal or emotional services are very limited, or even non-existent. Their economic situation and geographic isolation may further limit their options. Strong community ties in rural areas mean that a victim is more likely to be acquainted with the perpetrator than in urban settings. Finally, rural culture tends to be close-knit, self-contained, often conservative and unlikely to turn to “outsiders” for assistance. Together these characteristics result in low rates of reporting, limited opportunities for victim services, and difficulties for service providers. In other words, a victim of sexual violence in a rural community is not likely to report to police or to locate or access services.
The vast majority of sexual assaults in this country are non-stranger sexual assaults, and for rural communities this is particularly true. For the nation, Rennison (1999) reports that 7 in 10 rape and sexual assault victims knew their assailants. In rural areas, where there is generally less anonymity, or as Ruback and Menard (2001) explain, where there is high acquaintance density, the likelihood of knowing the perpetrator is even greater. Furthermore, studies quite consistently point to the importance of the victim-offender relationship in predicting reporting (Ruback 1993; Pollard, 1995; Ruback & Menard, 2001). “The closer the relationship between victim and assailant, the less likely the woman is to report the crime” (Hunter, Burns-Smith, Walsh, 1996).
RCASA is working to expand the scope of our Rural Services program to more fully address Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, and Stalking Assistance. RCASA’s goal is to expand cooperative efforts and projects between our agency, other programs serving domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and medical/forensic services already established for the urban and suburban communities to include more comprehensive sexual assault services and to provide training, technical assistance and data collection to improve the capacity of community partners to offer services for victims facing the unique challenges and barriers to receiving assistance that exist in rural locations.
RCASA is pursuing program goals in three main areas: expanding rural services to encompass a more integrated approach, training staff, volunteers, and allied partners on the unique issues surrounding sexual assault in rural counties, provide more timely and appropriate response to sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking victims, and development of brochures and information packets in both English and Spanish to distribute to the greater community. Our objectives are to: expand sexual assault, dating violence and stalking assistance to include: medical/forensic accompaniment, legal advocacy for those pursuing prosecution, case management for those with multiple needs; to provide training, technical assistance, and data collection to improve the capacity of grantees and other entities to offer assistance to victims; to provide quality information, education, and resources to victims in both English and Spanish on the comprehensive services available in the community to address multiple needs resulting from victimization.
Rural communities have cultural characteristics that require understanding and sensitivity. Both victims and advocates face a difficult set of circumstances. RCASA is working to recognize the unique set of problems and promote culturally sensitive training and response.