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Rural community violence in the United States is often an overlooked and complex public health issue and concern.  For the most part, there’s limited research and an overall lack of attention on violence and crime in rural areas.

In addition, a huge misconception prevails in the belief that crime and violence in rural communities is less serious or even non-existent. But these vast areas are not immune to crime.

Nevertheless, research and experience reveals that individuals and families experience great traumas as a result of rural community violence.

rural community violence epidemic

Rural Community Violence

Without question, rural and urban areas and communities are different.  Essentially, the types of crimes that take place in rural areas are also different from those committed in urban areas.

Due to social and geographical isolation, rural communities are more likely to have burglaries and theft, rather than armed robbery and assaults.

Violence, including homicides, theft, assaults, abuse, robberies, bullying, and suicide plague families, individuals, communities and systems in rural areas.

Moreover, in 2015, a study in JAMA Pediatrics analyzed data on U.S. youth suicide rates between 1996 and 2010.  Researcher found suicides nearly doubled for young rural Americans ages 10 to 24, when compared to youths in urban areas.   The study attributed the difference to greater availability of guns, social isolation, and the lack of healthcare in rural communities compared to urban communities.

Causes of Rural Community Violence

Rural communities experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment.  Additionally, rural communities suffer low rates of economic growth.

Without community support resources — like education, transportation, and training — rural residents and communities struggle with trying to keep up with technological advances.  These dynamics may lead to crime in rural areas.  Poverty can lead to high levels of stress, which in turn may lead an individual to comment crimes, like robbery, theft, or violent acts.

Furthermore, poverty-stricken communities end up with less access to quality jobs and schools, increasing the likelihood of youths engaging in negative acts.

People living in rural communities face extreme social, health, and economic challenges when compared to their urban counterparts.  Rural Americans tend have less access to healthcare and human service providers, lower rates of health insurance coverage, lower rates of educational attainment, and higher rates of poverty.

When compared to suburban and urban communities, rural communities are less likely to have public transportation, shelters for homeless or abuse victims, job-training programs, or public transportation.

These limitations have a huge impact on crime victims and their families.

Impact and Effects of Rural Community Violence

Families, victims, criminal justice officials, and health care providers in rural communities are burdened with unique challenges in part because of their isolation, socioeconomic, and geography.

Public health concerns focus on victims and families fraught with poor mental health, chronic diseases, substance abuse, and other ailments resulting from witnessing or experiencing trauma related with community violence.

However, healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, clinics, public health officials, and emergency services are overwhelmed with trying to support and serve individuals and families victimized by acts of violence.

Rural communities face significant geographic, economic, and financial barriers, which make it all the more difficult in creating strengthening and expanding family services.  Many of these institutions are over-burdened, under-staffed, and under-resourced with the flood of high risk and high need cases.

Recommendations

Rural community violence has many layers.  Prevention and intervention is necessary in order to achieve long-term results.

The following recommendations may help in providing a solution to rural community violence.

  • Creating a task force that includes law enforcement, media, government officials, researchers, policymakers, and clinical service providers to analyze, raise awareness, and develop concrete approaches to address community violence.
  • Expand school funding to form school-based anti-bullying, as well as mentoring programs focusing on character development for elementary and middle school students.
  • Establish violence prevention programs in clinical care settings.
  • Create local community awareness campaigns that promote violence prevention and intervention programs and service. This could include transportation, legal services, counseling, and housing.
  • Establish local, state, and national funding partnerships to expand community and neighborhood resource centers. This array of services and centers could address the social and economic needs of individuals and families — including counseling, educational and vocational training.
  • Increase the awareness and knowledge of rural community violence through mainstream media and social media outlets.

A December 2016 U.S. Census Bureau Community Survey shows 97 percent of the United States’ land area is rural. America is home for more than 60 million rural residents.

Rural communities are often recognized for their strong family values, strong ties to community, vast open land, and serenity.  However, rural communities suffer many of the dynamics urban communities suffer — and in some cases, more severely.

Rural community violence is a complex public health issue.  If you choose to make a difference, rural America welcomes any positive response or recommendation.


Featured image courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter Munro via Coast Guard Compass | Cropped and Resized | CC-BY-SA-2.0