NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 22 Special Topics

Section 6, Rural Victims


Eighty percent of the United States is geographically designated as rural-remote. This section will examine the unique challenges to providing basic victim services in rural-remote regions and promising practices that seek to improve victims' rights and services.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:


Although rural crime rates have traditionally been lower than urban crime rates, patterns of rural crime now indicate both the exporting of urban problems to rural areas and problems that are unique to rural areas (Edmunds and Wallace 1995). Victims of federal crime who reside in rural areas face serious problems. Many victims must travel long distances to a federal courthouse. Often, these victims face similar attitudual problems that other victims face--lack of understanding of the impact of distance and lack of support services. In addition, rural federal crime victims often can be skeptical about seeking assistance from the U.S. Attorney, feeling the federal official is really not "one of the locals."

Economic problems facing rural areas increasingly affect the nature and extent of crime. The impact on the resources available to communities to respond to crime and to assist victims is enormous. Often the only sentencing option for judges to select is incarceration because few community sentencing programs exist in rural areas.

In addition, aspects of the rural culture may affect crime victims' willingness to report violence and to participate in the criminal justice system. One study found that shoplifting and employee theft were rarely reported to the police. Rather, the cases were handled informally. One criminal justice official said, "I simply can't get people to tell me things. I hear about them two or three weeks later, and when I ask them why they didn't come to see me about it, they say, 'Oh, I took care of it myself.' We simply can't get people to take advantage of the services of this office."

Unique Problems Faced by Rural-Remote Victims

In addition to the above mentioned problems facing rural-remote communities are unique issues faced by victims in remote tribal communities, victims of domestic violence living in rural areas, and victims on rural campuses.


Violence on tribal lands is one of the most pressing issues in modern society. A BJS report on crime and victimization among American Indians has found that the rate of violent victimization estimated from responses by American Indians is well above that of other U.S. racial or ethnic subgroups and is more than twice as high as the national average (Greenfeld and Smith 1999).

Feelings of alienation are common among members of various Indian Nations. Problems faced by victims of family violence and gang violence on tribal lands are further complicated by the geographical and jurisdictional issues inherent in tribal justice processes (for more information, see the "Tribal Justice" section of this Text). Confusing and often counterproductive jurisdictional boundaries exist among state, federal, and tribal laws, and the result can be chaos for the victim needing services.

For many rural family violence victims, simply traveling to the local police station to make a report takes on special significance because of the distance, lack of transportation, and time involved in making such a trip. Transportation issues are especially critical for elderly victims and children going to therapy sessions. Travel to criminal justice agencies is exacerbated for tribal crime victims who participate in the federal justice system. Many tribal crime victims have to travel hundreds of miles to participate in the criminal justice process. One crime victim from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming had to travel over 500 miles to present a victim impact statement at the federal courthouse--and was told of the sentencing hearing the day before.


While far less research has been conducted about rural family violence than family violence in urban areas, in the publication Rural Crime and Rural Policing (Weisheit et al. 1994), the National Institute of Justice indicates the following characteristics and dimensions of rural versus urban family violence:

Many rural counties have very low populations. Currently, one out of three rural counties (850) has fewer than 10,000 residents. This presents a challenge to establishing even basic services for crime victims, such as counseling for child abuse victims and shelters for battered women. Many rural domestic violence victims face the additional problem of not only having to leave their home to find safety but their community as well. Often, the nearest shelter may be several communities and many miles away. Not only are these victims forced to leave whatever support network is available, but also their children must be taken out of school in order to reach safety.

The effects of geography also pose serious problems for rural family violence victims. Distance affects the response time and the speed with which law enforcement and emergency services respond to victims' calls for assistance. While urban areas judge emergency response time in minutes, access to medical treatment in rural areas generally takes longer. In addition, rural law enforcement waits longer for backup assistance, thus forcing difficult decisions by on-site personnel between responding to dangerous situations alone or delaying critical emergency responses.

Overall, the issues of rural family violence and rural justice have not received national attention in the development of policies and protocol for law enforcement or other areas of the criminal justice system. In light of the relative scarcity of resources in rural-remote areas, the need for collaboration within the criminal justice system and neighboring communities is critical. It is essential that victim assistance programs target the identification of other service organizations and criminal justice agencies that are available for and/or interested in coordinating and collaborative efforts. The unique needs of rural-remote victims must be viewed with an eye toward unique solutions that maximize current community and neighboring area resources.


In 1998, the National Criminal Justice Association, with support from the Office for Victims of Crime, sponsored a project to examine rights and services for people victimized on or around institutions of higher education. A multidisciplinary focus group discussed relevant issues, including the challenges of providing victim assistance, supportive services, and protective measures to victims on campuses in rural-remote regions of the United States, and recommended solutions:

The basic demographics of rural-remote campuses contribute to limited victim services, as well as less victim accessing of available services. Campuses tend to be smaller, and may not be as "connected to the community" as campuses in urban or suburban settings. Often, confidentiality concerns are escalated because "everyone knows everyone," and "rumor mills are rampant." Victims may be more likely to know their offenders, which can pose both confidentiality and protection concerns. Services for offenders (such as treatment, rehabilitation and supervision) are limited as well. In addition, the homogenous demographics of some rural-remote campuses can pose challenges to providing quality, supportive services to victims who do not match the general characteristics of the student population. Students of color may perceive greater jeopardy, both in their chances of being victimized, and in reporting crimes and receiving supportive services.

While 80 percent of the United States is rural-remote, there is less infrastructure available to support public safety and victim assistance initiatives in such jurisdictions. Traditionally, much funding for such services has been population-based (although this factor is changing).

In some rural jurisdictions, experimentation with alcohol and other drugs begins at earlier ages because "there is nothing to do." Guns may be more prevalent. There may be a "false sense of security" among people on campus because crime rates in rural-remote areas have historically tended to be lower than in urban or suburban jurisdictions (although this, too, is changing with the arrival of traditionally urban gang- and drug-related activities in remote-rural communities).

Victim-related issues at religious institutions of higher education can be complex. There are concerns that victims may be partially or fully blamed for their victimization, and that victims who are unable or unwilling to "forgive" the perpetrator may be alienated or ex-communicated.

Law enforcement services are much more limited in remote-rural jurisdictions:

In smaller communities with campuses, some positive elements were identified by focus group participants:

Potential solutions suggested by focus group participants included:

Promising Practices

Transportation is the number one barrier to victims accessing services in this part of Virginia. The Center provides transportation for victims to criminal justice related appointments and to medical, psychological, or other critically needed treatment providers. However, due to the mountainous terrain throughout the seven counties served by the Center, such services often pose risks to both advocates and victims, especially during winter months.

In addition to providing transportation to help reduce the barriers to assistance, the Family Resources Center operates a toll-free 800 number because over four-fifths of their service area is long distance.

The Center also operates a satellite office to provide victim services to victims living in isolated jurisdictions without transportation. Services are providing in outlying counties once a week. With VAWA funding, the Center plans to open a second office in another isolated location with coverage three to four days per week.

The program receives support from local, state, and federal grants, including Victims of Crime Act and Violence Against Women Act funding, and in-kind donations. The program employs four full-time staff and ten part-time volunteers.

Alternatives Incorporated has created a special domestic violence prevention program entitled HAVEN--Healthcare and Advocates Violence Elimination Network. The unique program is a collaboration between Alternatives Incorporated and rural hospitals. It is designed to identify domestic violence victims within communities and to produce an innovative response to domestic violence through the health care network.

The program has also successfully worked with the Salish and Kootenai Community College to recruit and train students as CASA volunteers and to provide college credit for these students. The program has sought to promote cultural sensitivity by recruiting traditional cultural leaders as volunteers, utilizing these traditional leaders as trainers in the volunteer training. The program has also developed draft tribal code CASA provisions. The National CASA Association has unofficially designated the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation CASA Program as the Tribal Court CASA Mentor site (National CASA 1999).

The Sheridan County Crime Victim Assistance Program has been in existence in this rural setting for just over two years. Prior to the establishment of the Crime Victim Assistance Program, no services were available for crime victims in Sheridan County, other than those offered by the Women's Center for family violence, sexual assault, and child abuse victims. For the most part, these crisis services tapered off when the victim went to court. The Women's Center and the County Attorney felt that victims would be more consistently and thoroughly served with the unique combination of services provided by the Center's experienced staff, and the information and space made accessible by the County Attorney's office.

The program has increased the range of victim services in the county. Advocacy services are now available to all victims of violent crime. Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse have the added benefit of advocates trained to provide criminal justice system information, court escort, and other services. Victims of arson, burglary, homicide, or elder fraud have a place to turn to for further assistance and support. The program has also increased victim satisfaction with the prosecutor's office and has assisted the prosecutor's office in implementing programs to further protect victims' rights. Recent collaborative efforts have resulted in the development of comprehensive protocol for the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence and sexual assault cases (Wallace and Edmunds 1998).

With support from a private foundation, the prosecuting attorney's office started classes for children who live in domestic violence homes. The program is called KIDDS--Kids in Domestic Dispute Situations. The classes are held once a week for two age groups. They last one hour each and to date the program has served over thirty children. As the program director noted: "This may not seem like a lot, but we feel we have accomplished something with these kids who have lived in domestic situations." In addition, as an alternative to jail, the prosecuting attorney's office also started classes for men who abuse. They meet once a week in a group with a trained counselor.

Rural Victims Self-Examination

1. What basic issues present barriers to rural crime victims in accessing crime victim services and assistance?

2. Name three specific victim populations and the special problems they face when they are members of a rural-remote community.

3. What problems are encountered by students who are victims of crime on campus at a rural-remote institution of higher learning?

4. List three community/agency solutions that may be implemented to assist rural-remote crime victims in accessing quality victim assistance.

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2000 NVAA Text
Chapter 22.6
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