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Serving Rural Victims

Defining Rural

Defining a place or people as rural often conveys an image of agricultural and family farms, ranches, sparsely populated areas, and a sense of community where people know one another and act in a friendly fashion. In this regard, the rural life is often associated with the good life. Yet for SARTs, rural communities generally mean serving populations who have to travel long distances to reach rape crisis centers, police stations, courthouses, shelters, health care facilities, and legal offices. It can mean working with individuals who may not have telephone service, who do not have access to public transportation, and who may have little awareness about victims' rights and services.

Rural can mean many things in terms of living configurations: a single family living on a farm miles away from a neighbor, a small dispersed community with limited services, small pockets of families and ethnic groupings, or a small town that has experienced economic and population declines.75 Rural also can mean a kind of cultural uniqueness rather than a specific region. One researcher suggests that rurality exists more as a state of mind and attitude than as an area on a map or a number of persons per square mile.76

For example, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault initiated a rural outreach project and found that defining rural communities in Texas was not an easy task. The association had difficulty in making correlations between communities situated hundreds of miles from the nearest airports, shopping centers, or hospitals and other rural communities that may be located within an hour or so of a major metropolitan area. Its initial attempt to define rural translated into describing communities that had very little in common: upper middle class retirement communities, farming communities on the Mexican border, small logging towns in East Texas, ranch lands in West Texas, and remote ghost towns turned tourist destinations. All of these areas qualified as rural or frontier, but the population base and needs within these regions were very different.77 The association ultimately realized that attempts to define rural by numbers of people or types of economy may inappropriately pigeonhole communities and inhibit relevant service provisions.

Federal Definitions of Rural

The two most common federal definitions of rural are found here:

You also can find links to publications that further define rural (e.g., the term "rural" itself, rural as it relates to health programs, rural values) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library.