Much Sexual Assault Goes Unreported In Rural Areas

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Sexual assault may be more prevalent and less likely to be reported in rural areas, Womens ENews says. A recent report by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center in Enola, Pa., funded by the by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, produced findings contrar to federal statistics showing higher assault rates in urban areas.

The report, “Unspoken Crimes: Sexual Assault in Rural America,” studied the work of researchers and interviewed sexual-assault counselors across the country “to cast new light on the deep-seated social codes and the often isolated and insulated rural conditions that have made rural populations neither easy to serve or easy to reach.”

In many rural areas, if a woman parks her car at a rape-crisis center or sheriff’s office, word can quickly spread through the community, said the report. The judge, the sheriff, the doctor at the emergency room may all know the assailant or the victim. The report says rural areas often have “unwritten cultural rules that dictate secrecy of personal problems . . . One underlying value in many rural communities stresses the importance of family reputation over personal justice and, sometimes, over personal safety.”

In some remote areas, the report said, attitudes toward sexual assault even “may appear relatively accepting.” Such factors result in lower reporting rates, which curb funding levels and hamper a crisis center’s ability to provide services.

Alaska’s sexual assault rates already more than double the U.S. average. The state in 1999 reported 83.5 rapes per 100,000 females compared to a U.S. average of 32.7 per 100,000 females, says the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.

In Hannibal, Mo., Ellen Reed, the director of AVENUES, a crisis center that covers seven counties, said it’s tough to discuss sexual violence in socially conservative communities where traditional gender roles are still the norm. “We are certainly reaching more survivors than we ever have,” she said. “But it’s tricky. It’s difficult talking about these issues in areas that are rural and closed and very resistant to anybody that might challenge the status quo.”


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