3: Gender Blindness for At-risk Girls in Rural Communities

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Most studies of gender-based violence (GBV) remain outside mainstream scholarship and focus on overt cases of physical and sexual violence in urban areas. This study centres on a form of indirect GBV that has received almost no attention: the systemic invisibility of at-risk girls residing in rural communities without services or support, often propelling them into a juvenile justice system. We refer to gender blindness as active avoidance of gender as relevant, illuminating a continuum of GBV, including covert cases often unacknowledged. Relying on observation and personal interviews with more than 100 stakeholders, our research provides insider knowledge of rural communities in a Midwestern US state. Data identify mechanisms that contribute to indirect GBV, including: almost total disregard of gender-specific issues; active denial of gender inequities that disadvantage girls; and practices that perpetuate outsider status for ‘bad girls’ while normalising boys’ deviance. Such issues are most evident in, and exacerbated by, characteristics common to nonmetropolitan communities, such as high density of informal ties, strong patriarchal traditions, and lack of diversity and adequate resources. Practitioner-oriented suggestions are provided and draw attention to the need for gender-responsive data-driven decisions in all places, including rural communities.

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