9: Religious Responses for Rural Sexual Assault Survivors


Sexual assault research, and other forms of gender-based violence (GBV), has focused nearly exclusively on urban areas, ignoring the documented differences between metropolitan and rural communities. Additionally, as research has indicated, many juvenile and criminal justice system involved girls and women enter the system with histories filled with chronic traumatic experiences, including extensive histories of sexual violence. Using a feminist criminology foundation, this chapter adds to the understanding of girls’ and young women’s experiences with sexual assault in their rural communities, with specific interest in gaining insight into how ‘close-knit’ environments respond to survivors of sexual violence. Data were gathered through a larger project incorporating interviews with one rural Midwestern state’s only population of incarcerated youth and young women as well as community stakeholders. Open-coding identified that while community workers believe survivors are seeking faith-based organisations for assistance, at-risk young women are not directed to such individuals. Family status influences how communities respond to survivors of sexual violence – in some instances, survivors are ignored, in other cases, their abuses are criminalised. While the community perception is that at-risk young women are seeking help from their religious leaders, this pathway to ‘help’ may be specific to citizens already involved within their faith communities – a sample of patrons that do not include outsider families. Yet, policy implications would encourage collaborative work, both domestically and internationally, with faith-based organisations and other community providers to ensure holistic services for all rural survivors.

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