The Dark Side of Gemeinschaft: Criminality Within Rural Communities

Elaine Margaret Barclay, University of New England
Joseph F. Donnermeyer, The Ohio State University

Small rural communities, particularly farming communities, are typically characterised by high levels of social cohesion, strong social ties between community members and low crime rates. The strength of unity between neighbours is revered in rural Australia particularly in times of flood, bushfires and droughts. However, this paper reports on the findings of studies of crime in rural Australia, which revealed that within some highly cohesive rural communities, certain types of crime were allowed to persist and the reporting of such crimes to police was proscribed. Many victims of crime suffer in silence. Some are placed under pressure to conform, keep the peace, and not accuse someone in the community of theft under threat of exclusion from the community. Some victims are judged by the community of deserving of their victimisation. The extent to which these attitudes and behaviours prevail in rural communities was investigated through mail surveys and interviews with farmers in several regions in Australia. While the studies focused upon agricultural crimes, it is suggested that these same cultural practices and social judgements are likely to be extended to other crimes within rural communities, such as sexual assault.

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Updated 05/20/2006