Crime is not simply an urban phenomenon. Yet, until recently, criminology and other related sciences have neglected the nature and levels of crime outside urban areas (Donnermeyer 2016). There exists a multitude of reasons why scholars, policy and decision-makers as well as individuals in general should care about crime and safety in rural areas.

First, some acts of crime in rural areas may only be possible when embedded in those particular situational contexts, which, if not considered, may hamper crime prevention; environmental and wildlife crimes are typical examples. Second, low crime rates in rural areas are often taken as an indication that rural crime and safety are not worthy of attention (Yarwood 2001), which obviously disregards the impact of crime on local residents. A reason for this lack of attention is perhaps the widespread belief in a dichotomy between urban and rural; the former being criminogenic, and the latter being problem-free, idyllic, healthy, and friendly (Ceccato 2016). Therefore in this book we distance ourselves from these assumptions to unravel facets of the rural as both safe and criminogenic, a hybrid place (Woods 2007) worthy to be examined in its own right.

We contest the idea of rural areas as homogenous entities. We instead adopt the notion of a rural-urban continuum that captures the nuances of environments of varied nature, spanning from remote and desolate spaces to accessible and connected environments of the urban fringe. Areas on the rural-urban continuum may be in constant transformation given local and global influences, which imposes challenges for policing and long-term social sustainability. In this book, we examine these challenges via four decades of English-language research on crime and safety in rural areas, including the most recent theoretical developments and examples from studies of the Global South.

The reader can identify emergent calls for new theoretical frameworks that provide a better understanding of crime and safety in rural conditions and the variety of safety needs of rural residents. Furthermore, there exists a wide range of experiences with crime prevention of significance for rural contexts which is worthy of recognition, and of importance to other disciplines. Therefore, this book can also be inspirational to those from other disciplines such as geography, and rural and sustainability studies, just to name a few.

Finally, this book discusses the need for new evidence on crime and safety in rural areas, which is aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (UN 2015). By doing so, this book provides a comprehensive overview of relevant topics that can serve both as a catalyst for new research in this area and as a reference for practitioners concerned with the conditions of people and places on the rural-urban continuum. Most importantly, the book offers a quick introduction to issues of crime and safety in the rural for undergraduate and graduate students, in particular from criminology, geography and rural studies.

Aims and Scope

This book, best understood as an extended essay, examines the evidence of crime in rural contexts, feelings of perceived safety or lack thereof, rural policing with examples of crime prevention practices. The aim of this book is to demonstrate the importance of crime and safety in areas on the rural-urban continuum in general, and from a social sustainability perspective in particular. This aim is achieved by first outlining 20 reasons as to why crime and safety matter, which also serves to delineate the field of research and illustrate its complexity, with many interdisciplinary ramifications. Then, by reviewing the international literature, the book reports four decades of English-language studies within the field and, finally, presents a research agenda which takes into consideration emergent areas of research, implications for practice, and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Expanding our knowledge on rural crime and safety is not only an important step for the future of criminology, but a prerequisite for ever obtaining a truly sustainable society.

The Rural-Urban Continuum and Other Concepts

In this section, we introduce a set of basic concepts used throughout the book. In rural criminology, the term rural is often applied to the opposite of urban on a binary scale. The rural-urban continuum constitutes a more appropriate, continuous scale that acknowledges that rural localities can differ in their criminogenic conditions based on their locations and contexts. There are rural areas that are located close to large towns that are different from those areas located close to small towns, or in isolated spots, or in vast, remote locations far from any type of urban reference. According to Dewey (1960), differences along the rural-urban scale derive from the fact that variations in population size and density induce variations in a number of factors such as anonymity, division of labor, informally and formally prescribed relationships, and symbols of status which are independent of personal acquaintance. All these factors can significantly affect the criminogenic and safety conditions of such areas. The concept of the rural-urban continuum is used here to stress the notion that there are no sharp demarcations in the degree or quantity of rural/urban differences (Planning Tank 2017). Rather there are flows of people, activities, and goods in space where crime takes place; some visible and tangible, others fluid and non-space dependent. We hold that in a globalized, interconnected world, these places may be rural in some respects and urban in others. In this book, we make use of the “rural-urban continuum” concept as well as accept the legacy of many decades of research in this area by allowing the use of interchangeable terms such as rural areas, countryside (as in the United Kingdom), sparsely populated areas, non-metropolitan areas, remote rural, accessible rural, vast areas, urban fringe, rural environments, outback, and the bush (as in Australia).

Urban fringe is an area of transition from urban use (city) to rural land use (countryside) and may be neglected as it falls in between the administrative limits of the urban area. Although many researchers consider the urban fringe area as a synonym of rural-urban continuum,Footnote 1 we do not; our definition of rural-urban continuum encompasses locations beyond the urban fringe which are not limited to tangible spaces or limited geographical boundaries.

Crime is an action or omission which constitutes an offense and is punishable by law. However, in this book crime is loosely used as a synonym of criminality, victimization, or criminogenic conditions of a particular place, while safety is applied here as a general term to indicate people’s safety perceptions, and sometimes, more specifically, low levels of fear of crime. However, note that in Chaps. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 the use of these terms follows the unique reference of each study reported in the systematic literature review.

Rural crime includes here acts of crime that may only be possible when embedded in particular situational contexts that are found in areas on the rural-urban continuum, for instance, theft of cattle (Fleisher 2002) and crime against nature and/or wildlife (Lowe et al. 1996).

Crime in the rural refers here to all types of offences that take place in rural contexts, for instance, drug-related crimes (Weisheit and Brownstein 2016), residential burglary (Wilhelmsson and Ceccato 2015), or street crime (Glosser 2016; Sampson 1983).

While there is no official definition of farm crime , Donnermeyer et al. (2011) suggest two categories of farm crime: ordinary crime, which includes general theft of livestock, machinery and equipment, vandalism, dumping of waste, damage from trespassing and hunting; and extraordinary crime, which includes activities such as organized drug production. Ceccato (2015a) notes that the definition can encompass different things in different parts of the world, as violent farm crime in a European context may involve crime against nature and wildlife, whereas in Africa and South America there have been cases of lethal violence against farmers. Although farm crime has increased over a longer time (Jones 2012; Sugden 1999), it has largely been neglected by criminologists (Jones 2010).

Security is a term associated with the risk of becoming a crime victim, measured by a variety of metrics and crime statistics, while safety refers to people’s safety perceptions through the lens of fear and anxiety. In many cases, sociospatial characteristics influence whether a particular place has high levels of crime and violence. Demographic, social, and economic fragmentation feed insecurity but also affect people’s safety perceptions (UN-Habitat 2019).

Crime prevention involves measures and strategies that disrupt the mechanisms that enable criminal events (Ekblom 1994). Those who work with situational crime prevention, for example, aim to reduce the opportunities for crime by making crime more risky or less rewarding, for example, through installation of alarms, locks, and CCTV (Clarke 1997). Advocates of social crime prevention are offender-oriented, addressing social factors that influence criminal behavior, or preventing relapses into crime, for example, through early intervention with youth programs (Ekblom 1994; Mullane 2015). Moreover, Brantingham and Faust (1976) define three categories of crime prevention: primary prevention, which concerns identifying and altering conditions that provide opportunities for crime in social and urban environments; secondary prevention which involves the early detection of offenders and intervention in their lives; and tertiary prevention which focuses on reducing offender relapses into crime.

Policing in this book is a broad concept that involves not just the police but also public and private actors regulating themselves and each other, working toward governing safety (Ceccato 2015b; Mawby and Yarwood 2011a). This can take place through formal policing partnerships such as neighborhood watch programs, or through informal control by demonstrating and enforcing social moral codes and values (Mawby and Yarwood 2011b).

Fear of crime has historically been referred to as the individual’s perceived probability, or risk, of becoming a crime victim (Brantingham et al. 1986). Ferraro (1995), however, argues that fear of crime is rather the emotional response expressed in relation to potential victimization, anxiety about crime in general, or symbols of crime. In this book, we refer to a more inverse concept, namely, the perception of safety, where a low perception of safety indicates a high fear of crime and vice versa.

Gender-based violence is defined by the Council of Europe (2019, p. 18) as “any type of harm that is perpetrated against a person or group of people because of their factual or perceived sex, gender, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.” This harm can take shape physically, verbally, psychologically and emotionally, sexually, or even socioeconomically. The term has often been used interchangeably with “violence against women” due to women being disproportionately affected, but this has been criticized as it may neglect men and/or individuals of non-binary gender identities as victims of gendered violence (Council of Europe 2019; DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2011).

Gendered violence may also relate to people of other expressions of gender and sexual orientation, such as those within the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, intersections with other social identifiers, for example, age, class, race, and ability, are also important when addressing gender-based violence (see, e.g., Meer and Combrinck 2015; Sokoloff and Dupont 2005; Straka and Montminy 2006).

Globalization “is thought to be the widening, deepening and quickening of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of contemporary social life, from the cultural to the criminal, the financial to the spiritual.” In other words, globalization involves spatiotemporal processes of change which underpin a transformation in the organization of human affairs by linking together and expanding human activity across regions and continents (Held et al. 2000, pp. 2–15).

The Global South encompasses Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, and the developing countries in Asia, including the Middle East, while the term Global North is used as a synonym for developed countries, often Western Europe and North America. There is an ongoing controversy about the adequacy of these terms regarding geographical boundaries or regional entities, see, for example, Hollington et al. (2015).

A simple definition of sustainable development refers to the process of “protecting and conserving the planet’s natural environment and promoting social equity and a degree of economic equality within and between nations” (Blewitt (2012, p. 13). The process is materialized by the interplay of the environmental, the economic, and the social dimensions of sustainability.

Social sustainability is the least defined core concept of sustainability but can be characterized as “specifying and managing both positive and negative impacts of systems, processes, organizations, and activities on people and social life” (Balaman 2019, p. 86). This concerns topics such as health and social equity, human rights, labor rights, working conditions, community development and well-being, community resilience, and social responsibility and justice (Balaman 2019). Crime is a clear obstacle for socially sustainable development, and in turn socially unsustainable development is a large cause of crime (Sengupta and Mukherjee 2018).

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 – The United Nations (n.d.) established The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, which “provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” The blueprint consists of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to be reached by 2030 and intends to tackle global challenges, including hunger and poverty, health and education, as well as climate change and preservation of oceans and forests. Part of the end goal is to create peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, free from both violence and fear.

Chapter Synopsis

This book is composed of ten chapters. Following this introductory chapter, which presents the subject area, basic concepts, and chapter synopsis, Chap. 2 motivates why we should care about crime and safety in rural areas. We present 20 reasons, from common misconceptions of crime in rural areas to illustrations of how globalization and climate change link to crime and safety in areas on the rural-urban continuum, as well as how all these are associated with rural development and sustainability. Chapter 3 reports the growing body of literature on crime and safety in rural areas via a systematic literature review of four decades of publications, from 1980 to 2020. The chapter focuses on English-language literature (in Scopus, JSTOR, and ScienceDirect) using articles, books, and book chapters to identify several research themes. Then, in Chaps. 4, 5, 6, and 7, we draw attention to a specific selection of the research on crime and safety in areas on the rural-urban continuum. The topics include concepts and theories in rural criminology, endemic offending and criminal mobilities, situational conditions of crime and fear, safety perceptions, queer and the rural, technology, offending and crime prevention, climate change and crime, organized crime, as well as safety as a dimension of sustainability and as a public health issue. Chapter 8 presents the most central questions of these topics as a research agenda. Chapter 9 first summarizes the overarching findings of this book and then discusses implications for practice, while Chap. 10 concludes by linking future research to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.