Safety is a human right. For an individual to feel free from risk (and fear) of danger is a fundamental necessity regardless of where one lives, whether in the countryside or in megacities. Yet, safety has too often been associated with rural environments, and unsafety with urban environments. Images of “the rural” consisting of simple, harmonious, cohesive, and homogeneous communities are placed in contrast to “the urban” as complex, unbalanced, fragmented, and heterogeneous (Doyle 1981; Lockie and Bourke 2001; Squire 1993; Wangüemert 2001).

Now more than ever, the dynamics of rural and urban areas show strong interlinkages (e.g., Sethi and Puppim de Oliveira 2015). While urban areas may provide employment opportunities, development of technology and information systems, almost all societally critical resources are imported from the rural such as water and other raw materials. These interlinkages are also expressed by the way criminality takes place in cities and villages, connected in cyberspace and/or places far away (e.g., Harding 2020), and by the way societies are dealing with these increasing safety challenges (e.g., Donnermeyer 2018; Hodgkinson and Harkness 2020).

Because research and policy have been dominated by “the urban agenda” (Koch and Ahmad 2018) and have therefore failed to recognize these broader societal challenges, we call for in-depth knowledge about crime and safety conditions on the rural-urban continuum. We argue that better knowledge about these rural-urban interlinkages is crucial to moving closer to the 2030s sustainability goals.

What follows is a consideration of 20 reasons of why crime and safety in areas on the rural-urban continuum matter. This list of reasons builds on the original ten-item list published in the book Rural Crime and Community Safety (Ceccato 2016) and aligns with other international publications to illustrate the urgency of the subject matter for criminology and society in general. Given the terminological legacy of this field of research, the term “rural areas” will be used here as a synonym of areas on the rural-urban continuum.

FormalPara Twenty Reasons why Crime and Safety in Rural Areas Matter
  • Reason 1 – The “rural” is a heterogeneous and complex place.

  • Reason 2 – Misconceptions of “idyllic” rural areas are problematic.

  • Reason 3 – Rural areas are under constant transformation.

  • Reason 4 – Low crime rates in rural areas do not mean “no problems”.

  • Reason 5 – Crime is influenced by the very nature of rural areas.

  • Reason 6 – Safety perceptions in rural areas are unequal.

  • Reason 7 – Violence characterizes rural contexts in the Global South.

  • Reason 8 – The commodification of security is affecting rural areas.

  • Reason 9 – Drug production, dealing, and use threaten rural areas.

  • Reason 10 – The theoretical legacy is urban-centric and Global North-dominated.

  • Reason 11 – Rural-urban linkages are neglected issues in governance.

  • Reason 12 – Rural safety is a public health issue.

  • Reason 13 – Crime underreporting in rural areas is a problem.

  • Reason 14 – Policing and crime prevention models neglect rural challenges.

  • Reason 15 – Technology can become an asset in situational rural crime prevention.

  • Reason 16 –Gendered and intersectional perspectives on rural safety are critical.

  • Reason 17 – There is a need for including trans and nonbinary experiences of safety in rural contexts.

  • Reason 18 – Climate change is impacting crime on the rural-urban continuum.

  • Reason 19 – Animal welfare is central to rural sustainability.

  • Reason 20 – Crime and safety are intertwined dimensions of sustainable rural development.

FormalPara Reason 1 – The “rural” is a heterogeneous and complex place

Rural areas are heterogeneous entities, and thus the search for a singular definition of the rural is illusory (Halfacree 1993). Despite the fact that 32 percent of the European population lives in towns and suburbs and 29 percent in rural areas (Eurostat 2020), the idea of the “rural” as a homogeneous environment is commonly fueled by mediated, streamlined images of what the “rural” is expected to be. Jansson (2013) argues that the challenge is not to recognize that the urban and rural are different, but rather to identify “forgotten places” that may fall in between these two binary categories. These “forgotten places” are close to suburbs, small towns, and other in-between spaces with their own identities that may not be rural or urban. Taking distance from simplistic views of the rural, we call for the need to untangle possible facets of rural areas as both safe and criminogenic – hybrid places with “assemblages of human and non-human entities, knitted-together intersections of networks and flows that are never wholly fixed or contained at the local scale, and whose constant shape-shifting eludes a singular representation of place” (Woods 2005; Woods 2007, p. 499).

Rural areas as hybrid environments can be better defined as areas on a rural-urban continuum, that is, a scale that stretches from remote and desolated spaces to accessible and connected environments of the urban fringe. Therefore, instead of designating an area as rural (non-urban), we adopt the term rural-urban continuum to analytically capture possible interlinkages of socioeconomic, cultural, and technological dynamics that are criminologically relevant to impact crime levels and safety conditions in a particular place. Some of these places can be considered “the real forgotten places,” but with today’s information and communication technology (ICT), they may be “rural” in some respects and “urban” in others. Crime and safety levels reflect therefore the hybrid nature of areas on the rural-urban continuum.

FormalPara Reason 2 – Misconceptions of “idyllic” rural areas are problematic

Crime is not just an “urban problem.” Yet, interpretations of rural space which draw upon the “rural idyll” assume crime in the rural context to be either exceptional or a lagged effect of urbanization, but never endemic to rural culture or rural communities (Donnermeyer and DeKeseredy 2008). The “rural idyll” (e.g., Bell 1997; Short 1991) is considered to be a socially constructed and commonly shared idealized image, or stereotype, of life in villages, which are often depicted as quiet places, harmonious, cohesive, and homogeneous communities surrounded by a hinterland of farms and ranches with little or no conflict (Lockie and Bourke 2001; Squire 1993; Wangüemert 2001), and where the world is unaffected by global changes (Bell 1997, 2006; Short 2006; Short 1991). Although stemming from imperial England at the turn of the nineteenth century, the myth of the rural idyll is still very much alive and can be found everywhere on the globe, from England to Argentina, from Sweden to Australia. While the rural idyll imagines rural space as an object of desire because it is not urban, rural space may also be represented as an object of dread because it is not urban (Bell 1997; Scott and Biron 2010). As suggested by Donnermeyer et al. (2013), the rural idyll myth works to exaggerate rural “strangeness” and "otherness" in so doing works to broaden the assumed gap which separates rural and urban life.

We suggest that people’s perceptions of rural areas as “idyllic” are not only important in defining rurality, but they may also be responsible for misconceptions of rural areas as static, innocuous places, incapable of generating critical conditions for crime. This can be particularly problematic because it, first, rejects the existence of agency in rural areas and denies people’s daily practices in local cultures with a variety of actors, interests, and actions interlinked in complex ways (Giddens 1991). Second, it overlooks the local and global socioeconomic and technological interlinkages found in areas on the rural-urban continuum which, currently, are better references for redefining the complexities of rurality in a globalized world (Castells 1996, 2015) and are, we argue, essential to the process of pursuing social sustainability in rural contexts.

FormalPara Reason 3 – Rural areas are under constant transformation

It is increasingly recognized that rural areas are global, hybrid places that are shaped by forces far beyond their local realities (Shortall and Warner 2012; Woods 2011). In some cases, the restructuring process has forced rural communities to move away from traditional economies toward more diversified, local employment bases (Krannich et al. 2011). Crime is part of the transformation occurring at different paces and scales around the rural world (Ceccato 2013), both in and beyond rural communities.

Globalized networks of crime profoundly impact rural places and people. Recent examples include human trafficking, slavery, drugs, hate crime against animal production, violence against women and minorities, international theft, “county drug lines” and environmental crimes (NPCC 2018; Yarwood 2021), and demand new ways of tackling crime and ensure people’s safety. These transformations are not specific to the Global North and show global ramifications relevant to explain crime dynamics in areas on the rural-urban continuum (Siwale 2014; Tapiador 2008; Woods 2011).

FormalPara Reason 4 – Low crime rates in rural areas do not mean “no problems”

Far too often we take for granted that “because there is less crime in the countryside, crime is not a problem for people living there” (Yarwood 2001, p. 206). In rural areas, lower crime rates alone do not measure the impact crime has on those living in the countryside. A homicide (or any serious crime) in a rural area may have a stronger and more long-term impact on residents than it would have had in a metropolitan area. Even if such impacts could be measured with a metric, crime rates alone may be a poor indicator of the problems encountered in rural areas, as some crimes may impact particular groups such as employees and families (Ceccato et al. 2021b). The quality of life and health of such groups can be highly affected (see reason 12). Moreover, the 80/20 rule in which a large majority of crimes occur at a small minority of places (e.g., 80 percent of crimes at 20 percent of places, such as street segments) may not be appropriate as a reference for crime prevention in areas on the rural-urban continuum. Crime in rural areas may not be as concentrated as it is in large cities, or even if it is, crime underreporting (see reason 13) makes safety interventions based solely on police records problematic. Collapsing crime data over several years and aggregating them into appropriate sized-zones might be useful in sparsely populated areas to create a more reliable basis for crime and safety interventions. The development (and the testing) of methods that can better capture the nature of crime and safety in rural areas is emerging as an area of research in its own right (see e.g., Weisheit et al., 2022)

FormalPara Reason 5 – Crime is influenced by the very nature of rural areas

Certain crime opportunities may only be present in rural areas, as low population density affects crime opportunities and detection. It is no surprise that hot spots of diesel theft from tractors are concentrated in farm-based municipalities; similarly, harassment and attacks against ranchers (e.g., of mink or cattle) are found only on farms that specialize in animal production (Ceccato et al. 2021). If people are not present in a place, a crime may go undetected for some time, for instance, the dumping of waste in forests (Ceccato 2013). Other conditions that may promote crime in rural areas include, for example, the high tolerance for certain types of behavior and crime itself among individuals of the local community (Barclay et al. 2004; Barclay et al. 2007). Hot spots of crime may be found in particular “towns marketed as centers for mass tourism and youth tourism” and “those where poverty combines with tourism” (Mawby 2007, p. 21). Fossil energy extraction operations are increasingly more common in rural areas, and the resulting population inflows may also lead to increases in crime (Ruddell 2017). In addition, crimes in the rural include cases in which farmers are the offenders; a perspective which has been generally ignored by mainstream criminology (Collins 2016). Other examples include illegal criminal enterprises, such as in the meat trade (Smith and McElwee 2013); environmental wildlife crimes (Caniglia et al. 2010; Fyfe and Reeves 2011; Loeffler 2013; Maingi et al. 2012; Wellsmith 2011); and the illegal killing of predators or “pests” (Enticott 2011; Gargiulo et al. 2016). Brisman et al. (2014, p. 482) suggest, for example, that the study of the rural and the subject of rural criminology create a fertile ground for the development of a “green-cultural criminology of the rural,” which could include connections between the global and the rural; agribusiness and the food/profit chain; farming the land and polluting the water and air; the cultural and media images and narratives of rural life; and forms of resistance to environmental damage. For other examples, see, for instance, Donnermeyer (2016).

FormalPara Reason 6 – Safety perceptions in rural areas are unequal

People living in rural areas often declare feeling safer overall than people living in urban areas. However, safety perceptions reflect unbalanced levels of victimization, such that the poor are overrepresented among crime victims (Brå 2014; Nilsson and Estrada 2006; Tseloni et al. 2010). Some of these feelings relate to an individual’s lack of sense of order and continuity with regard to one’s experiences in life (Giddens 1991). Research also shows that safety perceptions reflect people’s sense of place, where “place” refers to the immediate settings and conditions of daily life, but also the sense of one’s place in a larger societal context (Hope and Sparks 2000). International literature confirms that safety perceptions vary with long-term social and economic exclusion and discrimination that manifest differently by gender, ethnicity, and length of residency (Babacan 2012; Ceccato 2018; Chakraborti and Garland 2011; Jensen 2012; Scott et al. 2012).

Safety perceptions also relate to macro-level changes in communities, such as rapid population inflow and crime. For instance, in Sweden, half of the respondents to the Swedish Crime Survey who live in larger municipalities expressed a greater worry about crime than those living in more rural municipalities (Ceccato 2016). Nowadays, with access to the internet and social media, overall anxieties are also said to be generated by the individual’s lack of embedded biography with a plurality of social worlds (Giddens 1991), beliefs and the diversification of lifestyles. Victimization becomes less dependent on location or proximity, and with that the fear of being a victim of crime may be fed by boundary-less “glocal” forces. For example, an individual living on Manhattan in New York may run the same risk of being targeted by computer fraud or any other cybercrime as an individual living in the remote, rural areas of Sweden (Ceccato 2013).

FormalPara Reason 7 – Violence characterizes rural contexts in the Global South

Rural areas of the Global South are contested spaces where violence is part of daily life (Ceccato and Ceccato 2017; DeKeseredy and Hall-Sanchez 2018). This is particularly true in Central and South America, Africa, and most of Asia, where violence encompasses fights between spouses and neighbors, armed robbery, organized cargo theft, child labor, prostitution, slavery, human trafficking, smuggling, so-called honor killings, killings related to land-reform and environmental conflicts, and police-related violence (Ceccato and Ceccato 2017). Examples of recent, related research topics include rural patterns of violence (Ceccato and Ceccato 2017; Steeves et al. 2015); the effects of lighting on homicide (Arvate et al. 2018); the case of Somalian pirates (Collins 2016); violence in Turkish rural regions (Çaya 2014); estimations of homicide rates in Cambodia (Broadhurst 2002); and violent farm crime in Zimbabwe (Rutherford 2004). The research also calls for more evidence on the relationship between poverty and violence in rural areas (Lee and Slack 2008; Melde 2006), and the violence related to Western commercial exploitation of the Global South (which, e.g., engages in bio-prospecting and bio-piracy, i.e., using plant and animal species from rural areas for the production of medicines or tonics) and practices that ignore the rights of indigenous peoples in regard to traditional knowledge and ownership (Brisman et al. 2014). In addition, there is a need for new theoretical frameworks capable of understanding differences in the dynamics of crime across the world, especially in countries in the southern hemisphere (Carrington et al. 2015). As suggested by Carrington and colleagues, there exists a vast body of significant criminological research and crime prevention experience in the Global South that is worthy of appreciation, with important implications for global security and justice.

FormalPara Reason 8 – The commodification of security is affecting rural areas

The commodification of rural areas takes different shapes and affects levels of crime and safety. Commodities become goods when a monetary value is associated with observing a landscape, petting animals, or living in a safe, rural gated community. The commodification of the rural is visible with rural tourism and the inflows of temporary populations. Private security has become part of the same process of commodification of the rural areas as it has taken over several responsibilities that used to be associated with the public sector, such as law enforcement. Privatization of security (as a public good) potentially has a negative impact on the provision, distribution, and quality of security services, in particular for those who are not seen as obvious consumers (Goold et al. 2010).

In the United States, South Africa, and many countries of the Global South, planning models based on target hardening and territoriality have provided theoretical support for gated communities, which have recently become part of the countryside (Spocter 2013). In rural China, for instance, rural gated communities play a different role than in those found in urban areas. Zhang et al. (2020) indicate that rural gated communities in their contemporary form have emerged as a response to the problems resulting from the increasing working force/migrant inflow in peri-urban zones, while those gated communities found in urban areas reflect a collective pursuit of a better quality of life, at different price scales. Despite any good intentions behind eco-communities or sustainable rural villages (Landman 2007), there is no compensation for the negative impacts such housing developments have on the overall community as they reinforce segregation.

FormalPara Reason 9 – Drug production, dealing, and use threaten rural areas

Due to their isolation, rural areas have long been associated with drug production (Weisheit et al. 1994). More recently, though, the countryside has also become associated with the distribution and consumption of illicit substances. In the United Kingdom, for example, there has been an increase in so-called “county line” drug dealing (Harding 2020), namely, “the practice of urban gangs recruiting vulnerable young people in rural and coastal settlements to distribute drugs.” Enabled by new technologies and social media, dealers can exert control over widening areas and so enroll young people into remote illicit networks (Yarwood 2021).

In Sweden, Stenbacka (2021) assesses the presence of drugs in rural places and the way this impacts rural residents and the challenges faced by professionals dealing with the problem, especially police officers. In rural America, several studies have reported on marijuana cultivation and methamphetamine production (Garriott 2016; Weisheit and Brownstein 2016) as well as organized drug production and related violence (van Dun 2014). In the Global South, Anderson (2018) reports on opium poppy cultivators among the Karen people in Thailand, providing insight on how the restrictions of ethnic minorities’ rights can lead to drug production as a last means of survival. A commonality in these studies is the realization that rural areas are not sufficiently prepared to combat drug-related crime as a globalized process with local consequences from international drug flows into the community. This is due to numerous reasons but in particular to a combination of the transformation of access to and distribution of drugs (via the internet or “county lines”) and the limited supply of police resources within large geographical areas of responsibility.

FormalPara Reason 10 – The theoretical legacy is urban-centric and Global North-dominated

Most of the current theories in criminology are urban-centric with little or no reference to contexts outside the big cities. Empirically, they are based on “urban neighborhoods” as a model, often limited to the city borders, for example. These theories also tend to be dated, as they do very little to offer an understanding of the current complexity of crimes that happen in globalized rural areas. They fail to recognize differences in the dynamics of crime across the world, especially in countries of the Global South (Carrington et al. 2015).

More recently, criminologists have started to contest the theoretical urban-centric legacy. Donnermeyer et al. (2013), for instance, contest the assumption that places with low crime must manifest high levels of social organization, while areas with low social organization must inevitably display more crime. They suggest that there are multiple forms of social organization in the rural, allowing individuals to simultaneously participate in multiple networks, some of which may be criminal: “it is quite possible that many rural communities have a social or moral order which keeps some crimes such as violence in the ‘dark’” (Donnermeyer et al. 2013, p. 71). Also of relevance is the pioneering work of scholars devoted to the so-called ‘green criminology’ (White, 2013) that since the 1990s involved a large array of criminal offences against the environment and wildlife. The term ‘green criminology’ has increasingly been used to denote generic interest in the study of environmental crime and/or environmetal harm but has extended to include issues related to, for example, eco-justice, eco-terrorism and climate change (Nurse and Wyatt, 2020; White, 2021).

FormalPara Reason 11 – Rural-urban linkages are neglected issues in governance

Rural and urban areas are highly interdependent entities. While urban areas may provide employment opportunities, and development of technology and information systems, many societally critical resources are imported from the rural, for example, food, water, wood, energy and raw materials (Gebre and Gebremedhin 2019). The agricultural sector is nearly exclusively located in rural areas, where farms produce 80% of the world’s food in value terms (Lowder et al. 2021), and the food demand is only expected to increase (Gebre and Gebremedhin 2019). Additionally, while its contribution to the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has decreased since the 1960s (World Bank 2020), the agricultural sector still constitutes an essential part of global growth; in 2018 it still represented 4% of global GDP and up to 25% in some developing countries (World Bank 2021). Additionally, while the environmental effects of more farming have been criticized from a sustainable perspective, recent evidence indicates that modern practices such as grazing cattle may lead to more open landscapes and increased biodiversity (SDG 15, United Nations n.d.), which is a prerequisite for a rich flora and fauna, especially in forest-dependent countries (Swedish National Food Agency 2021). Thus, rural areas may provide vital tools for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations n.d.)

In addition, particularly in countries of the Global South, the existent rural-urban linkages create rural empowerment and economic development even when infrastructure problems, institutional constraints, and trade barriers tend to discourage such linkages (Akkoyunlu 2015). Moreover, the political power of rural areas cannot be underestimated as it can change the paths of national governments; for example, Brexit in the United Kingdom (Neal et al. 2021) or new models of rural governance in Sweden (Arora-Jonsson and Larsson 2021). An alternative perception to the boundaries drawn between the rural and the urban is needed (Lohnert and Steinbrink 2005) as conventional approaches disregard their sociospatial structures of interdependency, which in turn, affects the governance of crime and safety on the rural-urban continuum. Such an alternative perspective is also lacking in research and policy practices regarding sustainable development given the current dominant focus on big city problems (see, e.g., Koch and Ahmad 2018; UN-Habitat 2019) and on large crime concentrations.

FormalPara Reason 12 – Rural safety is a public health issue

In the past decades, farmers have become more exposed to extra stressors due to environmental, structural, and economic changes in agriculture and other related sectors (Brisman et al. 2014). Climate change introduces greater variability in weather patterns and therefore crop productivity is no longer reliable. Donnermeyer et al. (2013, p. 78) note that agriculture is now intensive, expansive and has been “transformed into a Fordist model of production.” In some countries, farmers show higher levels of depression symptoms than the general working population and the differences increase with age (Torske et al. 2016). Suicide in rural agrarian communities is a universal phenomenon (Behere et al. 2020). Regardless of the type of production, stressors are bound to affect farmers’ health and overall quality of life, for example, stressors generated by the physical environment, family structure, farming economy, bureaucracy, and other farming-related uncertainties.

The growth of veganism and an increasing awareness about the environmental impacts of consuming animal products are at the root of actions against farmers working with animal production. Farmers are particularly vulnerable to criticisms and threats which are becoming more common in a number of countries (Carson et al. 2012; Katz and McPherson 2020; Monaghan 2013). Carson et al. (2012) found that in the United States, even though attacks by environmental and animal rights groups had often universally been non-violent, farmers were concerned that this situation would change. In Sweden, for example, there may be aggressive demonstrations and actions by animal rights activists, for example, at open farm events, but there are also threats directed toward farmers, farm employees, and family living on the farm property. There are even accounts in which children have been threatened (Jansson 2019). Reports also cite unlawful intrusion, theft, and other minor crimes (in the United Kingdom, see, e.g., Pasha-Robinson (2018)). Other attacks on farmers working with animal production have been directed at the animals themselves, in various forms of abuse and injury, including threats via social media. Recent evidence indicates that these criminal acts have a strong impact on the farmers’ personal safety, the safety of their family and trust in society in general (Ceccato et al. 2021), putting their businesses’ survival at risk but also their health.

FormalPara Reason 13 – Crime underreporting in rural areas is a problem

Reporting rates in rural areas may be affected several factors. Distance to the police station contributes to differences in the willingness to report a crime to the police (Stassen and Ceccato 2019). In Australia, Barclay et al. (2004) show that the reporting rate is lower because farmers have a high tolerance for several criminal behaviors. Some illegal acts have become normalized and part of “doing business” (Stassen and Ceccato 2019). In Sweden, farmers avoid reporting an offense if it is not serious (LRF 2020) because there is a perception that "it does not lead to anything". Fear can be revealed by silence in rural areas. One example is the lack of trust in authorities and the criminal justice system, as victims and witnesses refrain from witnessing in court and revealing local criminal groups in fear of retaliation (Ceccato and Ceccato 2017) or in fear of ostracism if the violence on the part of the perpetrators were to become public (DeKeseredy et al. 2012).

Low rates of reported violence against women can be associated with a code of silence imposed by patriarchal community values. Websdale (1998) showed how some women are afraid to call the police because they know that their abuser is socially networked with police personnel and that little or no action would be taken in their defense if it were reported. In other cases, other local women do not help because they themselves are experiencing similar problems and their own struggles prevent them from helping others (DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2008, p. 112). In addition, the literature suggests that social and geographical isolation in rural areas can be particularly problematic for ethnic minority groups when seeking advice and reporting racial discrimination and abuse (Chakraborti and Garland 2011; Garland and Chakraborti 2006, 2012; Greenfields 2014; Robinson and Gardner 2012).

FormalPara Reason 14 – Policing and crime prevention models neglect rural challenges

In recent decades, a wide variety of agencies and agents, including the volunteer sector, has attempted to deliver policing in pluralistic or autonomous ways (Loader 2000). It is therefore no surprise that the police and policing reveal the nature of rural societies in which they are embedded. As Mawby and Yarwood (2011) suggest, this includes the way that the police, the public and other agencies regulate themselves and each other according to the dominant ideals of society; both formally, through the growing spectrum of policing partnerships, and informally, through the enforcement of moral codes and values. Neighborhood watch schemes and safety audits, for example, have been important examples of community safety practices in rural areas (Yarwood and Edwards 1995).

In most countries, rural policing is often under-resourced, exclusionary, and too parochial to deal with increasingly globalized, multiscalar threats (Yarwood 2015). Furthermore, most crime prevention models have been imported from urban areas to rural ones, with little concern about potential differences among contexts or if and how they actually work in rural areas (Ceccato 2013; Ceccato et al. 2019). The search for new models of crime prevention and for “an external silver bullet” for local problems may, in the long run, undermine agency of stakeholders and civial society in rural areas. The image of safety strategists from rural municipalities being “spoon-fed” by their urban counterparts can be observed in far too many criminology conferences that rarely focus on issues relevant to those living in areas of rural-urban continuum.

FormalPara Reason 15 – Technology can become an asset in situational rural crime prevention

Although still in its infancy, technology in situational crime prevention in rural areas is attracting more attention. Aransiola and Ceccato (2020) reviewed the literature searching for applications of modern technologies in situational crime prevention and found that traditional crime prevention (locking doors, using guard dogs, raising fences, and so on) are still the most common in rural areas, while modern measures (CCTV, security lights, alarms, and drones) are generally more supplemental. CCTV and alarms have been shown to have little to no effect on crime prevention, especially on farms, although they are better at detecting and monitoring wildlife crime (Aransiola and Ceccato 2020; Liedka et al. 2019). Other studies explore how different technologies have been used to prevent farm theft (Harkness and Larkins 2020) and housebreaking (Hamid and Yusof 2013) and to reduce violent crime (Arvate et al. 2018). Research about the role of technology in crime commission in rural contexts is also lacking as well as about inequities in access to technology in situational crime prevention in rural contexts.

FormalPara Reason 16 – Gendered and intersectional perspectives on rural safety are critical

Traditionally, studies on domestic violence in rural areas have adopted a gendered approach, providing a more nuanced perspective compared to studies that historically treated women as having universal safety needs, usually patterned after white males (e.g., DeKeseredy et al. 2012; DeKeseredy and Joseph 2006; DeKeseredy and Schwartz 2008). Yet, much remains to be done on the intersectionality of safety (Crenshaw 1989) in rural contexts, both in research and in practice. Using references from rural contexts, studies should devote more attention to how, when, and why gender intersects with age, class, and ethnic belonging, which together may result in multiple dimensions of disadvantage, victimization, and/or poor safety perceptions. Steps in this direction are already being taken; see, for instance, the research by DeKeseredy (2020).

FormalPara Reason 17 – There is a need for including trans and nonbinary experiences of safety in rural contexts.

Rurality has become to be understood as a site of oppression for Queer individuals, where Queer is used here as an umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community, namely, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (Gorman-Murray et al. 2008). Queer people have been presented as “the other” in a number of studies that deal with sexuality and safety in rural contexts. The imposition of binary gender norms in rural environments is not yet well researched but is becoming an area of interest (Atalay and Doan 2019). Queer people are more exposed to discrimination, crime, and violence than the rest of the population (Angeles and Roberton 2020; Brå 2017), throughout the rural-urban continuum and on digital platforms. Research shows that the context of discrimination and victimization matters, and that stressors impact individuals’ mobility, health, and life chances (MUCF) – The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society (2020). Some small rural communities can be restrictive toward Queer people, see Misgav and Hartal (2019) reporting the experiences of sexual minorities and their fight to the right to be different, while other rural areas can be inclusive and welcoming (Rosenberg 2021); see, for instance, Conner and Okamura (2021) who illustrate the advantages of living in rural areas for LGBTQ+ rights advocates.

Secluded settings within communities including dark streets and public toilets generate feelings of “fear and anxiety” as most LGBTQ+ individuals are assaulted in such places (MUCF 2020; Nourani et al. 2020). However, secluded settings can also be perceived as “safe oases” by LGBTQ+ individuals, as they allow privacy for meetings, thus turning into arenas of everyday resistance and empowerment (Atalay and Doan 2019). Unfortunately, public safety and feminist planning literature still adopt static, heterosexist notions of men and women occupying urban spaces – a “tyranny of gender” (Angeles and Roberton 2020), that is said to disadvantage LGBTQ+ people, intersex, and trans populations (Doan 2007).

FormalPara Reason 18 – Climate change is impacting crime on the rural-urban continuum

Researchers and policy analysts have argued that climate change will increase social conflict, especially due to competition over scarce resources, including fresh water, food, fuel, and land. Some of the impacts of climate change have already been observed in rural areas worldwide, such as flooding, drought, and heat. In addition, the migration produced by climate change is expected to foster conflict, particularly when migrants move to areas with scarce resources. Agnew (2012, p. 31 and 34) suggests that crime will be a coping mechanism, as “it may allow individuals and groups to obtain those resources that are in short supply, particularly food, water, shelter, fuel, and land. It may provide money, which aids in the adaptation to and recovery from climate change.” In this context, “individuals may respond to economic hardship by engaging in acts that increase carbon emissions, such as the burning of low-grade coal and the raiding of forests for fuel.” It is also suggested that an increase in the use of illicit drugs may be used to alleviate the negative emotions resulting from stressful situations.

Furthermore, it is expected that warmer weather will alter routine activities (Cohen and Felson 1979) with more people in public places, increasing the likelihood that motivated offenders will encounter victims and that more homes will be left unprotected (see previous evidence on temperature and crime Ceccato 2005; Cohn and Rotton 2000; Rotton and Cohn 2004). Research indicates that extreme weather events and blackouts may reduce guardianship, particularly by the police. Crime can become a means for revenge against those believed to be responsible for climate change and related targets, so acts of terrorism are likely, at the same time that white-collar crimes may increase as corporations and the wealthy attempt to maintain their privileged position and evade regulation. As climate change continues to impact agriculture and access to food, calls from nation states of the Global North for increased food security are leading to new forms of exploitation of resources in countries of the Global South (Brisman and South 2017).

FormalPara Reason 19 – Animal welfare is central to rural sustainability

The human-animal relationship has been changing over time with humans often wielding an oppressive and dominating power over animals (Philo and Wilbert 2000). Currently, the debate is split among those who defend the use of animals and those who condemn it as exploitation. The animal welfare movement, on the one hand, believes humans have an obligation to minimize animal suffering whenever possible, but that humans should be able to use animals for food, clothing, and entertainment. These acts exclude all types of animal abuse (Beirne 1995), but there are hierarchical differences in the spectrum of animal exploitation that are at the core of why certain animals are chosen to be “saved” and others are not. Research indicates that numerous animals perish each year as a result of abuse, while surviving animal victims are often left maimed, physically disabled, or suffering from chronic health problems (Hughes et al. 2020).

The animal liberation movement, on the other hand, argues that any unnecessary infliction of pain or suffering on animals is immoral, and that animals are not ours to eat, wear, or use for entertainment purposes since these uses are wants and not necessities. With a goal of animal protection at any cost, some animal rights activists consider violence to be a legitimate means of achieving this goal. The use of force is justified by the idea of an “extended right to self-defense,” which means that they, on behalf of the animals, exercise the animals’ alleged right to protect themselves from violence and abuse (Lovell forthcoming). These behaviors involve arson and vandalism against property but may also include violence directed at people (Ceccato et al. 2021a), which in turn may have serious consequences for farmers, their employees, and families.

FormalPara Reason 20 – Crime and safety are intertwined dimensions of sustainable rural development

The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development identifies crime and fear of crime as major threats to sustainability (UN-Habitat 2019). An unsustainable environment is commonly characterized by “images of poverty, physical deterioration, increasing levels of crime, and fear of crime” (Cozens 2002, p. 131). In rural areas of the Global North, from the United States and Canada to European countries, these characteristics can be found in different degrees (Donnermeyer et al. 2006; Moore et al. 2005; Mora-Rivera and García-Mora 2021). Populations living on the rural-urban continuum are more prone to chronic poverty, famine, social exclusion, and violence, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Florin and Corneliu 2020). Therefore, accounting for the safety needs of those living on hybrid, rural-urban continua around the world is crucial for achieving a more sustainable future.

On September 25, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the historic Agenda 2030 resolution on sustainable development. The agenda means that all 193 member states of the United Nations are committed to working to achieve a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable world by 2030 (UN 2015). The agenda contains 17 goals and 169 sub-goals (Fig. 2.1). These goals balance the three dimensions of sustainable development – the environment, the economy, and the social conditions of people – in which crime and safety constitute an integral part of the agenda.

Fig. 2.1
figure 1

UN-Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), 2030. Source: United Nations (2019). (The use of Fig. 2.1 (SDG icons) was permitted by UN-SDG permissions. The content of this publication has not been approved by the United Nations and does not reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States.