Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

From the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN 2015).

Safety and security are an important part of social sustainability as a safe environment enables the fulfillment of the most basic human needs. This is made clear in the objectives of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015. Using these principles as a background, we draw from previous chapters to propose recommendations on how to respond to issues of crime and safety in areas on the rural-urban continuum. The recommendations are based on the assumption that there is no silver bullet that can solve all types of crime and safety problems in rural environments. Thus, we offer reflections on several issues that may fit some contexts better than others.

Previous research has evidenced overarching trends that are place invariant. First, rural areas are composed of hybrid, heterogonous spaces, the criminogenic conditions of which reflect their positions on the rural-urban continuum scale. Second, rural crime rates are as a rule lower than urban, but greater increases in rural compared to urban rates have been observed in several countries (with some evidence of convergence). Third, globalization is shaping crime in rural areas, which is imposing new challenges on the police and criminal justice, and demanding new modes of crime prevention and policing. Fourth, while victimization and safety perceptions are gendered, an intersectional perspective is required to understand and meet people’s safety needs. Worldwide, sexual crimes against women in all areas on the rural-urban continuum represent a somewhat invisible problem and demand more attention. Finally, the scale and nature of rural problems in the Global South open unique opportunities for cross-country and multisectoral research cooperation in order to deal with globally relevant problems central to sustainability.

National and Regional Contexts

In an attempt to guide actions toward achieve the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the implementation of a system of ongoing, self-evaluating safety guidelines is fundamental at both national and regional levels and tailored to specific environments on the rural-urban continuum. As suggested by Ceccato and Assiago (2020), there is a risk that if a safety guideline is merely voluntary, as it is now in many countries around the world, safety as an integral part of sustainability is unlikely to be incorporated into daily practice. Therefore, in order to ensure that safety guidelines are put into practice, a mandate for municipalities and regional bodies must exist to support county administrative boards or similar authorities. Existing interfaces between academia, governmental authorities, municipalities, police, public and private enterprises, data production agencies, non-governmental organizations, etc., can also be beneficial for such processes. It is also important to create educational opportunities tailored to those working in rural contexts, in which learning about crime and safety guidelines is offered to experts working on crime prevention and safety-enabling measures at the municipal and regional levels. This way, safety through inclusive policies and practices can be fostered by prioritizing the voices of the most marginalized to articulate their own needs, by supporting their own efforts to create safe and secure places, and by placing these at the core of a roadmap toward fostering safety for all across the rural-urban continuum. Note that decades of research discussed in previous chapters of this book show that areas of the rural-urban continuum are special from a criminological perspective and deserve more attention. In the next sessions, we offer suggestions for professionals to better delineate crime prevention measures and/or safety interventions. These suggestions can also be suitable for students, more as ‘a critical guide for reflection’, than as a normative list of ‘what to do’. 

Local Contexts

We propose a set of suggestions on how to respond to issues of crime and safety in areas on the rural-urban continuum. First, it is important to start by identifying the problem (e.g., farm crime, domestic violence, environmental crime). Regardless of its size or urgency, the key is to first obtain good knowledge of the phenomenon in question. A detailed analysis of the problem is important, both to get as accurate a picture of it, but also to find the most suitable solutions. This demands systematic work (i.e., crime-specific, site-specific, time-specific, context-specific, and group-specific), but also working critically with previously existing knowledge. Gain knowledge about criminal dynamics and their connection to major societal problems in the countryside. Previous research in rural areas shows that it is important to avoid directly importing models based on other contexts, but instead consider observing national guidelines and adapting them to the rural context in question. Before interventions are put into place, measure the baseline conditions; after interventions have been executed, it is also essential to evaluate if they had the desired effect.

If the identified problem is related to safety perceptions (not crime), note that previous research has shown that overall anxieties in rural areas may be affected by many factors other than crime itself. Therefore, it is important to adapt safety initiatives to the distinct needs of communities as well as groups of individuals. In many rural areas, different groups have different safety needs as they run different risks of becoming a victim of crime, that is, some feel unsafe although their risk of victimization is low. Public participation frameworks and action research can be useful ways of implementing these evaluations. Individual factors play an important role in defining perceptions of the risk of crime and safety. Although gender and age are perhaps the most significant factors affecting individual’s safety perceptions, previous victimization, socioeconomic status and ethnic background are also important. In rural settings, external factors such as effects of globalization but also local ones, such as population in/outflow have been linked to changes in declared safety levels. Investigating the specific causes of poor safety perceptions in rural areas is therefore crucial for criminological research and for improving safety conditions.

Second, consider who should be involved in the work as well as their roles and responsibilities. Promoting sustainable and safe rural environments requires well-coordinated action by interdisciplinary working groups as well as joint efforts from civil society. Previous research has shown that many problems which occur in the most remote areas may go under-detected (e.g., environmental and wildlife crime, domestic violence) by police authorities and local safety experts, often because of poor reporting practices. Other problems may be normalised as ‘acceptable behavior’ and are not recognised as ‘issues worth of attention’ by safety professionals and local community. Tailored courses and programs directed to professionals in particular can be advisable to raise the team’s awareness of common crime and safety problems, their implications and possible interventions that promote support to the victims and long term solutions.

Third, challenges in rural crime prevention may include residents’ apathy to crime victimization as well as low trust and confidence in the police and other authorities. Therefore, educating residents of the importance of minimizing crime victimization and how to implement measures and practices to deter crime is only one part of the solution. Authorities must also learn to know their community, identify what reason there is behind an indifference to crime problems, or a lack of trust in the police and/criminal justice. It is also important to know which kind of knowledge is currently missing to be able to meet the expectations of the residents. This is especially important when concern is related to marginalized community members, where lack of knowledge may cause certain forms of victimization (such as hate crime) to be unrecognized.

In conclusion, what bears repeating is that approaches for ensuring rural safety must be carefully tailored to the existing conditions of the specific area in question. Any observations made must be positioned in a greater context, whether in terms of physical, social, cultural, geographical, and/or temporal aspects. One must recognize that the full impact of crime may go beyond a sole victim, and perceptions of safety are not created in a vacuum. Finally, it is also important to consider that crime and safety are unequally distributed in society and, as such, interventions must be tailored to the needs of different groups.