Journal of Rural Studies 21 (2005) 151–163

Women’s fear of crime: A rural perspective
Jo Littlea,Ã, Ruth Panellib, Anna Kraackb

Department of Geography, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Rennes Drive, Exeter, Devon Ex4 4RJ, UK b Department of Geography, University of Otago, New Zealand

Abstract This paper examines women’s experience of fear of crime in rural areas. It argues that much existing research on issues of gender, fear and safety have focused on urban areas and that as a result we know relatively little about women’s experience of fear in a rural context. As well as arguing that we need to redress the balance and respond to the dearth of knowledge about rural women’s fear, the paper asserts the importance of a rural perspective in understanding the relationship between fear and the social and cultural construction of place. The rural in particular provides an important site for such an understanding since, as is argued here, the notion of safety is central to constructions of rurality. The paper presents data on rural women’s experience of fear and crime from research carried out in New Zealand and the UK. It draws on work undertaken in four rural communities and begins to identify the extent and nature of women’s fears and how these relate to their experience of rurality. The paper shows how while popular constructions of the rural as friendly, safe and largely crime free endure, there is a recognition amongst rural women of the growing problems surrounding personal safety. It also demonstrates the importance of social constructions of the rural community in identifying the relevance of the ‘stranger’ and the marginalised ‘other’ to women’s feelings of fear. r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction The intention of this paper is to present a rural ‘perspective’ on debates surrounding women’s experience and fear of crime. It seeks to further both the theoretical understanding of the relationship between place and fear of crime and empirical knowledge surrounding rural women’s fears. Despite a broad acknowledgement within the literature of the importance of space in the relationship between crime, fear and gender (Day, 2001; Koskela, 1997; Namaste, 1996; Pain, 1997) both theoretical discussion and practical research have tended to focus on the urban sphere. Little direct reference has been made to the variation in women’s experience of crime or fears about personal safety specifically between urban and rural areas nor to the wider ways in which rurality, either as a social
ÃCorresponding author. Tel.: +44 1392 263351; fax: +44 1392 263342. E-mail address: (J. Little).

construction, or as a way of life, influences the actual relationship between gender and fear. A simple belief or expectation that rural communities are ‘safer’ for all people has not been exposed to sustained critical examination. Moreover, the contemporary challenges to the idea that all people experience the countryside in the same way have yet to examine the differential experiences of fear and safety. We argue in this paper that a rural perspective on the gendered experience of fear and safety is overdue. Such a perspective is important not only in redressing the balance of research interest and drawing attention to a diversity of experience but also in enhancing understanding by providing an alternative focus on the issues. Rural areas constitute a different kind of environment in which to examine crime and fear; clearly they are more sparsely populated, they often lack the sorts of ‘run down’, dangerous and alienating spaces associated with crime in urban areas and are also less well (or less visibly) resourced in terms of police provision and other services (Yarwood, 2001). More importantly, here,

0743-0167/$ - see front matter r 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jrurstud.2005.02.001

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however, is the potential influence of cultural constructions of rurality to the gendered experience and understanding of fear and safety. Specifically, we argue that strong ideas and expectations about the nature of rurality, and the meaning of rural community in particular, will strongly shape how women experience and respond to fear of crime in rural areas. The importance of space is not simply as a container for particular experiences of fear but as an actual influence on the nature, direction and level of that fear. As such, a rural focus can add much, both empirically and theoretically, to attempts to understand the dynamics of women’s fear and its relationship with space and place. The study of fear in rural communities can also contribute to an understanding of the idea of community and questions surrounding the social and cultural construction of the rural community. To demonstrate the contribution of a rural dimension to the study of women’s fear of crime, this paper draws on original data collected from case study research in the UK and New Zealand. The study was not designed to be directly comparative in the manner of old style cross-national case study work in social geography. Instead, the use of these two localities provides a range of different ‘types’ of rural environment and community and allows an examination of both the diversity of rural experience and also the durability and wide spatial and cultural applicability of notions of ‘safety’ within lay understandings of the rural. Before turning to the presentation of case study methodology and results, however, the paper critically examines the two key areas of academic debate within which the study is situated, namely women’s fear of crime and the construction of the rural community. We draw out some of the main academic developments in each area while demonstrating how, in the context of our study, the two are fundamentally related.

2. Rural women and fear of crime: A theoretical framework 2.1. Gender, place and fear In a comprehensive review of geographical and environmental literature on the fear of crime, Pain (2000) outlines the main directions that have been adopted in previous academic research. She structures her review around a major theoretical and empirical divide in studies of fear of crime between approaches that see fear as a by-product of the physical environment and those that have emphasised the social and political nature of fear. As Pain notes, it is the former that has tended to dominate debates, especially amongst those working in a policy context.

During the 1980s and early 1990s the idea that fear was caused or enhanced by certain characteristics of the built environment gained considerable academic and political currency. Fear was linked to particular environments—commonly those that were unattractive, poorly maintained, dark and lonely. Work by researchers such as Newman (1973) and Coleman (1985) utilised the notion of ‘defensible space’ to emphasise the role played by design in the creation of fear. Such work argued that fear could be ‘designed out’ of public spaces and that sensitive planning could increase people’s sense of safety by ensuring that environments were attractive, well lit and occupied and that any potential hiding places for attackers were removed at the design stage. Later work moved away from such a strong focus on the physical aspects of environmental design but was still dominated by the belief that fear and safety are issues derived from people’s use and experience of the built environment and that they are concerns of public space (Oc and Tiesdell, 1997). Although, as Koskela and Pain (2000) point out, feminist criminologists have been amongst the sternest critics of these mainstream, physical environment approaches, work specifically on women’s fear has also been dominated by an emphasis on urban form. It has been argued that the design of the city has traditionally reflected patriarchal power relations and that the zoning of different land uses, especially the separation of spaces of production and reproduction, has created areas in which women feel excluded or alienated (see Darke, 1996). Feminist planners and policy makers have described how the creation of the city by men and for men has consistently ignored women’s needs and concerns resulting in environments within which women feel threatened and unsafe and over which they feel a lack of control. For some, ‘solutions’ are again linked to physical factors in the creation of ‘safer cities’, environments in which attempts are made to design out those aspects of the city that are believed to reinforce women’s sense of insecurity. In criticism of these environmental, urban design centred approaches, other authors have advocated focusing more closely on the social causes of women’s fear (Burgess, 1998; Koskela, 1997; Pain, 1997; Valentine, 1990). In her review Pain (2000, p. 372) notes how geographers, and feminist geographers in particular, have started to look much more closely at the ‘‘links between social structure, identity, power relations and fear of crime’’. Such work stems partly from a recognition that certain groups in society, for example women, older people and minority ethnic groups may be more vulnerable to certain types of crime. Fear is, according to this approach, implicated in broader power relations that exist within society and through which some groups routinely, and in a variety of ways, dominate others. Pain (2000, p. 373) and others

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(see Sibley, 1995) have suggested that ideas about the fear experienced by particular social groups can usefully be drawn together within a ‘‘common theoretical framework which centres on social exclusion.’’ Emphasis on social causes of fear and on marginalised groups has reinforced the importance of gender and the different experiences of men and women. It has long been recognised that women are more fearful than men in terms of crimes against both property and person although some studies have suggested that ways of measuring fear may lead to the significant underestimation of fear amongst men (Gilchrist et al., 1998). The conceptualisation of women’s fear in the context of gender inequality and women’s marginalisation, however, has allowed the nature of their fears to be acknowledged. As Koskela (1999, p. 111) writes: (W)omen’s fear is crucially different from men’s fear: it differs in its extent, its nature as well as its effects on women’s livesy. One reason for this is that women perceive a unique and serious threat barely felt by men—sexual violence. Although the need to move away from a physical environment led approach to the study of women’s fear of crime has been stressed, it is important to recognise that those advocating an alternative social exclusion perspective do not dismiss the importance of space and place to the experience of fear. What has been criticised is the idea that fear may be caused by particular features of the built environment, not that it has some sort of spatial manifestation. As Koskela and Pain (2000, p. 273) sum up, ‘‘fears about attack may be transferred onto specific environments which become makers of unsafety, but this does not mean that they cause or produce fear’’. These authors stress that women’s fear cannot be removed from space and talk about the ‘situatedness’ of women’s fear, arguing that attempts to understand women’s fear must be based on a linking of ideas about marginalisation and social exclusion with the identity of places. Thus, as Pain (2000, p. 379) explains: In this context situatedness refers to the ways in which place, as a site where historical and contemporary economic changes interplay with social identities and relations, has an influence upon the fear of crime of people living locally. Geographers, unsurprisingly, have been particularly interested in developing approaches to understanding the spatiality of women’s fear. As noted above, such approaches, must be based on a conceptualisation of space that goes beyond its role as a medium for interaction and sees space as an active element in the construction of social relations and in the everyday practices of individuals. In relation to women’s fear in particular, geographers have also stressed the

importance of looking at different sorts of spaces. Criticism of the physical environment and design approaches to understanding women’s fear and of the ‘safer cities’ policy responses included the focus on public space inherent in such approaches. A neglect of the home as a (potential) space of fear is believed to have obscured much fear felt by women and detracted attention away from gender relations within the family/household as central to that fear (see Warrington, 2001). 2.2. Constructions of rurality Ideas concerning the relationship between space and women’s fear are highly significant to this paper in its examination of fear in rural areas. Although not specifically in relation to fear and safety, considerable attention has been given by rural geographers in recent years to the construction and representation of rural space and to the ways in which ideas about the nature of rurality inform and shape social relations. There are two specific areas of such work that are important in the construction of a theoretical framework for this paper; firstly the notion of the rural idyll and the association between safety and rurality in constructions of the rural community and, secondly, the interest in social identity and exclusion and the construction of the rural stranger as ‘other’. Rural social scientific research has a long history of ‘community studies’ which have unpacked the key characteristics of rural social relations and community formation at the local level (for a review see Liepins, 2000). While early work tended to simply examine the social composition of rural society and the everyday experiences of rural life, more recent studies have sought, in addition, to situate the material realities of rural community life within broader explorations of the social and cultural constructions of rurality which underpin and shape such realities. A central theme within this examination has been the notion of the ‘rural idyll’ and the idea that strongly held beliefs about the rural community, society and landscape underpin the lives of those who live in rural areas and indeed shape the expectations and understandings of those who do not (Bell, 1994; Halfacree, 1994; Little and Austin, 1996). The beliefs and values which constitute the rural idyll have been articulated in some detail elsewhere (see, for example, Bunce, 2003; Short, 1991) and it is not the intention here to include a lengthy discussion of these characteristics. It is important, however, for the purposes of this paper, to note the place of ideas of safety as a key component of the rural idyll. A key and constant feature of the rural idyll is a belief in friendliness of rural people and in the honesty, genuineness and integrity of rural society. Rural communities have in the past, and continue to be, seen

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as naturally self-supporting and co-dependent; the interrelatedness of people’s lives necessitating a powerful sense of honesty and mutual trust. Rural communities are thought to engender and nurture a strong emotional attachment. Rural social relationships are believed to be stronger and more durable as a result of the greater need for self-sufficiency and a dependence on neighbours. As with other aspects of the rural idyll, a crucial feature of rural social relations is that they are superior to those found in the town and city and thus the genuineness and honesty of rural people is enhanced in comparison to the corruption of urban society. Central to the idyllic construction of community found in dominant understandings of rurality is the notion of safety. The harmonious, tight knit and authentic social relations ascribed to the rural community are strongly linked to feelings of security. The safety of the countryside is seen as partly a function of the scale and nature of social relations but also because of its separation from the city. Importantly, these comparisons between the ‘safe’ countryside and the ‘dangerous’ city are increasingly reflected in the representation of the urban as a threat to the rural. The safety of rural communities is at risk not from those who belong but from ‘outsiders’ from urban areas. ‘Crime’ in rural areas is seen as the result of urban encroachment, the imposition of urban society on a rural way of life and the presence of ‘strangers’ who do not understand or share rural values (see Yarwood, 2001). As well as physical security, the rural is seen to provide an emotional security for those who belong (see Panelli et al., 2004). The sense in which strangers have been seen to threaten the security and purity of rural communities is an important element in understanding the power of the rural idyll and of safety within it. While rural social scientists have engaged with issues surrounding the marginalisation and exclusion of groups of ‘others’ (and, indeed, in the theoretical debates concerning the identification of such groups), they have not, with certain exceptions (see Sibley, 1997; Valentine, 1997) closely interrogated the idea of the stranger as a direct challenge to the rural community. Here ‘the stranger’ provides an important link between ideas about fear, community and identity. The stranger or outsider becomes the personification of anti-community and of the threat to the security and stability of rural society. Theoretical discussions around the existence of the rural stranger make an important contribution to the conceptualisation of the relationship between fear and the rural community as a purified space. In attempting to understand the identification and fear of difference, Wilton (1998) argues that insufficient attention has been paid to the origins of people’s behaviour—their individual psyches and their spatiality. He draws on Freud’s notion of the unheimlich or

uncanny and Kristeva’s work on the abject to show conceptual linkages between psyche, body and society. The uncanny can be used, Wilton suggests, to indicate something that is unsettling but that has origins within the self. What comes to be defined as uncanny ‘‘can only be understood as the product of the internalisation of broader social forces such as sexism, racism and ableism’’ (Wilton, 1998, p. 177). According to Freud, uncanniness could be traced to infantile complexes and primitive beliefs which remain within the individual and generate anxiety towards the different or strange from within. Kristeva, so Wilton suggests, has an alternative reading of the pre-symbolic influences on fear of the other. She uses the concept of the abject, as experienced in relation to individual bodies and the emergence of taboos of purification to suggest how boundaries emerge between the self and the other and groups and individuals excluded (see Kristeva, 1991). As Sibley (1998, p. 119) has suggested, abjection can be applied to show how some ‘others’ (for example racialised minorities) ‘‘are introjected as bad objects, that is, they enter the psyche as objects which cause unease and discomfort’’. Ahmed (2000) has taken up Kristeva’s ideas on abjection in discussion, specifically, of responses to and fears about strangers. The stranger, as abject, threatens the boundaries of identity and needs to be expelled. The stranger produces physical emotions of horror and disgust; they are strange bodies that threaten the ‘clean body’ of the subject. As Ahmed writes: Kristeva’s approach to abjection emphasises the physicality of emotions that threaten to pulverise the subject and cross the boundary line. Such physicality is directed towards filth, defilement and pollution, though these are not themselves abject. Rather, they define the crisis posed by abjection between the inside and outside. (Ahmed, 2000, p. 51) Both Sibley and Wilton stress the spatial nature of the uncanny and the abject. According to these authors, the production of social difference in the identification of the other is inevitably spatial involving the formation of boundaries between those who belong and those who do not. Sibley argues that spaces may be avoided when associated with the stereotype of a displaced group and suggests that the categorisation of particular groups or individuals as non-conforming or dangerous results in the purification of spaces which then increases the visibility of those who are strangers or outsiders. This notion of the stranger’s otherness as abject has a particular resonance in rural communities because of fears about the maintenance of boundaries between the urban and the rural and the strength of beliefs concerning the moral superiority and purity of rural space. As Valentine (1997) has shown in relation to fears about children’s safety, ‘strangers’ are more easily

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identifiable within the rural community, reinforcing the sense in which they are out of place and therefore to be feared. This use of the abject also has the effect, as Kristeva argues, of centralising the body within notions of otherness. As recent writing has noted (see Liepins, 2000; Little and Leyshon, 2003), highly conventional responses to the body tend to reinforce traditional constructions of difference in rural communities, particularly in relation to sexuality and ethnicity. Fear of the other as rooted in the abject body of the stranger clearly has importance for this research and for the way rural women construct and experience danger. Examining the importance of the other in the construction of rural community and the experience and expectation of fear, is not intended to ignore or downplay the existence of areas of women’s fear which may relate not to the stranger but to the known and the familiar. It has long been recognised in studies of fear that the greatest danger, statistically, to women’s safety comes from those with whom they live and we take seriously the point raised earlier concerning the lack of research attention on the household and immediate family. It has also been recognised that such fears are the hardest to research and published data concerning domestic violence and abuse within the family, highly unreliable. Although not involving strangers, domestic violence is also, we argue here, influenced by the dominant constructions of rurality that see the community as safe and any threat imposed from outside. These constructions make the recognition and reporting of domestic violence even more problematic for rural women—a feeling that they have in some way disrupted the community by being involved in violence may reinforce existing fears about anonymity. The reluctance to disclose violence and fear within the family also feeds into/on beliefs about the self-sufficiency of the rural community, another element of the rural idyll. The belief that rural communities can look after themselves has been seen as highly positive in relation to, for example, the care of elderly or the willingness to help neighbours. Less positive, as Scheper-Hughes (2000) discusses in her ethnographic study of an Irish rural community, is the way this belief can be used to hide problems and conceal the breakdown of social relations. She draws on Bourdieu’s ideas of ‘the best and worst kept secrets’ to show how rural communities mobilise discourses of independence and self-sufficiency to conceal the darker and more dangerous aspects of rural life. In the remaining part of the paper we discuss these ideas on the links between constructions of rurality and women’s experience of fear in the context of the original research material. Before doing so, however, we look in some detail at issues of methodology, beginning with a brief discussion of debates on defining fear—in particular the ways in which methodological problems

have influenced theoretical approaches to the study of fear. The section then moves on to examine the specific issues relating to the methodology of the current research and including the management of the practicalities of data collection.

3. Methodologies and researching gender fear and safety 3.1. Defining fear Despite the academic interest in fear and safety amongst geographers, planners and other social scientists there have been few attempts to unpack the terms or even to acknowledge the complexity and confusion surrounding their use. Emphasis has remained firmly on the practical aspects of fear. While some discussion of the failure to acknowledge women’s fear or to take some aspects of that fear seriously has taken place, this has not developed into a broader concern with the differing ways in which fear is experienced and its meaning to individuals. More recently, however, geographers have started to consider the relevance of emotions and feelings to spatial behaviour—work that has clear relevance to the study of fear (see Anderson and Smith, 2001). Such work has begun to appreciate the localised nature of fear and the complex responses to it. Importantly it has reinforced the idea that fear is not something that happens out of context but ‘‘is situated in the local details of individuals’ circumstances and life courses’’ (Pain, 2000, p. 369). Thus the idea that fear of crime is a fixed and measurable entity has been replaced in many studies by an acknowledgement of the complexity of fear as a response to crime and of its variability between individuals. Recognising this complexity is particularly important in understanding women’s responses as Koskela (1999) has demonstrated. She describes the findings of research amongst Scandinavian women and shows the different kinds of fear that occur amongst different women in different places. Koskela (1999, p. 121) concludes that despite an external view that Scandinavian women are ‘‘courageous and spatially confident’’, many are fearful as a result of their ‘‘subjective feelings (which) participate in the inter-subjective power-related production of space’’. Research has also more recently recognised that as an emotional reaction to a set of circumstances, fear can take a range of different forms and can be transitory. Different people have been seen as vulnerable to different types and levels of fear depending on their personal situation—feminist research has stressed the particular dimensions of women’s fear, for example, caused by the unique and specific threat of sexual attack. With such research is an increasing acceptance that fear may not be directly related to chances of attack. Thus while some groups of people may have, according

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to ‘official’ measurements, little risk of experiencing crime/attack, they may still be fearful. Such work has argued for studies of fear to be situated within wider discussions of power, again highlighting the relationship between fear and social marginalisation. Clearly, these definitional difficulties compound the practical problems surrounding the measurement of fear of crime. As recognition of the complexity of fear as a response to crime has developed within research so has a dissatisfaction with methods of data collection which simplify and seek to quantify fear. In general recent research has relied on a combination of questionnaires and in depth interviews to gather information on people’s feelings of fear and safety. While preference is starting to be given to qualitative methods in which more detailed stories and histories of people’s experiences are recorded as opposed to simple ‘tick box’ answers, in some instances questionnaires still provide a useful method of collecting data from large numbers of respondents, especially where less sensitive and personal issues concerning fear and safety are concerned. With this observation we turn to the methods of including data collection used in this research. 3.2. Research findings—methods and methodological issues The present research has used both questionnaires and interviews. A questionnaire survey of women in villages in the UK and New Zealand (which yielded a total of 269 responses) was followed up by in depth interviews with selected respondents (19 in total). Here, because the emphasis is on the broader patterns of women’s responses to the rural community and to issued of fear and danger, we draw mainly on the results of the questionnaire. Further papers explore the detailed interview responses (see Panelli et al., 2004; Panelli et al., forthcoming). In addition to those with rural women, interviews were also conducted with key informants from a range of different organisations working in areas relevant to rural women’s safety (including the police, Victim Support, Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis). In total 18 interviews with key informants were completed and while they are not discussed in detail here, material from some of the interviews has been used to support the questionnaire data. Questioning people about sensitive issues such as personal safety raises concerns about the relationship between researcher and respondent. Feminist research has generally been conducted within a methodological framework which recognises the power relations inherent in such a relationship and has discussed ways of negotiating the research process such that the respondent can not only feel comfortable but also empowered

by the experience (see McDowell, 1992). At a practical level we took care in our research to be constantly aware of the power relations involved in the process of gathering data and the sensitivity of the topic. We made careful preparations before undertaking the questionnaires, discussing our research with relevant actors from community organisations (including women’s groups, health officials, the police and Victim Support). All aspects of the questionnaire and subsequent interviews were entirely voluntary with women opting in to the research process as opposed to having to opt out. Respondents were told in detail what was involved in the questionnaire before being asked to complete it together with how any information they provided would be used. Contact numbers for women’s support services and victim support were provided in case the questionnaire raised issues or sparked memories which made women anxious or fearful. The questionnaire and interviews were carried out in two separate rural locations in both the UK and New Zealand. This was to provide a spread of different sorts of rural community—in particular to look at differences between the accessible and well-populated rural centres and the scattered, outlying communities. Neither the inter or intra country studies were set up to be directly comparative and, where differences in our data occur between communities, we are careful not to assume that it is a function of either nationality or remoteness. We were keen to go beyond the one case study and believe that the use of material from the differing locations provides us with rich and robust data which helps to demonstrate both variety and sameness. It allows us to put into context the commonly held assumptions about the rural community to test their widespread use and applicability in very differing physical and cultural contexts. We set up the studies to provide us with different examples of the way ‘community’ is done and fear is encountered. We started from the recognition that experiences of rurality differ between people and places but that there are common elements in understandings of the countryside that may provide common threads in explaining and dealing with those experiences. This paper examines findings of the research, both place specific and more general, and some of these findings we relate to what we have observed as frequently observed academic and lay constructions of rurality. We do not, however, attempt to explain in detail the reasons behind these findings or account for the way they may vary over space. 3.3. The case study communities ‘Otago Town’1 is a small rural township in central south Island, New Zealand, surrounded by orchards
1 ‘Otago Town’ and ‘Otago Valley’ are used to distinguish between the two New Zealand case study communities as ‘accessible’ and

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and hillside pastoral properties, about one hour’s drive from a regional centre. The population is approximately 650 people, however, this number fluctuates a great deal seasonally. In summer large numbers of itinerant workers move into the community to work in the fruit orchards. This community has a large percentage of retired people (23.7%—nearly double the national average of 12.1%). There is very little ethnic diversity, with the vast majority of people being New Zealand Europeans. Maori make up only 9.4% of the population. The township has been experiencing some economic hardship in recent years with only 12.4% of the population earning over $30,000 in 2001 (compared to 30.7% nationally). There is generally a strong sense of community within the township with many residents participating in the local school, churches, and community organisations. There are two community police officers based in the town. ‘Otago Valley’ is a more remote sheep farming community situated within a long narrow valley bordered by two ranges that are part of the foothills of the Southern Alps. The majority of residents live on farms that are stretched out over the large valley, with two main communities clustered at either end. There are some seasonal variation in population with an influx in the shearing season, but generally the population is stable. Again the valley is mainly New Zealand European , with a smaller Maori population than Otago Town. There are also fewer retired people living in the valley. Recently there has been a growth of holiday homes. The valley is approximately half way between two regional centres and thus relatively isolated from service providers; there is no resident police officer and there are also no medical facilities or shops. There is a primary school but older students go away to boarding school. Despite the physical isolation ‘community’ is actively constructed in the valley. There is a roster of local women, who provide assistance to any family in need. There is also a lot of social contact made through the school. The ‘accessible’ rural community in Devon lies just 5 miles from one of the county’s major towns. Most of those in paid employment commute to this, or another more distant local centre. The village is relatively large with a growing population of around 1860. There has been some recent house building including some ‘low cost’ housing. Numbers of retired are slightly higher than the average for the county although, unlike many of the region’s villages, is not generally seen as a ‘retirement community’. The village is relatively wellserviced with a school, a post office and several shops, community centre and two pubs. The village is generally
(footnote continued) ‘remote’, used in the Devon case, have rather different meanings to the UK and were not felt to be appropriate here.

felt to be a friendly place and to have a strong sense of ‘community’ and there are active community groups and well-supported children’s activities. There is no resident ‘community’ police officer in the village and the lack of a police presence seen as significant in terms of changing levels of crime in the area, as is discussed later. The ‘remote’ Devon community is in an area dominated by sheep and dairy farming. It is a smaller village with a total of about 850 residents. Commuting into the regional centres does, increasingly, take place from the village but a greater proportion of the work force work locally, many in agriculturally related jobs. The village is more strung out than the ‘accessible’ community, lying along a small but well-used secondary road. There are some limited services; a few shops, a post office, primary school and pub but for health services, supermarket and more specialist shops, villagers need to travel for about 45 minutes by car. There is a sense of community in the village although it does tend to divide into two parts, both geographically and socially. Again, there is no regular or permanent police presence in the village, the appearance of the police being almost entirely confined to responding to specific calls for assistance. In the following section we discuss the findings from the research; first we consider women’s views of rurality and, in particular, the place of safety within dominant constructions of the countryside as they were expressed by those responding to the questionnaire. We then go on to examine women’s actual experience of rural crime and their feelings of fear in various rural spaces. Finally we explore the actual source(s) of women’s fear, drawing attention, in particular to the concerns emerging about ‘outsiders’ in the rural community and about young people. As well as providing a rural dimension to the issue of women’s fear of crime, the discussion aims to contribute specifically to an understanding of the social causes of fear and its links to social exclusion and marginality and to the relationship between constructions of place and the situatedness of fear.

4. Research findings 4.1. Safety and the construction of the rural community As the research sought explicitly to examine the relationship between the cultural construction of rurality and issues of fear and safety, it was important to identify the kinds of beliefs and understandings women had about the countryside and, specifically, their own communities. The questionnaire revealed highly traditional views of rurality amongst both the New Zealand and the UK women questioned. Rural communities were seen as friendly places by the vast majority of those questioned (96.6% of the New Zealand respondents and

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86.6% of those in the UK used the word ‘friendly’ in describing their village/community). Positive aspects of living in the countryside were stressed including the existence of a strong sense of community, peace and quiet, lifestyle and climate. Typical comments about the positive aspects of living in the countryside included: It’s a very friendly village, even the shopkeepers are helpful. Lovely neighbours that will do anything for you. People talk in the street and there is a relaxed atmosphere. (Devon accessible village, older woman who lives alone) Everybody knows everybody. Post Office is excellent, superb church. You never need to be short of anything—everyone shares everything. We started a scheme to visit people with problems- death, illness, bereavement, financialy no one need ever need anything. My apple pies are well-known in the area. (Devon accessible village, middle aged woman, lives with partner) The belief that the countryside was a safe place also featured in respondents’ views of rurality in general. Although few respondents identified safety specifically in answer to questions about the countryside and their reasons for moving there (3.2% of New Zealand and 2.6% of UK respondents), it was mentioned in the wider discussions with respondents about the research generally. In certain cases a discourse of safety and rurality was present in relation to women’s reasoning for moving to these country areas in the context of specific and personal experience of crime (normally violent crime). For example: I was a victim of a violent crime in Ry and wanted to live somewhere safer. (Otago Town, middle aged woman living alone) [I moved] to have some peace, to get away from the fear of being hounded by the person who brutally assaulted me. (Otago Town, middle aged woman, living with partner) When asked directly, the overwhelming majority of respondents in both countries (78.6% in NZ and 80.2% in the UK) said that they thought the countryside was safer than the city. Of the rest, most believed the countryside and the city to be equally safe. Elaborating on her answer, one respondent claimed: As some-one who has lived in both big cities, small urban areas and now in the middle of nowhere I feel most safe here. I leave the keys in my car, sleep with the windows open and enjoy the informal checking up by neighbours—i.e. waving as they drive by or just calling if they know I am home alone at all. (Otago Valley, middle aged woman, living with partner) Other respondents also suggested reasons for their views, linking safety to other aspects of the rural idyll,

particular the notion of a tight-knit, caring and watchful community, as in the following quotes from women living in Otago and Devon In a sense we are protected by one another. As most people know one another and the community they notice if something does not seem right. (Otago Valley, middle aged woman, living with partner and children) While another respondent summed up her reasons for saying the countryside is safer: I believe women are safer in rural communities because: (a) you are identified by the community, (b) anyone arriving in the community with a suspect past is quickly identified and this soon goes round the ‘bush telegraph’ (and) (c) a much more caring atmosphere than the city where people look out/after others. (Otago Town, middle aged woman living with partner) While it is true to say that the women questioned in the study retained, for the most part, traditional ideas about the friendliness and safety of the rural community, some also acknowledged a degree of change. Just under a third of all respondents believed the countryside to be less safe than it was five years ago, suggesting that the construction of rurality as ‘safe’ may be shifting (at least in relative terms). This is not conclusive, however, and, importantly, the actual source of danger is generally perceived as external to the rural community and, as we discuss later, more a case of the growing influence of the city rather than of change in the intrinsic character of rural places and people. These findings resonate with rather generalised understandings of crime rates in rural areas in both the UK and New Zealand. A recent report from the British Crime Survey (Aust and Simmons, 2002), for example, claims that both actual and perceived levels of crime (including burglary and violent crime) remain lower in rural areas. It goes on to note, however, that fear of crime in rural areas has increased markedly over the last ten years. While the report documents the fears associated with different forms of crime it provides little by way of explanation for the figures observed—such omissions reinforce the importance attached in this research of attempting to look behind the responses to fear and safety and to highlight the spatial specificity of explanations as well as the patterns themselves. There were many comments on the questionnaire relating to the increasing security risks involved in living in the countryside (especially in terms of crimes against property) and the need to be more vigilant now about locking doors and watching out for ‘strangers’. I assume the countryside is safe but everybody has to be careful these days. I never used to lock the door

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but now I would not go to the shop next door without locking everything. You can’t trust anyone these days. (Devon remote village, older woman living with partner) .. I am aware of dangers, take precautions when alone—and have a dog inside with me at night. (Otago Town, older woman living alone) For some respondents reduced safety in the countryside was linked to more practical aspects of rural service provision and not to the particular ‘qualities’ of rurality. A noted decline in police presence was seen as highly significant in the UK with 35.5% of respondents commenting on the absence of police within their community. In both New Zealand and the UK the concentration of emergency services in larger towns and cities had led to a greater feeling of vulnerability amongst rural women according to some respondents. In some ways its (the countryside) is safer. Less crime because of the isolation but more dangerous if it does happen (as it) takes too long for the emergency services to get here. (Otago Valley, middle aged woman living with partner and children) While the remoteness and lack of services may have been cited as reasons for the growing feelings of insecurity amongst rural people, the declining gap between town and country was seen by some as increasing the vulnerability of rural people. Respondents in both countries believed increased access to media coverage of crimes to be partly responsible for the fears experienced by some rural women. The fact that rural areas are no longer isolated from urban areas means that people are more aware of and exposed to criminal behaviour. Again, as discussed below, this point draws on the association of fear with the ‘other’ or outsider. We hear about it a lot. Police don’t do anything. Crime is everywhere today, nowhere is any different. You only have to see TV. Children as young as 5 create crime—what’s the world coming to? (Devon accessible village, older woman, lives alone) 4.2. Women’s experience of crime Despite the strong belief that the countryside represented a safer environment than the town, there was clear evidence from both NZ and the UK that some fear did exist amongst the women living in the rural communities studied. Women were asked whether they ever felt afraid in either their home, the rural community or in the countryside beyond. Table 1 shows that not insignificant numbers of women did claim to feeling scared at times. Interestingly, as the table indicates, there is a clear difference between the two countries in the spatial

Table 1 Rural women who had felt afraid Place where they were afraid Home Community Open countryside NZ respondents UK respondents

25 (21.4%) 17 (14.5%) 15 (12.8%)

6 (3.9%) 22 (14.4%) 21 (13.8%)

pattern of women’s fear; more women in New Zealand said that they felt afraid in their homes than in the community or open countryside, while in the UK villages fear was much less commonly experienced in the home than outside. This is possibly a function of the remoteness of the New Zealand study area and the fears associated with a lack of surveillance and close neighbours although the breakdown of figures between the two New Zealand communities, however, does cast doubt on this explanation with only marginally more women in the remoter ‘Otago Valley’ community stating that they felt afraid within the home. As well as asking about feelings of fear, the questionnaire also enquired about women’s actual experience of or involvement in criminal or other ‘scary’ incidents. Overall there was little evidence that specific experience of more minor crimes had led to higher levels of fear amongst the rural women questioned. Being a victim of crime or witnessing scary incidents did not appear to correlate directly with levels of fear amongst the women questioned, although in the UK both experience of crime and feelings of fear were considerably higher in the accessible village. In general, then, fears seemed to be related to more general perceptions about the existence of threats in the area rather than to direct experience. As discussed in the literature and illustrated by the following quote, such fears may be transitory and difficult to link to one specific incident (Koskela, 1997). I would never walk at night anywhere—isolated cases in the South West but too many unsolved murders etc. in the world today. You just can’t be too careful anywhere. (Devon accessible village, older woman living with partner) Some women reported having been scared by threats to themselves personally, however. In such cases their fears were related to specific incidents and not simply to more general ideas about danger. [We] had an altercation with a neighbour regarding his wandering stock. He trespassed onto our property in the middle for the day and verbally abused myself and my husband and tried to physically abuse my husband. This happened about 18 months ago.

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(Otago Town, young woman living with partner and children) In the case of more serious threats to individuals, however, the questionnaire is unlikely to reveal the complex reality of women’s fears and it is dangerous to draw firm conclusions on the basis of the questionnaire returns. The reluctance of women to reveal that they have experienced domestic violence, for example, is very well known and there is still a paucity of research on domestic violence in rural areas in particular. It is possible that the fears expressed by some rural women are directly related to the experience or threat of violence that has not been disclosed. Some indication as to the extent of hidden fear and violence with the rural community came, however, from key informants interviewed as part of the research. In both the UK and NZ those working for organisations such as the police, the health service and women’s support groups believed that despite the lower levels of recorded crime in rural areas, there is significant hidden violence in rural communities. While recognising that violent crimes against people often go unreported, particularly where this involves domestic violence against women, some informants believed that levels of under reporting in rural areas were higher due not only to more practical considerations such as the size of the rural community, the lack of anonymity and the absence of support services, but also to the existence of strong expectations surrounding the safety of rural communities and the harmony of rural social relations. The following quotes from key informants in New Zealand and the UK confirm the view that there are particular constructions of the rural community that serve to reinforce a culture of non-recognition and under reporting. One of the big issues that I hear in terms of rural women is that, it is very difficult for them to actually, because their community is so small. I mean you don’t, you know, everybody knows everything and so it makes it more difficult for them to actually get away from that. (Ministry of Social Policy, Wellington) Probably not talked about or bought out as much because everybody knows everybody and the fear of your neighbour finding out or someone down the street who’s a real gossip, you know, it’s just I think it’s probably a different type of fear to what there would be in the city. I mean, I don’t know that like all the neighbours and everybody in the street knows each other in the city. Whereas here, you just about know everyone in town really, don’t you? (Women’s Support Link, Otago) (T)here’s still quite a lot more family around—in towns and cities there seems to be a lot more movement, I know some families still all live in the area they were brought up in, but most families are

quite, sort of, dispersed, whereas around here there’s a lot of family—aunties, uncles, cousins, you know, and there is all that side of things—which can make it difficult to actually admit what’s going on, but if you do and leave, then you’re losing all those people, so there’s an element of it I think. (Women’s Aid, Devon) The link between constructions of rurality and the nature of women’s fear is also important in discussions of the causes of rural crime, our final section in this examination of research findings. Here, in recognition of the arguments raised earlier in the consideration of debates surrounding the conceptualisation of women’s fear, we draw attention to social exclusion and the relationship between crime, fear and the marginalisation of particular groups in rural society. 4.3. Women, fear and the rural ‘other’ As discussed earlier, the notion of the stranger has been seen as critical to an understanding of social marginalisation. Constructions of the countryside serve specifically to exclude ‘the other’, suggesting that strangers are to be avoided, distrusted and feared. Rural women’s fears are, we argue here, bound up with ideas of invasion and threat and concerns about ‘outsiders’ undermining security. They are seen to unsettle the close knit nature of the community by their very presence and to challenge accepted values and expectations by behaving differently. Two clear sources of fear emerged from the survey, both reflecting concerns about the threats from ‘others’; either people from outside the rural area in the case of New Zealand or local marginalised groups seen to be behaving inappropriately in the case of the UK. In the Otago accessible area seasonal workers (involved in the fruit industry) are mainly itinerant groups or individuals. These were seen as the cause of much local criminal activity and were feared in relation to both crimes against property and people. In the remoter New Zealand case study area fears were linked not to a specific group of workers but more generally to ‘outsiders’ from urban areas – those moving in search of cheap housing, for example or those looking for casual employment. In the UK, in each of the study villages, fear was often attributed to groups of ‘youth’ who were described as behaving in threatening or intimidating ways or simply ‘hanging out’, causing alarm to some residents. These young people were identified as being mainly from the village itself although reference was made by some residents to ‘outsiders’ coming out from the towns to hang around in the village. The identification of the itinerant fruit picker was the clearest example of the association between the outside

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‘other’ and the source of criminal activity and thus fear. Reference was made by women to increases in burglary during the fruit picking season and to the social problems (fights, drunken behaviour and domestic violence) that were more common during this time. Comments included: In Central the crime rates go up in summer due to the influx of seasonal workers. It can be a bit daunting if walking alone at night and street lighting could be better. In general quite safe. Although I could feel unsafe on my own at night in summer. (Otago Town, middle aged woman living with partner) Most of the crime committed in our area seems to be by outsiders. Fruit pickers, pruners, packers etc. More and more of these people are employed as the orchards are growing to full maturity. (Otago Town, woman living with partner) While the women often acknowledged that ‘local men’ were also involved in disturbances and fights, it was the disruption in social relations caused by the ‘influx’ of outsiders that was seen as responsible. The idea of the rural community as harmonious and somehow ‘in balance’ was clearly very strong and outsiders were seen as threatening that balance simply by being present in the spaces of the village. Although most of the women who referred to the disruption caused by the itinerant workers rarely used the same spaces as these outsiders (the pub, the orchard bunk houses etc), their fear was based not so much on a feeling of personal vulnerability but on an awareness of a change in the social mix and the atmosphere of the rural community during the fruit picking season. The itinerant outsiders’ challenge to notions of ‘community’ parallels previous findings involving the ‘threat’ posed by travellers in UK village communities (Halfacree, 1996; Sibley, 1995). In both cases the itinerant others are constructed as abject and threatening to the order of the sedentary/settled population. In the UK it was the ‘otherness’ of groups of rural youth that seemed to cause most fear and anxiety amongst the women respondents. These young people were not as often strangers as in the case of the itinerant workers in New Zealand, yet they were seen as acting as outsiders; marginal within dominant constructions of community as reported elsewhere (Matthews et al., 2000; Panelli, 2002). Comments by respondents included: I used to be afraid when we had trouble with youngsters. (Devon accessible village, older women, lives with partner) Gangs of youth at night in dimly lit places can be very intimidating. (Devon accessible village, young woman living with parents)

I’m scared at night because the kids all seem to hang around in gangs. The bus shelter seems to be the prime place. Look at all the graffiti and litter. Its just not good enough. (Devon accessible village, older woman living with partner) The labelling of a particular village family as ‘trouble makers’ by residents of the accessible Devon village showed a similar process of othering from within. In other words crime and fear were associated with a known family rather than with outsiders or strangers. While this family was technically a village family, however, it was othered by residents as some kind of rogue element and one which did not belong to the village. The family was described as temporary and its eventual disappearance from the village natural and understandable, in keeping with its disruptive influence. Again, the behaviour of this family was felt to be at odds with what was expected of a rural or village way of life. This year seems better as I understand the family have moved away from the village and with it most of our troubles. (Devon accessible village, middle aged woman living with partner and children) A friend’s son got beaten up really badly. All seemed to be with this one family who lived in the council houses. Daily trouble makers but they have been moved from the village. (Devon accessible village, older woman living alone)

5. Conclusion In this paper we have argued that the spatiality of women’s fear of crime needs to be further investigated and that debates around the nature and causes of women’s fear can be usefully extended by a rural perspective. In doing so we are not arguing for a return to an environmentally determinist perspective whereby fear is explained entirely through the identification of ‘dangerous’ or ‘scary’ places. Rather we are suggesting that our understanding of women’s fear will be improved by broadening our inquiry beyond those areas that have tended to be associated with crime and fear in the past. More importantly we argue that the study of fear needs to pay greater attention to the social and cultural construction of space and place, specifically, how constructions of place can influence the ways in which fear is perceived and experienced. The countryside, with its strong associations of safety and community provides an important socio-spatial construction within which to position an attempt to understand the spatiality of women’s fear. The paper has provided a broad-based discussion of a number of areas that need to be developed further within research on gender, fear of crime, safety and the countryside and we recognise the somewhat general and inconclusive nature of our

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arguments here. A number of conclusions can, however, be drawn which provide foundations for future investigation. Our research demonstrates the enduring importance of notions of community, friendship, caring and safety to women’s understandings of rurality. This parallels previous research documenting lay discourses of rural communities as idyllic, harmonious, safe places (Halfacree, 1994; Jones, 1995; Valentine, 1997). Changes to the countryside, especially the encroachment of the urban in the form of development, people and attitudes, has not, in the majority of cases, threatened a belief in the value and superiority of rural areas as places to live. Despite these beliefs fear was not absent from the rural community, and this included reports from women claiming to feel afraid in their homes, the village or rural area beyond. While the relative safety of the rural may be appreciated, there is recognition of change—represented here as the disruption of specifically rural values and qualities by the alien influences of the urban. The paper has shown how constructions of rurality and fear also impinge on beliefs and attitudes surrounding fear and the wider causes of that fear. The idea that fear is caused by ‘strangers’ is not a new one—here, however, the research has shown that the ways in which we view rurality has implications for who may be defined as strangers, others or threats to the idealized construction of rural community. Outsiders are frequently seen to threaten the notion of the rural idyll, particularly the social and cultural values that have endured in the ‘timeless’ rural community. Fears are attributed here to a particular kind of stranger or outsider; their abject bodies are out of place and their strangeness defined as much by the failure to understand and respect ‘rural’ behaviour as by their geographical origin. Having established the existence of fear amongst rural women, more work needs to be done to identify in more detail the nature and causes of that fear and its relationship with rurality. This paper has focused on positive associations of the rural community and their implications for the recognition and explanation of fear. There were also indications within the research that the positive images and understandings of rurality may also serve to obscure women’s fear and deny the existence of danger. This is particularly true in the case of sexual and domestic violence against women. The belief that the closeness of the rural community and the lack of anonymity afforded by living in such a friendly and supportive environment could exacerbate the problem of domestic violence, especially its acknowledgement and reporting, was commonly asserted by key informants interviewed during the course of the research. The problem of ‘hidden’ violence, both within and outside the home, is not easily researched and yet remains

crucial to the experience of fear as it is shaped within the rural community. Clearly there is not a simple relationship between the perceived ‘qualities’ of rurality and issues of fear and safety amongst rural women and there remains considerable potential for research to further investigate the complexities that have started to emerge in this paper.

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