Crime and violence in rural schools and communities are widespread, yet occur in relatively minimal amounts in comparison to crime and violence in urban areas. Mistaken beliefs about “crime-free” rural communities and an underdeveloped rural criminology research base pose significant challenges to ensuring school safety in rural locales. Crime and violence rates among young people are highest in rural communities with higher levels of ethnic diversity, female-headed households, and residential mobility. Community size is also positively associated with rural juvenile crime, whereas community poverty level is not a significant predictor of school crime and violence in rural places.
Data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS) show that nearly seven in 10 (69.5%) rural schools reported a violent incident without a weapon during the 2007-2008 school year and 14.4% experienced at least one violent incident with a weapon in that year; almost half (47.1%) of rural schools had at least one theft. Actual violent crimes in rural schools are slightly more common than threats of violent crimes. SSOCS data indicate that more than 8% of rural schools had at least one student threat of physical attack with a weapon in 2007-2008; 42.8% reported a threat of attack with a weapon in that same span.
Several types of nonviolent offenses occur routinely in rural schools. For example, bullying occurs at least weekly in 21.7% of rural schools. Daily or weekly incidents of student racial or ethnic tensions occur in 3.4% of rural schools, sexual harassment occurs daily or weekly in 2.4% of rural schools, and classroom disorder occurs regularly in 2.2% of rural schools. Vandalism occurs at least once per school year in 38.6% of rural schools.
Three percent of rural schools reported a hate crime during the 2007-2008 academic year, and 2.7% reported at least one gang-related incident. Relatively few rural schools have ever experienced extremist activity (2%).
Rural youth use and abuse illegal substances–including drugs, alcohol, and tobacco products–more often and at younger ages than their urban and suburban peers. More than one-fifth (21.2%) of rural schools had at least one incident of distribution, possession, or use of illegal drugs during the 2007-2008 academic year; 13.9% reported at least one incident of alcohol distribution, use, or possession.
Nonverbal disrespect toward a teacher occurs at least once a week in 5.4% of rural schools, while verbal abuse of a teacher occurs daily or weekly in 3% of rural schools. Teachers have been threatened with injury in 6% of rural schools, while physical attacks against teachers have occurred in 3% of rural schools. Thirty-one percent of rural teachers say that student misbehavior interferes with their teaching.
Rural schools employ a variety of violence prevention strategies, including personal counseling (in 89.2% of schools), individual mentoring (85.7%), behavioral modification (84.6%), violence prevention curricula (83%), recreational enrichment activities (80)%, community-building activities (70.3%), and violence prevention hotlines (23%). More than half of rural schools have written crisis response strategies for bomb threats (89.8%), school shootings (80.3%), hostage situations (68.7%), and suicide threats (71.3%). Acts of violence in rural schools are most often punished by out-of-school suspensions, which occur in 43.5% of cases, and very rarely by expulsion without alternative services, which occurs in 6.7% of cases.
- Dinkes, R., Kemp, J., & Baum, K. (2009). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2009 (NCES 2010-012/NCJ 228478). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, & Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
- Neiman, S., & DeVoe, J.F. (2009). Crime, violence, discipline, and safety in U.S. public schools: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2007– 08 (NCES 2009-326). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
- Osgood, D. W., & Chambers, J. M. (2003). Community correlates ofrural youth violence. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
- Van Gundy, K. (2006). Reports on rural America: Substance abuse in rural and small town America. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Carsey Institute.