School for Social Work
Rural population-New England-Attitudes, Sex crimes, Sex crimes-Prevention, Sexual violence, Rural community, Violence against women, Community empowerment, Prevention education, Perceptions of sexual violence, Context and sexual violence
This qualitative methods study explores how community members were impacted by isolated cases of sexual violence that involved their neighbors in a rural New England village and asks whether they perceive sexual violence as a public concern or a private affair. As a pastor in the town when these events occurred, I wondered about the ensuing communal silence and its impact on the community as a whole. Were individuals navigating questions about social norms and communal responsibilities, as they processed personal thoughts about sexual violence and their emotional experiences of their neighbors' pain? Fourteen community leaders representing three generations of villagers engaged in conversational interviews about gendered violence and considered reasons behind the apparent qualitative difference in social communications around sexual violence, compared to talk about other forms of violence. Findings showed that respondents' personal relationships with survivors, perpetrators, and their families created complicated internal responses, mostly because of their shared communal history and a powerful sense of belonging in a community, where people know and trust their neighbors. Community members kept silence because they wanted to respect the privacy of the suffering individuals, yet they all agreed that gendered violence is a public concern, and a community has a responsibility to educate itself and do something about it. Understanding specific contexts where violence against women occurs also requires knowledge of the systemic and symbolic forces that perpetuate it. This research proposes that communal prevention efforts be conceptualized as empowering communities to resist and transform these harmful influences.
Thompson, Mary S., "Is sexual violence a public concern or a private affair? : an exploration of community members' perceptions in a rural New England village" (2012). Masters Thesis, Smith College, Northampton, MA.