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Reimagining Rural Resources

Growing up rural, I spent so much time complaining about everything my small towns and country life didn’t have as compared to a city. My friends and I could spend hours trash talking about why living rural (the catchphrase returns!) was terrible; we built one-dimensional stories that we told ourselves over and over. I had no idea how rad rural life was or the gifts it gave me until I moved away at 18. But it’s funny, as an adult, I find that when I talk about growing up rural, living/working in rural places, or the work I do with rural folks, people often frame things in terms of how terrible rural life or sexual violence work in rural spaces must be. Rural lives are viewed as a “lack of” something or everything they do not have as compared to a city. These adults and professionals do the same thing I did with me teenage friends. They tear something down and make it a one-dimensional story.

Let’s be honest: tearing things down or making them one dimensional is easy, especially if we don’t know and/or don’t understand it. Tearing things down takes no talent, wisdom, or care. Anybody can make something one-dimensional. Building something and understanding complexity takes time, patience, critical thought, and a deep knowledge. Being able to look at what is in front of you and recognize what is good and what needs re-building takes energy. Building things and holding complexity means that you care enough to invest a piece of yourself.

This is something I do with those adults and professionals who ask about the “lack” in rural life; I ask them to build with me, to hold complexity with me. I ask them to think about rural life as rich and full of special resources that cities do not have. Resources like neighborly connections, family history, a deep sense of community and responsibility, plentiful land, and excellent planning skills—let’s talk about grocery shopping when the nearest store is a 30 or 50 or 75+ mile drive…you must plan. These things are key elements of strength for rural communities.

YES. All these things can be viewed as lack or faults or challenges. YES. There are many things rural folks must address that urban folks do not and that can make things harder. YES. Rural life (especially sexual violence work/response) is sometimes incredibly difficult. All of this is true. I’m not denying the hardships, challenges, and drawbacks.

But, those aren’t the only things that are true about life and work in rural spaces.

I can’t change the story for everyone and make all people see the beauty of living rural. But, I want a sexual violence movement that understands the value and beauty of rural life/rural SV response. I dream of a movement that focuses real effort on using the strengths of rural life and creates tools that address the realities of rural sexual violence. It’s too easy to tear it down and make rural SV work one-dimensional. It’s too easy to be like teenage me and my friends. Help me build a movement that can hold the complexity and truth of rural life. Help me change the story.

What about your SV work is stronger because you are rural? Leave it in the comments, let’s change the story.