A snapshot of how local context affects sexual assault service provision in regional, rural and remote Australia

ACSSA Wrap No. 13 – November 2012


Sexual assault services in regional, rural and remote communities around Australia face a variety of service delivery challenges over and above those common to their city counterparts. Most sexual assault services, regardless of geography, deal with issues such as inadequate or precarious funding, staff burnout and a lack of community understanding about sexual assault. The additional challenges faced by non-urban services have been well documented (Mason, 2008; Neame & Heenan, 2004; Taylor, 2003-04) and include issues of isolation, lack of privacy for clients and staff, difficulty recruiting appropriate staff, high costs and the need to provide culturally appropriate services to particular groups in their communities (Taylor & Putt, 2007). The local community in which sexual assault services are embedded will often determine how these issues are handled.

The provision of sexual assault services usually involves delivery of crisis support and counselling services, but may in some locations include forensic investigation for the purposes of criminal prosecution. Services may deal with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse or victim/survivors of more recent abuse. They may be linked in with family violence services, where sexual assault is perpetrated in the family context. There is no set model of service provision for sexual assault services, which are state-based and often operated by community organisations. Service provision models therefore vary across jurisdictions and the organisations running them.

However, the importance of providing coherent and consistent specialist sexual assault services to victim/survivors is outlined in both the Time for Action: The National Council's Plan for Australia to Reduce Violence against Women and their children, 2009-2021 report (National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children [The National Council], 2009) and the subsequent National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 (the National Plan) (Council of Australian Governments [COAG], 2012). One of the outcomes of the National Plan (Outcome 4) relates to services meeting the needs of women and their children experiencing violence (COAG, 2012, p. 23). The Time for Action report acknowledges that physical location can act as a context-specific barrier to service provision (see p. 75). Our goal in this Wrap is to outline how some of these barriers are overcome in particular regional, rural and remote locations - including how the provision of services to male victim/survivors may require strategic thinking to tailor services that are specific to men's needs.

For the purposes of this Wrap, the term "context" will be used to refer to features of these local communities that include but extend beyond the physical attributes of a place and that create a sense of commonality and identity within that geographical space. The local context comprises shared values and experiences, such as popular recreational activities, the population demographic and employment opportunities. It also extends to gender relations, or how men and women within a given community interact and the roles they may fulfill in a social or work setting - this can greatly impact on the provision of sexual assault services.

The diversity in a local population can impact the values and traditions of a community and can intersect to create hierarchies about who is included and who is excluded in socially beneficial opportunities. This concept of social exclusion can manifest in a sense of disconnection from the broader community (McDonald, 2011).

The importance of particular local industries may also affect how the town sees itself and organises itself, not only geographically, but culturally - for example, a mining town may be a very different place from a wine and gourmet food tourist town. Cultural differences can refer to how inhabitants speak, think and act in the place they live, as well as the stories they tell about themselves (Sidell et al., 2006). "Culture" can be described as the meanings that give direction to a given way of life. For a community, this includes "values, morals, language, world views and patterns of behaviour of a group of people" (Mueke, Lenthall, & Lindeman, 2011, p. 1). An industry may influence local culture, and therefore the context in which the services operate, but it should also be acknowledged that there may be further cultural diversity when distinct cultural groups live within the community. This diversity of cultural identities adds further complexity to the local context when trying to deliver respectful and culturally appropriate services.