Par Christian Mouhanna. The Routledge International Handbook of Rural Criminology, 2016.
While most French people live in urban areas, 90% of the French territory is still considered as rural, with large parts of the nation appearing to be almost desert. The rural side of the country has long been perceived as a peaceful, safe place inhabited by reasonable natives far removed from any form of crime. This is a largely mythical view, since many behaviours – such as child abuse and violent behaviours – considered as criminal in urban areas were not even taken into account in the countryside, and because other types of crimes peculiar to this environment – green crime, hunting accidents – were not actually considered to be serious offenses. Furthermore, the French Gendarmerie, a military force dedicated to the rural areas, has always be known for its community-policing style of law enforcement, emphasizing these characteristics.
Today, however, tension is building up in rural areas, for various reasons. More and more underprivileged people, ousted from gentrified city centers, eventually settle in surrounding villages, disrupting the solidarity patterns that seemed to govern relationships amongst people so far. Bored youngsters, envious of their city peers, tend to copy their attitudes. Finally, budget cuts force the Gendarmerie, as well as many other public services, to leave numerous areas almost unattended. As a consequence, people from rural areas are feeling more and more insecure and asking for increased protection. The myth of the peaceful is morphing into another myth, that of a place of many dangers. The purpose of this paper is to shed some light on the main reasons for such a change – a change based on perceptions rather than realities.