Dr Alistair Harkness hopes the world's first and only comprehensive book about rural crime will raise awareness and improve responses beyond the "last train stop" out of the city.
The University of New England rural criminologist teamed up with about 80 sociologists, anthropologists, environmental, policing and other experts from across the world for the nearly 400-page recently released Encyclopedia of Rural Crime.
"There's been a lot of growth in studies of rural crime and rural criminology over the last five years but there's still no 'one stop shop' where people can get information," Dr Harkness said.
The book has 85 entries about animal and machinery thefts, elder and child abuse, domestic violence, cybercrime, drug-related crime and other issues that occur in remote parts across Asia, Oceania, the Americas, Antarctica, Europe and Australia.
Here in Australia, Dr Harkness said, police and other experts are trying to encourage farmers to report rural crimes whether or not they have enough evidence.
He said police need statistics gathered from farmers reporting crimes so those in government can allocate more resources and services to areas where there is a need.
Without these statistics, Dr Harkness said, those who commit the crimes will keep getting away with their illegal activities while farmers, survivors and victims continue to suffer.
He said many farmers might know who the culprit is but will just "suck it up" because they don't want to "create waves or ripples" living in a small community, not realising they can report anonymously.
The rural criminologist was shown how easy it was for someone to steal 20 sheep within 60 seconds by loading the herd onto a horse truck, using nothing more than a hand signal to their working dog under the light of a full moon.
"And that's just to reinforce the fact that there is usually some sort of agricultural knowledge or awareness (by the offenders)," Dr Harkness said.
He said people in rural areas face a whole different set of complexities than their city counterparts when trying to report crime, due to physical access and opening hours of their local police station to the time taken for police to arrive.
"The police station might also be really small and there's no separate meeting space," he said.
"So somebody comes in to report being abused, and then the abuser turns up, standing at the counter. Those are things that you won't see in the cities and the suburbs."
The idea for Dr Harkness's rural criminology encyclopedia was sparked in 2016 when he attended the European Society of Criminology conference in Germany and was shocked to find there was no entry on rural crime in the criminology dictionary.
It took the rural criminologist nearly three years from the time he began working on the book in August 2020 to the date it was published this year.
Often the crimes are petty such as the theft of tools, paints, timber or larger quad bikes but there are also more sophisticated networks operating on the black market.
Dr Harkness gave the example of a $500,000 Wheat Header stolen from a farmer in Victoria and ordered for sale on the black market.
"So they've managed to steal this huge bit of equipment and get it across three states to make a tidy profit," he said.
"The impacts on farmers are enormous. If that happens during harvest time, there's no way to ring up (the insurance company) and say, 'I just need a half a million dollar Wheat Header',"
"How do they bring in the wheat? And what happens if rain is forecast and they can't get the crop harvested?
"So the extra stress puts more impact on mental health. And in the most dire consequences, people taking their own lives."
Installing motion-activated cameras at strategic entry and exit points, locking sheds and vehicles and other preventative measures such as being mindful about who they're allowing onto their properties and being observant for anything unusual, are among Dr Harkness's suggestions for preventing rural thefts.
The UNE rural criminologist is now working on a larger international survey in collaboration with experts in 15 countries, including Australia, Sweden, South Africa, UK and Slovenia which will look at the similarities and differences of rural crime across the world.
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