Fear of crime: A report on available research

Sex and age

Individual attributes such as sex and age are most likely predictors of fear of crime, with age being less accurate than sex. Social disorder is the other major predictor.

Neighbourhood structure and social processors have being found to be far less important in relation to fear of crime, although they are relevant as causes of crime and social disorder.

Fear of crime cannot just be limited to feelings – it must also be judged by its behavioural consequences: fear of going out or walking outside at night.

Those who see themselves as vulnerable are likely to fear crime. They may be physically weaker, financially weaker, they may fear reporting to the police, or reporting loss of license or loss of credit cards, or have a history of being abused themselves, or even concerned about looking old.

Fear is also related to the perception of risk, feelings of lack of control, feelings of concern about the serious consequences and about one’s inability to deal with all the manifestations, for example, older people are more at risk of greater physical injury and do not have the time left or the opportunity to rebuild financial losses after a serious theft.

The fact that they are less likely to be victims of crime can therefore be attributed to them taking greater precautions than other age groups.

Sex is the greatest predictor of fear of crime; weight, physical handicaps, physical shape are other factors. Living alone or in rental accommodation can also influence levels of vulnerability and fear.

Incivilities

One contributing factor is social and physical disorder. Social disorder is gang activities, loud parties, homelessness, drunkenness and loitering. Physical disorder is things like vandalism, littering, vacant houses, abandoned cars and buildings, graffiti and untidy allotments – all seen as breaking down norms of behaviour and social control. They are therefore associated with risk and therefore the fearing of crime simply by observing these things.

Neighbourhood structure

Neighbourhood structure and socio-economic status, and neighbourhood turnover, are associated with actual crime rates, but are far less significant in fear of crime than incivilities, sex and age.

  • Poverty
  • Rapid population growth
  • Ethnic diversity
  • Population turn over in transitional suburbs

All these disrupt social institutions such as family, church and school, so there is less informal social control on youth who then come in contact with criminal elements. On the other hand, such social processes as the development of friendship networks, control of street corner teenage groups and the growth of organisational participation can reduce this, therefore all of this must be considered when looking at fear of crime and causes of crime reduction.

The media has often been blamed for increasing the fear of crime when it reports incidents against seniors. However, the reporting of violent crime against the elderly has the affect of re-enforcing public disapproval of the act and this helps to prevent crime.

A more significant cause of fear of crime is politicians and political parties which run and law-and-order campaigns. Research clearly shows that fear of crime increases during such campaigns. In view of the social consequences of such fear, social isolation and heightened anxiety, this should be taken on board by political parties.

Likelihood of being a victim

Older people are substantially less likely to be victims. 20 to 24-year-olds are 14 times more likely to be victims of personal theft. Older people have a low risk rate for both personal assault and homicide.

Abuse

Abuse is a pattern of behaviour that results in physical or psychological harm. Examples include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats of placement in care, withholding affection, treatment of older people like children, economic abuse – improper use of their money and property, physical assault or restriction of their movement, neglect both active and passive, and dependency issues which can lead to stress and abuse.

Strategies to reduce this would be reduction of social isolation, education of the elderly, home assessments on safety, mixing old and young in community programs and better support for care givers.

Prevention suggestions

Some suggestions to lessen fear of crime and crime include a council of both retired people and police that could build crime prevention programs in the local community. The older people would act as both advisors and instigators of these programs.

Fraud

Older people are no more vulnerable than others to fraud, but are less likely to be able to recoup financial losses. Abuse by legally appointed people such as those with enduring power of attorney can be substantial. Other examples of fraud are in the area of health products, health services, housing repair, nursing home fraud (making false claims on residents’ behalf), prepaid funeral services, motor vehicle repairs, telemarketing and investment brokers.

Reporting of abuse needs to be made easier for victims – many older people are both unfamiliar and frightened of law courts and authority, for example, phone reporting could be an easier option.

Law enforcement needs to be seen as playing a central role in crime prevention and in educating older people. This could lessen their fear of the law, as well as help them learn fear prevention strategies. Although these services are increasing, there needs to be a great deal more money spent in this area. There is also a need to give greater power to the Adult Guardian to investigate and act on reports of abuse and to insure that education takes place on what to do, where to go and how to recognise what abuse is.

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