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The fear of crime refers to the fear of being a victim of crime as opposed to the actual probability of being a victim of crime.[1] [2] Studies of the fear of crime occur in criminology. The fear of crime, along with fear of the streets and the fear of youth, is said to have been in Western culture for "time immemorial".[3] Fear of crime can be differentiated into public feelings, thoughts and behaviors about the personal risk of criminal victimization. These feelings, thoughts and behaviors have a number of damaging effects on individual and group life: they can erode public health and psychological well-being; they can alter routine activities and habits; they can contribute to some places turning into ‘no-go’ areas via a withdrawal from community; and they can drain community cohesion, trust and neighbourhood stability.[4] [5] Factors influencing the fear of crime include public perceptions of neighborhood stability and breakdown,[6] [7] [8] circulating representations of the risk of victimization (chiefly via interpersonal communication and the mass media),[9] and broader factors where anxieties about crime express anxieties about the pace and direction of social change.[10] [11] There may also be some wider cultural influences: some have argued that modern times have left people especially sensitive to issues of safety and insecurity.[12] [13] [14] [15]

Affective aspects of fear of crime[edit | edit source]

The core aspect of fear of crime is the range of emotions that is provoked in citizens by the possibility of victimization. While people may feel angry and outraged about the extent and prospect of crime, surveys typically ask people who afraid they are and how worried they are. And lying behind the answers people give to these questions might be two dimensions of 'fear': (a) those everyday moments of worry that transpire when one feels personally threatened; and (b) some more diffuse or ‘ambient’ anxiety about risk. While standard measures of worry about crime regularly show between 30% and 50% of the population of England and Wales express some kind of worry about falling victim, probing reveals that few individuals actually worry for their own safety on an everyday basis.[16] [17] One thus can distinguish between fear (an emotion, a feeling of alarm or dread caused by an awareness or expectation of danger) and some more broader anxiety.[18] [19] However it should be noted that some people may be more willing to admit to their worries and vulnerabilities than others.[20]

Cognitive aspects of fear of crime[edit | edit source]

Concern about crime can be differentiated from perceptions of the risk of personal victimization (i.e. cognitive aspects of fear of crime). Concern about crime includes public assessments of the size of the crime problem. An example of a question that could be asked is whether crime has increased, decreased or stayed the same in a certain period (and/or in a certain area, for instance the respondents own neighborhood). Between 1972 and 2001, the Gallup Poll, show that American respondents think crime has decreased.[21] By contrast, the cognitive side of fear of crime includes public perceptions of the likelihood of falling victim, public senses of control over the possibility, and public estimations of the seriousness of the consequences of crime. People who feel especially vulnerable to victimization are likely to feel that they are especially likely to be targeted by criminals (i.e. victimization is likely), that they are unable to control the possibility (i.e. they have low self-efficacy), and that the consequences would be especially severe.[22] Additionally, these three different components of risk perception may interact: the impact of perceived likelihood on subsequent emotional response (worry, fear, anxiety, etc.) is likely to be especially strong among those who feel that consequences are high and self-efficacy is low.[23]

Behavioral aspects of fear of crime[edit | edit source]

A third way to measure fear of crime is to ask people whether they ever avoid certain areas, protect certain objects or take preventive measures. This way, measuring fear of crime can become a relatively straightforward thing, because the questions asked tap into actual behavior and 'objective' facts, such as the amount of money spent on a burglar-alarm or extra locks. However, it is important to note that some degree of 'fear' might be healthy for some people, creating a ‘natural defence’ against crime. In short, when the risk of crime is real, a specific level of 'fear' might actually be 'functional': worry about crime might stimulate precaution which then makes people feel safer and lowers their risk of crime. The fear of crime is a very important feature in criminology

The influence of public perceptions of neighborhood breakdown and stability[edit | edit source]

Perhaps the biggest influence on fear of crime is public concern about neighbourhood disorder, social cohesion and collective efficacy.[24] [25] The proposition here is that the incidence and risk of crime has become coupled in the public mind with issues of social stability, moral consensus, and the collective informal control processes which underpin neighborhood order.[26] Not only do these ‘day-to-day’ issues (‘young people hanging around’, ‘poor community spirit’, ‘low levels of trust and cohesion’) produce information about risk and generate a sense of unease, insecurity and distrust in the environment (incivilities signal a lack of conventional courtesies and low-level social order in public places[27] [28] [29]); many people also use the language of ‘fear’ and ‘crime’ to express concerns about neighbourhood breakdown, the loss of moral authority, and the crumbling of civility and social capital.[30] [31]

People can come to different conclusions about the same social and physical environment: two individuals who live next door to each other and share the same neighbourhood can view local disorder quite differently.[32] [33] Why might people have different levels of tolerance or sensitivity to these potentially ambiguous cues? UK research has suggested that broader social anxieties about the pace and direction of social change may shift levels of tolerance to ambiguous stimuli in the environment.[34] [35] Individuals who hold more authoritarian views about law and order, and who are especially concerned about a long-term deterioration of community, may be more likely to perceive disorder in their environment (net of the actual conditions of that environment). They may also be more likely to link these physical cues to problems of social cohesion and consensus, of declining quality of social bonds and informal social control.

Interpersonal communication and the mass media[edit | edit source]

Hearing about events; knowing others who have been victimised – these are thought to raise perceptions of the risk of victimisation.[36] [37] [38] [39] This has been described as a ‘crime multiplier', or processes operating in the residential environment that would 'spread' the impacts of criminal events.[40] Such evidence exists that hearing of friends’ or neighbours’ victimisation increases anxiety that indirect experiences of crime may play a stronger role in anxieties about victimisation than direct experience. However there is a cautionary note: ‘… many residents of a neighbourhood only know of [crime] indirectly via channels that may inflate, deflate, or garble the picture.’ [41] A subject's criminal risk perception is exaggerated by peer-communication on crime and only moderated by the own experience. [42]

Public perceptions of the risk of crime are no doubt also strongly shaped by mass media coverage. Individuals pick up from media and interpersonal communication circulating images of the criminal event - the perpetrators, victims, motive, and representations of consequential, uncontrollable, and sensational crimes. The notion of ‘stimulus similarity’ may be key: if the reader of a newspaper identifies with the described victim, or feels that their own neighbourhood bears resemblance to the one described, then the image of risk may be taken up, personalised and translated into personal safety concerns.[43] In one study, subjects who received car crash information and who shared social identity with the victims provided elevates estimates of risk compared to those who had no basis for assumed similarity.[44]

Yet the relationship between fear of crime and mass media is unclear, at least in its causal ordering. To put the dilemma in simple terms: do people fear crime because a lot of crime is being shown on television, or does television just provide footage about crimes because people fear crime and want to see what's going on? The complex nature of crime could allow the media to exploit social naivety, covering crime not only selective, but also distorting the everyday world of crime.[45] Some say the media contribute to the climate of fear that is created, because the actual frequency of victimisation is a tiny fraction of potential crime.[ 2 ]

With crime accounting for up to 25 per cent[46] of news coverage, the quality and angle of the coverage becomes an issue. The media displays violent crime disproportionately, whilst neglecting minor crimes. The profile of offenders in the media is distorted, causing misunderstanding of criminal offending.

Unfortunately, however, despite an abundant literature on media effects – particularly the ‘mean world’ hypothesis – little work has been done into how representations, imagery and symbols of crime circulate in society, transmitted and transformed by multiple actors with a wide array of effects, only to translate into personal fears about crime. Perhaps future work will take account of the transmission mechanisms through which representations, beliefs and attitudes about societal risks are propagated in different social and cultural contexts.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Hale, C. (1996). Fear of crime: A review of the literature. International Review of Victimology, 4, 79-150.
  2. Farrall, S., Jackson, J. & Gray, E. (2007). Theorising the fear of crime: The cultural and social significance of feelings of insecurity. Published on the Social Science Research Network:
  3. Pearson, G. (1983) Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears. Palgrave Macmillan. p 236.
  4. Hale, C. (1996). Fear of crime: A review of the literature. International Review of Victimology, 4, 79-150.
  5. Stafford, M., Chandola, T., & Marmot, M. (2007). Association between fear of crime and mental health and physical functioning. American Journal of Public Health, 97, 2076-2081.
  6. Skogan, W. and Maxfield, M. (1981) Coping with Crime, Beverly Hills: Sage.
  7. Wilson. J.Q. and Kelling, G.L. (1982). ‘Broken Windows’. Atlantic Monthly, March, 29-38.
  8. Jackson, J. (2004) ‘Experience and Expression: Social and Cultural Significance in the Fear of Crime.’ British Journal of Criminology, 44, 6, 946-966.
  9. Jackson, J. (2006). Introducing Fear of Crime to Risk Research, Risk Analysis, 26, 1, 253-264.
  10. Merry, S. (1981). Urban Danger: Life in a Neighborhood of Strangers. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  11. Girling, E., Loader, I. & Sparks, R. (2000). Crime and Social Control in Middle England: Questions of Order in an English Town. London: Routledge.
  12. Lee, M. (1999). The fear of crime and self-governance: Towards a genealogy. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 32, 227-246.
  13. Lee, M. (2001). The genesis of ‘fear of crime’. Theoretical Criminology, 5, 467-485.
  14. Zedner, L. (2003). Too much security? International Journal of the Sociology of Law, 31, 155-184.
  15. Furedi, F. (2006). The politics of fear: Beyond left and right. London: Continuum Press.
  16. Farrall, S. & Gadd, D. (2004). The frequency of the fear of crime. British Journal of Criminology, 44, 127-132.
  17. Gray, E., Jackson, J. and Farrall, S. (2008). Reassessing the Fear of Crime, European Journal of Criminology, 5, 3, 363-380.
  18. Warr, M. (2000). Fear of crime in the United States: Avenues for research and policy. Criminal Justice, 4: 451—489.
  19. Sacco, V. (2005). When Crime Waves, Sage Publications/Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  20. Sutton, R. M., & Farrall, S.D. (2005). Gender, socially desirable responding and the fear of crime: Are women really more anxious about crime? British Journal of Criminology, 45, 212-224.
  21. Vanderveen, G. (2006). Interpreting Fear, Crime, Risk and Unsafety. BJU Legal Publishers, The Netherlands.
  22. Jackson, J. (in press). A Psychological Perspective on Vulnerability in the Fear of Crime. Psychology, Crime and Law. Available on the world wide web:
  23. Warr, M. (1987). Fear of victimisation and sensitivity to risk. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 3, 29-46.
  24. Perkins, D. & Taylor, R. (1996). Ecological assessments of community disorder: Their relationship to fear of crime and theoretical implications. American Journal of Community Psychology, 24, 63-107.
  25. Wyant, B.R. (2008). Multilevel impacts of perceived incivilities and perceptions of crime risk on fear of crime isolating endogenous impacts. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 45, 39-64.
  26. Bannister, J. (1993). Locating fear: Environmental and ontological security. In H. Jones (Ed.), Crime and the urban environment (pp. 69-84). Aldershot: Avebury.
  27. Innes, M. (2004) Signal crimes and signal disorders: Notes on deviance as communicative action. British Journal of Sociology, 55, 317-334.
  28. Tulloch, M. (2003). Combining classificatory and discursive methods: Consistency and variability in responses to the threat of crime. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42(3), 461-476.
  29. Goffman, E. (1971) Relations in Public. New York: Basic Books.
  30. Girling, E., Loader, I. & Sparks, R. (2000). Crime and Social Control in Middle England: Questions of Order in an English Town. London: Routledge.
  31. Farrall, S., Jackson, J. and Gray, E. (2009). ‘Experience and Expression in the Fear of Crime: Politics, Insecurity, Social Order and Control’. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Studies in Criminology.
  32. Carvalho, I. & Lewis, D. A. (2003). Beyond community: Reactions to crime and disorder among inner-city residents. Criminology, 41, 779-812.
  33. Sampson, R. J. and Raudenbush, S. W. (2004). Seeing Disorder: Neighborhood Stigma and the Social Construction of "Broken Windows". Social Psychology Quarterly 67: 319-342.
  34. Jackson, J. (2004) ‘Experience and Expression: Social and Cultural Significance in the Fear of Crime.’ British Journal of Criminology, 44, 6, 946-966.
  35. Farrall, S., Jackson, J. and Gray, E. (forthcoming, October 2009). ‘Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times'. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Studies in Criminology.
  36. Skogan, W. and Maxfield, M. (1981) Coping with Crime, Beverly Hills: Sage.
  37. Tyler, T. R. (1984) ‘Assessing the risk of crime victimization: The integration of personal victimization experience and socially transmitted information.’ Journal of Social Issues, 40, 27-38.
  38. Tyler, T.R. (1980) ‘Impact of Directly and Indirectly Experienced Events: The Origin of Crime-related Judgements and Behaviours’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39:13-28.
  39. Covington, J. and Taylor, R. B. (1991). “Fear of Crime in Urban Residential Neighbourhoods: Implications of Between- and Within- Neighborhood Sources for Current Models. The Sociological Quarterly, 32, 2, 231-249.
  40. Taylor, R. B. and Hale, M. (1986). "Testing Alternative Models of Fear of Crime". The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science, 77, 1, 151-189. (This Journal later changed its name to Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology)
  41. Skogan, W. (1986) ‘Fear of crime and neighborhood change’. Crime and Justice, 8, 203-229.
  42. Rollinger, P. (2008). Experience and Communications as Explanations for Criminal Risk Perception’. The Brain-Gain Network E-Journal. Available on the web:
  43. Winkel, F. W. & Vrij, A. (1990). Fear of crime and mass media crime reports: Testing similarity hypotheses. International Review of Victimology, 1, 251-265.
  44. Stapel, D. A, Reicher, S. D. & Spears, R. (1994). Social identity, availability and the perception of risk. Social Cognition, 12(1), 1-17.
  45. Ferraro, K. (1995). Fear of Crime, Interpreting Victimisation Risk. State University of New York press, Albany.
  46. Maguire, M. Morgan, R. and Reiner, R. (1997). Oxford Handbook of Criminology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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