Factors that Influence Fear of Crime
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Keywords: fear of crime gender, fear of crime theory
Today, fear of crime has become a very prevalent and burning issue in the society. There are many people today who express their fear and anxiety over crime and, their concern for being victimized. There are certain factors that shape the level of fear of crime and being victimized of the people. It includes gender; age; any past experience related to crime that an individual can have which could have happened where one lives; ethnicity, etc. There are different ways in which people react to crime. These ways include protecting themselves, avoiding crime, and trying to prevent victimization by not holding anything for which they could be victimized (Will and McGrath 1995).
The media also plays a vital and critical role in shaping the amount that people hold of fear of crime. This is due to the reason that media cover crime stories in a very extensive as well as disproportionate way. Although not everyone is a victim of crime but criminal acts touch everyone's life (Gray et al 2008).
Gender is a significant factor in shaping the level of fear of crime among individuals. It is a known fact that women fear crime more than men. The amount of fear also varies with the age of the individuals, location, social context, TV viewing habits, neighbourhood structure of the individual, and ethnicity.
The research problem for the study is to understand the influential factors that shape the view that individuals hold of fear of crime including protection and precaution methods. The research also sheds light on the difference in perception of men and women regarding the fear of crime and what influences that difference.
Significance of the research
Fear of crime has a huge and profound impact on any society. The choice of people regarding where to live, socialize and shop depends on their relative perceptions of the safety of their neighbourhood, towns and cities. There are different scenarios related to crime against the person of which people are fearful of. The most fearful scenarios differ for men and women. Women are more fearful of crime and being victimized rather than man (Jackson 2006). The research identifies the role of social construction that influences the perception of men and women regarding the fear of crime. Fear of crime can be a result of the latent influences and perception of the individual that he forms of the surrounding environment. The research is significant in terms of these perceptions and factors that influence people, both male and female regarding their personal safety and fear of being a victim of the crime. The research will help in gaining a deep knowledge and understanding of these influential factors for fear of crime, and differences in fearing crime by men and women.
The research questions for the research study are as follows:
- What different influential factors shape the perception of fear of crime and being victimized of both male and female?
- Do the social construction surrounding men and women impact their perception and degree of fear of crime?
- What are the measures used for avoiding or preventing of crime and being a victim and difference in these measures for men and women?
- Pertaining to the above mentioned research questions, the objectives of the research are framed as follows:
- To identify different influential factors shaping the perception of fear of crime among men and women.
- To understand the social construction around men and women, and its impact on their perception of fear of crime.
- To identify the precautionary measures taken by people for preventing or avoiding crime and difference in these measures for men and women.
Review of the past research
Fear can be defined as the term that involves a variety and a mix of confused feelings, estimations of risks, perspectives, and thus have different meanings and applications for different people. Crime is a natural phenomenon in the society and the latter cannot be freed from it fully at any time. Fear is a natural response from society and people towards crime. Wynne (2008) mentions the increasing importance and concern for fear of crime in past few decades among criminologists, media, policy makers and general public. There is parallel growth in sensitivity for being a victim of crime and fear of being a victim of crime.
Influential factors in fear of crime
Scott (2003) mentions that crimes that have an immediate effect on people living in society, such as burglary, robbery, etc. creates a higher degree of fear among individuals rather than the crimes done on a larger scale and on long-term basis. There is no universal definition for fear of crime. It can be defined in various ways, such as a sense of personal security in the society or the community, an emotional response to possible crime that could be violent or any physical harm.
Doran and Burgess (2011) argue that constraining daily activity patterns by people due to fear of crime highly influences quality of life. All those affected by fear of crime have the chances of succumbing to the exclusion or social isolation. There is a consistent finding for the relationship between fear of crime and gender. Women are more likely to suffer from fear of crime in comparison to men.
There is different meaning of fear of crime for men and women. Men are most likely to be fearful of assaults; women have the highest fear of crime about sexually motivated harm or attack. Shadow of sexual assault is a concept that explains the fear of crime of females. Undoubtedly, women are most concerned about rape and sexual assault, but according to Ferraro (1995), women are fearful of other offences that could occur as a consequence. For instance, women are more fearful about burglary into their home than men; the reason being the probability of occurrence of a sexual attack (Wynne 2008).
Furthermore, Gabrosky (2008) claim that rape is considered as a high profile attack that attracts extensive media coverage. This can have a shadowing effect on the perception of women for other kinds of crime against the person. The author led to the conclusion that in order to reduce the fear of crime among women, there must be reduction of fear of being raped.
Another influential factor for the fear of crime among individuals is age. There are contradictory findings for the relationship between fear and age. Moore and Shepherd (2007) argue that while previous studies showed elderly people as the most fearful people in the society, recent studies are reporting the opposite of the earlier findings. This shows contradictory findings for the relationship between fear and age. Scott (2003) mentions that older women are less fearful than the younger women for sexual attacks. Moreover, since old people avoid going outside more at night, they are less exposed to fear of crime than their younger counterparts as the young generation spend more time out of their house, and thus are more fearful of assaults.
However, elder people are most afraid for mugging and breaking into the house. Physical and social limitations of elderly make them feel vulnerable to the crime. Being a victim of burglary or robbery creates a high level of fear among people of all age (Farrall 2008).
Wynne (2008) states that perceived risk of fear of crime has also a relation to the neighbourhood incivilities. Drunken behaviour and alcohol consumption publicly adversely affect the inhabitants of the place. Individuals leaving in an area of neighbourhood incivilities have more constrained daily life activities and behaviour. There is reduced natural surveillance in these areas which increase the level of fear among people and make them adopt constrained life behaviour.
Zebrowski (2007) argues that there is also a significant relationship between fear and risk. If an individual thinks of anything that can expose him to the chance of being a victim of a crime, then the perceived risk is high. The chances of being a victim and the assessment of the crime rates in a particular situation and at a particular place evokes fear and perceived risk of being a victim of crime against the person. However, risk is not objective and is shaped by the social and cultural influences.
Farrall (2008) sheds light on the role of media, interpersonal communications and knowing a victim in shaping the level of fear of crime among individuals. There is significant effect of hearing stories from people regarding events of crime, media coverage and personal knowing of victims in raising the level of fear of crime and perceived risk of victimization. This leads to an increase in anxiety and the fear of crime. The indirect experience rather than the direct experience plays a more critical role in increasing worries and anxieties about victimization, and fear of crime because media as well as interpersonal communications are obvious resources of getting access to second hand information about the crime.
Gender differences in fear of crime
Kinsella (2011) states that the patriarchal ideology and the subordination of women are the factors that contributes to the high degree of fear of crime among women. Characteristics, such as independence, autonomy, etc. are considered as inappropriate for women and in the eventuality of a women becoming a victim of crime, these ideas are further mobilized. The above-mentioned characteristics also frame the socialization process for women and the fear of crime among women is related ideologically to the characteristics of feminism that they are being taught in the society.
However, Fetchenhauer and Buunk (2005) have stated in their study that women have a higher degree of fear of crime than men, while the rate of victimization among women is less in comparison to their fear of crime against the person. Females are more fearful of every event ranging from burglary, rape, sexual assault, mugging in the street to any kind of physical injury. These gender differences can be attributed to the sexual selection which favours status and risk-taking fights among men, and protection and caution among women.
The power control theory assumes that the men are educated to be risk-taking and fearless, while women are educated to be risk-avoiding and fearful. However, the more level of fear of crime in females cannot be attributed to the social stereotypes of male and female. It is the sexual selection of characteristics that leads to the gender differences in fear of crime.
Research methodology is an important part of the research report as it gives the explanation of the methods used for the collection of data and the logic behind these methods. Following sections determine the research methodology for the study.
Deductive research approach is selected for the research study so as to accumulate large volume of qualitative data in respect of the perception of fear of crime among men and women and influential factors that shape the level of fear of crime among individuals. Deductive research approach is helpful in collection of more specific data about the research objectives. It is also helpful in coming to the specific outcomes from generalized results (Crowther and Lancaster 2008).
It assists in identification of appropriate set of research methods that meet the identified research approach well (Creswell 2003). It signifies the base of the research methods used for collection of information related to the topic of the research. It refers to the overall strategy which is chosen to conduct the research and integrate different components of the study. It acts as the blueprint for the research study collecting, measuring and analysing the data. In order to make a comprehensive research, primary and secondary data from the identified and selected resources is taken into consideration. Exploratory research design is the design type selected for the study as it explores the influential factors and social construction behind the fear of crime among individuals. It leads to obtaining background information on the research topic and explain the existing concepts.
Research methods help in collection of relevant data for the study. Both primary and secondary research methods are used for the research study. Primary research method includes semi-structured interviews of sample.
In semi-structured interviews, respondents are given the chance to feel free about what is important to her rather than what is important to the interviewer. The interviewer also remains flexible and adaptable to the situations in which he is interviewing the sample (Bryman and Bell 2007).
The secondary research method selected for the research study is review of the past research. The data is collected from authentic and reliable sources from internet including journal articles, books and other authentic sources over internet (Cooper 1998).
Appropriate sampling is essential for organizing the collection of data in an effective way. It has to be based on unbiased approach so as to justify the approach for data collection and improving the reliability and validity of the collected data for reaching final results (Denzin and Lincoln 2000).
Interview Respondents: A convenience sample was adopted for the research study, consisting of 3 men and 3 women for analyzing the influential factors in shaping the level of fear of crime among individuals. Six persons residing in the capital city of Australia were invited to participate in the study. The researcher chose to utilise a sample from a singular geographical location so as to reduce the potential for a skew in reporting on the fear of crime due to divergent crime statistics and experiences in different geographic locations. The interviews were conducted via telephone, using a semi structured interview technique (Fink 2005).
Another semi-structured interview was conducted with 3 men and 3 women face-to-face from same geographic location of Australian capital city for identifying the differences in perception of fear of crime among men and women and gender differences in concern.
Data Analysis Approach
The data collected from the semi-structured interviews is analysed qualitatively by recording the interview and transcribing the data into transcripts so as to analyse the data and arrive at findings of the research (Jackson 2008). Analysis of the collected data is done by explaining the findings and factors theoretically with the help of use of transcripts of both the interviews.
Reliability and validity of the data
In order to make the research reliable and valid, voluntary consent was obtained from respondents so that they can actively get involved in the research process. The personal information of the respondents is kept confidential other than gender and age as these are crucial for finding and analysis of the collected primary data. The credibility of the analysis is maintained by recording the data while interviewing the participants and maintaining the confidentiality of the participants without including personal bias in the analysis section of the research study (Bergh and Ketchen 2009).
Findings and analysis
The findings are analyzed with the help of use of transcripts and coded data so as to attain the objectives of the research in light of the research problem and questions, and enabling the researcher to get an idea about the influential factors in fear of crime and gender differences in perception of crime against the person.
Analysis of the interview questionnaire
In regards to the question regarding currently adopted measures for making the house and oneself secure, most of the respondents used deadlocks for doors and kept windows and doors locked when they are out of the house. Those having kids are more concerned about the security of their kids. Use of alarm and living in a good neighbourhood preferably an apartment are other methods used by them to make them secure. As one respondent said, "I live in an apartment block and deliberately chose one where you have to get buzzed in through an intercom system. I think that living in an apartment with neighbours around means that if something happens to me people will be around to help", it is obvious fact that neighbourhood provides natural surveillance. Similarly other response, "I live in a secure apartment complex. I chose this complex because it has secure car parking. It also has a security system that stops people getting into the common areas" indicates the same influential factor of good neighbourhood and natural surveillance.
Fear of particular crimes
All the female participants had the highest fear of being raped and sexual assault followed by home invasion which is again an outcome of being vulnerable to any kind of physical injury or assault by the invader. As said by one female respondent, "I would be scared if someone broke into my house, because you never know what they are going to do to you if they are confronted. You are so vulnerable in your own home in that situation", shows sexual assault is most fearful scenario for women. For men, home invasion and mugged in the street are particular crimes they have fear of. In home invasion too, the fear of rape of daughter or wife is high rather than stealing of things or valuables as is evident from this response, "I am worried about my wife and kids being attacked and raped".
Age and fear of crime
It can be analyzed from responses that there is a relationship between age and fear of crime and fear of type of crime varies with age, especially women. Young women are fearful of sexual assaults while elder individuals both male and female are worried and anxious over someone breaking into the house and being mugged in the street. As said by one old-age respondent, "We are seen as easy targets for young people. What also surprises me is the willingness of young people to use violence and weapons in crimes", it can be analyzed that age-old people are fearful of crime because of their social and physical limitations. "I don't worry that much about it happening to me but I really worry about the kids"- this particular response by a middle-age women also shows they become less fearful of sexual assaults but have other worries for being a victim of the crime. Middle age individuals also worry about their growing age and, thus growing vulnerability of being a victim of crime as can be observed from this specific response: "They like to target all old people but they do horrible things to older women".
Role of media in perceived risk of being a victim
All the respondents said that the stories they hear of the crime, media coverage and knowing the victim personally have influence their thinking of likelihood of being a victim of crime. Specific responses, such as, "I read the news on line and watch the TV, so I am pretty conscious of what is happening with people being attacked in the city", "my girlfriend getting attacked really scared me", "I am pretty involved with my kids school, so I hear a lot of stories through there", "I'm scared of all this because the world is just so crazy these days and so much bad stuff happens and I hear about it all the time", throws light on indirect experiences as a major factor in influencing the fear of crime of individuals.
Relationship of neighbourhood and fear of crime
Most of the respondents were in agreement that a good neighbourhood provides natural surveillance and they are comparatively less worried due to living in a good area. One of the respondents gave specific answer: "Say if you lived in a neighbourhood where crime is off the chain then yeah, you would be scared of it whether you were a man or woman. But like me, I live in a pretty chilled area where not much bad stuff happens". It can be analyzed that living in a good neighbourhood lessens the fear of crime in both men and women. Likewise, a bad neighbourhood increases fear and anxiety as mentioned by one of the female respondents, "When I take my dog for a walk around the neighbourhood, I often see youths hanging around in groups drinking and smoking and get quite scared that they might try and mug me".
In regards to the query whether women are more fearful than men, all three female respondents agreed that women are more fearful; the reason is social construction, more expression of feelings and concern by women, and physical limitations. Male respondents also agreed to the point which shows that females are more worrisome than males.
For the question of impact of stereotype of women being weak on fear of crime, all female respondents agreed that it is a fact and it has an impact on their level of fear of crime. One male respondent was neutral and said that anybody could defence in that situation, while two of them said that men can face the situation more bravely. It can be inferred from the responses that social construction and stereotype of women being physically weak contributes significantly in framing the level of fear of crime.
For the question of likelihood of being a victim of crime, both male and female respondents said that they do not continuously think of being a victim, but females showed concern for being more careful and cautious when going out alone in night as can be observed from the following responses: "I don't think it is that likely. I am quick to add that I don't think it is likely if I avoid places and things that increase my risk of being a victim", said by a male respondent, "My work requires me to work long hours, so I guess the risks are a little bit higher because of that", "I tend to go out a lot more on my own to meet up with friends; so yeah there are times I think I am more likely to have something happen", said by female respondents.
In response to the question for reason for different behaviour of women and men over fear of crime, most of the respondents said that the social construction and the masculine factor of not admitting fear even when one possesses it makes women express more about the fear of crime than men. However, one of the respondents mentioned the role of one's education, set-up and kind of person one is, in holding different behaviour of fear of crime. It can be analyzed from the above responses that societal construction and difference in behaviour of men and women regarding being manly and feminine are influential factors for gender differences in fear and crime.
Discussion and conclusion
From the analysis of the primary responses and secondary research, it can be inferred that there are certain influential factors in shaping the fear of crime among individuals. As identified from the responses, good neighbourhood reduces the risk of being a victim of crime, while the same is enhanced in vice-versa situation. Wynne (2008) has also mentioned the significance of natural surveillance and neighbourhood incivilities in shaping the level of fear of crime among individuals. Fetchenhauer and Buunk (2005) throws light on women fearing more of crime than men arising from the sexual selection that favours risk taking behaviour men and protective behaviour of women. Primary research also confirms the fact that women worry more of fear of crime than men and is due to the natural attributes of male and females.
Primary responses also shed light on gender differences in worst case scenario for occurrence of crime. While men are mostly concerned of home invasion and being robbed or mugged in street, women were most fearful about sexual assaults followed by burglary. Zebrowski (2007) supports the finding stating that women also feel worried due to consequence of other crime scenarios, such as burglary, where woman could also face a sexual attack. Role of media and other indirect experiences of crime increase the level of anxiety among individuals as mentioned by Farrall and Lee (2008). Primary research supports the finding as it is analyzed that most of the responses pointed towards media stories, heard stories and personal knowing of a victim having influenced their level of fear of crime.
Patriarchal ideology of society and subordination of women to men leads to women fearing more than men (Kinsella 2011). Findings from the responses are in coherence with the secondary research as most of the respondents agreed that women stereotyped as being weak and subordinate contributes to their level of fear of crime. As Moore and Shepherd (2007) speak of older women being less fearful than younger women of being sexually assaulted, findings from interview also points on more likelihood of young women being victimized due to sexual assault or rape. However, social and physical vulnerability increases in old age leading to more fear of crime, which is also supported in the study by Doran and Burgess (2011).
It can be concluded from overall research that influential factors in the framing of fear of crime among individuals include age, neighbourhood, gender differences and stereotypes, and indirect experiences of crime through media, interpersonal communications and knowing of a victim of crime. Fear of being victimized is higher in females than males and this can be attributed to the societal construction and natural sexual selection that favours risk-taking attitude of men, and risk-avoiding and protective attitude of women.
Limitations of the research
The research study is confined to a single geographic location due to which the results cannot be generalized to other societies or geographies. The comparison of the responses of one geographic location with another was not done. Personal judgment of the respondents and variation in individual opinions while responding was another limitation of the research. The primary data is collected by using interview method.
In this research work, the interview has been conducted with only 12 individuals in Canberra. This is another point of limitation as this would create problems in driving relevant findings and generalizations. All in all, the limitation involved in this research is low sample population for interview purpose.
- There should be inclusion of more than one geographic location so that comparison can be made between geographies regarding the fear of crime which can also help in generalization of the result.
- To collect more and more precise data about the research problem, it is recommended to use only authentic and reliable sources to collect general information and further use this information for finding specific outcomes in more appropriate way.
- The sample size should be selected taking into consideration the purpose of the research so as to arrive at more authentic findings and results in respect of the research problem.