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Fear of Crime

Effects Of Fear

To criminologists and sociologists, the importance of fear ultimately lies in its consequences for individuals, neighborhoods, and for society as a whole. Research suggests that the consequences of fear in the U.S. are widespread and sometimes grave (Warr, 1994, 2000). Nearly all Americans, for example, take some precautions in their everyday lives, if only minor ones like locking doors or leaving lights on. Of the many precautions that citizens employ, the most frequently reported is spatial avoidance, or avoiding places that are believed to be dangerous. In many cities, entire regions of the urban landscape—certain parks, neighborhoods, beaches, downtown sectors, commercial areas, or industrial districts—are effectively off limits to a large segment of the population because of their reputations as "dangerous places." Fearful individuals are also less likely to leave their homes at night, travel alone, answer their doors, or travel on foot. The proportion of urban women who engage in these sorts of precautions is nothing short of startling, exceeding 40 percent in some cities (Warr, 1994).

Fear of crime can have devastating longterm effects for neighborhoods, according to research by Skogan. Once fear of crime sets in, established, higher-income residents move away, only to be replaced by new arrivals with weaker commitments to the neighborhood. Residents frequently withdraw from community life, further eroding residents' control of the neighborhood. Some analysts believe that fear of crime has contributed to a general decline in the quality of life in the United States, restricting individual freedom and producing a "fortress society."

However severe consequences, fear is a natural and essential protective mechanism, and fear of crime has undoubtedly prevented many people from becoming victims of crime. It is when fear is out of proportion to objective risk, however, that it becomes dysfunctional for an organism or for a group. One frequently overlooked benefit of fear is that it sometimes draws communities together in common purpose and enhances social solidarity. Evidence for this can be seen in such community activities as neighborhood crime watch programs, "take back the night" marches, police/community liaison programs, and similar local initiatives. The challenge today is to insure that the public is fully and accurately informed about the risks of criminal victimization, and that public fear of crime is not needless or excessive.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawFear of Crime - Perceptions Of Risk, Gender And Age, Altruistic Fear, Effects Of Fear, Bibliography