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Fear of Crime

Perceptions Of Risk, Gender And Age, Altruistic Fear, Effects Of Fear, Bibliography

Criminal events provoke many emotions from the general public—outrage, sadness, anger, disgust, shock. One of those emotions, public fear of crime, has drawn concerted attention from social scientists since the late 1960s. One reason for that attention is a simple but sobering fact: The number of people who experience fear of crime during any particular period is enormously greater than the number of people who will actually become victims of crime. To illustrate, about 40 to 50 percent of respondents in national surveys each year report that they are afraid to walk alone at night in the vicinity of their home, and more than half say that becoming a victim of crime is something that they personally worry about. By contrast, the chances of actually becoming a victim of crime each year are considerably smaller, ranging from fewer than one in ten thousand persons per year for homicide to about one in ten to twenty households per year for residential burglary. Fear of crime, then, is a much larger social problem than crime itself (Warr, 1994, 1995).

The phrase "fear of crime" is sometimes loosely used to describe a variety of attitudes, perceptions, or feelings about crime (e.g., concern about the moral decline of the country, the deterioration of neighborhoods, or mistrust of strangers). Used properly, however, the term fear refers to a particular emotion, that is, a feeling of apprehension or dread caused by an awareness or expectation of danger. Psychologists often use the word fear to describe reactions to immediate threats (a stranger moves toward you with a weapon in his hand) and the term anxiety to describe reactions to possible future events (e.g., what will happen when I walk home tonight or go to the store?). Criminologists rarely honor this distinction, however, and conventionally speak of "fear of crime" even when what they have in mind is anxiety about crime.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law