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date: 21 October 2017

Fear of Crime

Summary and Keywords

Fear of crime has been a serious social problem studied for almost 40 years. Early researchers focused on operationalization and conceptualization of fear of crime, specifically focusing on what fear of crime was (and was not) and how to best tap into the fear of crime construct. This research also found that while crime rates had been declining, fear of crime rates had stayed relatively stable. Nearly 40% of Americans indicated they were afraid of crime, even though crime was declining during the same time period. This finding led researchers to study the paradox of fear of crime. In other words, why does fear of crime not match up with actual chances of victimization? Several explanations were put forth including a focus on vulnerability (e.g., individuals felt vulnerable to crime even if they were not vulnerable) and a focus on differences in groups (e.g., women were more afraid of crime than men, even though they were less likely to be victims). Thus, many studies began to consider the predictors of fear of crime. Researchers since this time have spent most time studying these fear of crime predictors including individual level predictors (i.e., sex, race, age, social class), contextual predictors (neighborhood disorder, incivilities, and social cohesion), along with the consequences of fear of crime (psychological and behavioral). Such results have provided guidance on what individuals fear, why they fear, and what impact it has on the daily lives of Americans. Future research will continue to focus on groups little is known about, such as Hispanics, and also on the impact of behavior on fear of crime. This future research will likely also benefit from new techniques in survey research that analyzes longitudinal data to determine causality between fear of crime and other predictors such as risk and behavior.

Keywords: Fear of victimization, perceived risk, constrained behaviors, perceptions about victimization

The Relationship between Crime and Fear of Crime

The relationship between crime and fear of crime is not intuitive. One would imagine that if crime was high, fear of crime would be as well, and alternatively, if crime was low, fear of crime would follow this pattern. What has been found over the years, however, is that crime and fear of crime rarely match up. In fact, while crime in the United States has been declining for the past 20 years, fear of crime has stayed relatively constant. For example, when examining the Bureau of Justice Statistics information from 1980 to 2013, persons arrested for murder and nonnegligent manslaughter dropped from 20,000 individuals in 1980 to about 12,000 in 2013. This pattern also holds for rape (32,000 arrested in 1980, in comparison to 17,000 in 2013) and for stolen property (120,000 arrested in 1980 compared to 100,000 in 2013). Thus, arrest statistics clearly show that crime has been declining over the past twenty years (Snyder & Mulako-Wangota, 2015).

Since crime rates have been declining, it would make sense that fear of crime rates would also show declining patterns over time. However, this is not the case. In fact, the rate of those who said they were afraid to walk in their neighborhood has stayed relatively stable. In 1980, approximately 40 percent of respondents said they were afraid to walk alone at night while in 2013, approximately 37 percent said they were afraid to walk in their neighborhood at night (Dugan, 2014). Further, when asked the question, is there more crime in your area than there was a year ago, or less, in 1983, 37 percent of respondents said “more” and in 2013, 41 percent said “more” (Dugan, 2014). Thus, while crime rates have been declining over time, fear of crime rates have stayed relatively stable.

Because of this finding, much research has been conducted on the fear of crime in an effort to understand why fear of crime rates and crime rates do not always match up. Additionally, fear of crime researchers have tried to determine the best way to define and measure fear of crime, the most likely predictors of fear of crime (at both the individual and contextual level), and the consequences of fear of crime.

Defining Fear of Crime

Through the years, researchers have struggled with the best way to conceptualize and define fear of crime, debating whether fear of crime should be conceptualized as an emotion or as a measure of risk. Historically, fear of crime has long been defined as “risk.” In other words, how likely is it that a person will be a victim of a particular crime (Ferraro, 1995; Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987; LaGrange, Ferraro, & Supancic, 1992)? However, researchers have found this definition to be quite different from the emotional response to potential victimization, and after numerous studies (Mesch, 2000a; Rader, May, & Goodrum, 2007; Rountree & Land, 1996; Warr, 2000; Wyant, 2008), many researchers determined that fear of crime should be defined as the emotional response to potential victimization whereas “perceived risk” should be defined as the likelihood of victimization risk. These concepts are related but distinct in the fear of crime literature. For example, the likelihood of risk one believes one has of becoming a victim (i.e., perceived risk) may influence how afraid of crime one might be.

Additionally, some researchers early on suggested that behavior may also be related to fear of crime. In other words, one’s fear of crime may lead to someone taking a range of precautionary measures (i.e., constrained behaviors), such as avoiding going places alone or at night (i.e., avoidance behaviors) or taking a self-defense class, owning a weapon, or installing extra locks or bars on windows (i.e., protective behaviors; Liska, Sanchirico, & Reed, 1988; Rader & Haynes, 2014; Rountree, 1998; Wilcox, May, & Roberts, 2006).

Thus, researchers have noted that emotion (fear of crime), likelihood of risk (perceived risk), and precautionary behaviors (constrained behaviors) may work together but that generally speaking, perceived risk and constrained behaviors predict fear of crime (Mesch, 2000a; Rader, 2004; Rader et al., 2007).

A couple of studies have questioned this position. Liska and colleagues (1988) argued that constrained behaviors may be both a cause and a consequence of fear of crime. For example, fear of crime may cause someone to install a security system. However, owning a security system and pushing the on or off button may make the system owners more afraid of crime because they are now thinking about crime more often. Liska and colleagues (1988) did indeed find that constrained behaviors and fear of crime were reciprocal, with a feedback loop occurring between these two concepts. This reciprocal relationship has not been explored in much detail, in part because most data collected for fear of crime studies are cross sectional and do not allow researchers to truly test this relationship.

Further, an article by Rader (2004) argued that fear of crime should not be the sole focus of studies but instead should be one of a three-pronged approach to studying the larger concept of the “threat of victimization” (which includes fear of crime, perceived risk, and constrained behaviors). In other words, individuals manage the threat of victimization not only with emotion (fear of crime) but also with cognition (perceived risk) and behavior (constrained behaviors). So, the focus on fear of crime as the most important element may not be the best way to define the threat of victimization. Rader and colleagues (2007) tested this theoretical model and found that while fear of crime was important in determining the threat of victimization, analyzing perceived risk and constrained behaviors as outcomes yielded much information about the larger threat of victimization concept.

Measuring Fear of Crime

Fear of crime has been measured in a variety of ways. Over the years, it has been measured using a single-item measure (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987; Lane, Rader, Henson, Fisher, & May, 2014). This measure is often used in a variety of secondary data sources such as the National Crime Survey and the General Social Survey. For example, the National Crime Survey asks, “How safe do you feel or would you feel being out alone in your neighborhood at night?” Fear of crime has also been measured by using more crime-specific measures. For example, the survey also asks questions about a home being burglarized (Melde, 2009; Wilcox-Rountree & Land, 1996a) or about sexual assault (Ferraro, 1996; May, Rader, & Goodrum, 2010).

Historically, much of the early research focused on the best way to both define and measure fear of crime. The early literature noted that four problems were associated with the fear of crime measure (Lane et al., 2014). First, as stated above, many studies were viewed as tapping into the wrong construct. These early measures (some later studies have used these measures this as well) asked respondents how safe they felt instead of how worried they were about crimes happening to them. Early researchers found that “safety” measures were really tapping into perceived risk (how likely you are to be a victim of crime or your perception of that likelihood) instead of truly measuring fear of crime (how afraid you are of a crime happening to you; Baumer, 1978; Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987). Thus, from the 1980s onward, researchers argued that fear of crime measures needed to ask about worry instead of safety.

A second problem area in early fear of crime measurement involved using a generalized instead of a crime-specific measure (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987; Hale, 1996). Early research (as well as some later research) used crime as a generalized indicator (i.e., how afraid are you of crime?). This measurement was viewed as flawed because it lacked specificity as to the type of crime one might think of when answering this question. Respondents might be thinking of murder, rape, theft, or burglary. Early researchers therefore argued that generalized fear of crime questions confused the respondent, and so they asked that future researchers implement a more crime-specific measure (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987; Wilcox-Rountree & Land, 1996b). Doing so tends to provide different results, with some groups fearing certain crimes more than others (Ferraro, 1995; Fisher & Sloan, 2003; Lane & Fox, 2013; Rountree & Land, 1996).

Third, researchers argued that fear of crime measurements needed to include location-specific guidance to the respondent (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987; Fisher & Nasar, 1992). In other words, by asking individuals if they feared crime in their neighborhood or their community, researchers have found that fear of crime varies depending on how far away the potential threat might be (Fisher & Nasar, 1992; Haynes & Rader, 2015; McGarrell, Giacomazzi, & Thurman, 1997). Recently, as a follow-up to Rountree’s (1998) study, Lai and colleagues (2012) found that burglary victimization and fear of victimization were linked when examining incidences around the respondent’s residence but not when examining neighborhood disorder. This finding indicates that examining crime-specific fear is important for future research. Thus, measures of fear of crime need to be location specific.

Finally, some research suggested that fear of crime questions needed to measure intensity. Thus, asking participants if they feared specific crimes on a scale from very worried to not at all worried assisted in understanding how intense fear of crime might be for a participant (Ferraro, 1995, 1996; Fisher & Sloan, 2003; Melde, 2009). Early studies asked respondents if they were afraid of crime (either were or were not) rather than giving respondents the ability to answer the question on a scale of intensity.

Thus, when taking all of these early discussions concerning fear of crime into consideration and some recent additions, the best measurement of fear of crime should tap into the concept of worry (i.e., how worried about crime are you); should be crime specific (i.e., how worried are you about rape); should be location specific (i.e., how worried are you about rape happening in your neighborhood); and should be able to measure intensity (i.e., on a scale from one to ten, where one means not at all worried and ten means worried, how worried are you about the crime of rape happening in your neighborhood?; see Lane et al., 2014).

Individual Predictors of Fear of Crime


There are several predictors of fear of crime at the individual level. First and foremost, a person’s sex is the most significant predictor of fear of crime, with women fearing crime at much higher levels than men. This finding is problematic because women’s and men’s fear of crime is out of line with their actual chances of victimization. Women are less likely to be the victim of a crime and yet are more likely to say they are afraid of crime; in contrast, men are more likely to be the victim of crime and yet are less likely to say they are afraid of crime (Ferraro, 1996; C. A. Franklin & Franklin, 2009; Rader, 2008). This well-established finding has been around for some time and has led researchers to ask why (Hale, 1996; Young, 1992). Why is it that there is a paradox between victimization chances and fear of crime for both men and women? Researchers have offered several explanations for this finding, including vulnerability, the “shadow of sexual assault,” socialization, and the hidden nature of victimization (Ferraro, 1996; Fisher & Sloan, 2003; Gilchrist, Bannister, Ditton, & Farrall, 1998; Rader & Haynes, 2011; Reid & Konrad, 2004).

First, a leading explanation in the literature involves vulnerability. The idea is that women feel afraid of crime because they feel more vulnerable to crime, even if this is not the case. Sometimes this vulnerability is based solely on physical size (women feel smaller than potential male attackers), and sometimes it is based on other social vulnerability factors such as the location of where someone lives. Regardless, vulnerability has been found to be a good explanation for why women fear crime even though their chances of victimization are low (Killias, 1990; Killias & Clerici, 2000; Madriz, 1997; Rader, Cossman, & Porter, 2012).

A second prominent explanation involves the potential for sexual assault. Women may believe that all crimes may end in sexual assault (e.g., a robbery can turn into a sexual assault), and therefore, this overarching fear of sexual assault may spill over into their fear of all crime. Thus, even though women’s chances of victimization for most crimes are low (sexual assault would be an exception), because women are afraid of sexual assault, they are afraid of all crime (Ferraro, 1996; Fisher & Sloan, 2003; Lane & Meeker, 2003b; May, 2001b; Ozascilar, 2013; Wilcox, Jordan, & Pritchard, 2006).

Another explanation that ties into both vulnerability and the shadow of sexual assault hypothesis involves gender socialization. Women are socialized to believe that they need protection from others, that they are likely to be victimized by a stranger, and that the public space is dangerous for them. These socialization messages normalize fear of crime in the daily lives of women. Thus, regardless of the chances of victimization, because women have been taught that they are likely to be the victim of certain types of crimes (sexual assault) in certain locations (the public sphere) and by certain people (strangers), women live in fear of these types of events occurring to them (Hollander, 2001; Madriz, 1997; Rader & Haynes, 2011; Stanko, 1995).

Socialization also plays a role in men’s relative lack of fear of crime. While most fear of crime research has focused on explaining why women fear crime, several studies have also focused on why men do not fear it. These studies have found that men are socialized to believe that fear is a sign of weakness for “real” men and that showing this emotion would signal weakness. Thus, while men may very well be afraid of crime, they rarely express this fear (Gilchrist et al., 1998; Goodey, 1997). This socialization practice has also taught men about the situational nature of fear of crime. Socialization practices have taught men that it is acceptable for them to fear when they are in strange places or do not believe they can take on a group of men or others. Some studies have found that men admit to fear when visiting other places or when groups of teenage boys approach them (Beaulieu, Dube, Bergeron, & Cousineau, 2007; Day, Stump, & Carreon, 2003; Pain, 2000). Other than these situational factors, most studies have found that men do not acknowledge fear of crime (Day et al., 2003; Gilchrist et al., 1998; Goodey, 1997; May & Dunaway, 2000; Rader, 2010; Smith & Torstensson, 1997).

One final explanation of the gender-fear of crime paradox involves the hidden nature of victimization. Researchers who use this perspective have argued that women’s victimization rates are highly underreported and if we knew how often women were victims of crime, their fear of crime levels might be in line (or more in line) with their chances of victimization (Lane et al., 2014; Stanko, 1995). All of these explanations help elucidate why women and men’s fear of crime levels are out of line with their actual chances of victimization.

Age, Race/Ethnicity, Social Class

Other significant individual predictors in the literature include age, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status of individuals. Age has been studied in the fear of crime literature for quite some time. Early research indicated that older people were much more afraid of crime than younger people. Older people, though less likely to be victims of crime, felt they were vulnerable to crime because of their changing health and body conditions. Again, the primary explanation for this finding involves vulnerability (LaGrange & Ferraro, 1989; Warr, 1984). More recent research has also found that older men feel more vulnerable to victimization as well (Beaulieu et al., 2007; De Donder, Verte, & Messelis, 2005). More recent research has additionally found that younger people may feel more vulnerable to victimization and thus fear crime at higher levels than originally expected. This may be because of the physical size difference between teenagers and younger children, which can contribute to the potential threat of victimization, particularly for boys (May, 2001a; Melde, Taylor, & Esbensen, 2009; Wilcox, May et al., 2006). With these more recent findings, the age and fear of crime relationship has become more complex, so that most would argue today that this relationship is curvilinear.

Whereas age has been the focus of many studies since the 1970s, fewer studies have focused on race and particularly ethnicity and fear of crime (Lane et al., 2014). These studies have not produced consistent results, but generally speaking, they suggest that nonwhites are more afraid of crime than whites. The primary reason for this fear is based on the vulnerability minorities experience in their social location. In other words, because minorities (especially African Americans) are more likely to live in areas where crime is more prevalent and are also more likely to be offenders and victims, research suggests that nonwhites are more afraid of crime (Lane & Meeker, 2011; Lane et al., 2014; Parker, 1988). A few studies have also found that whites are more afraid than nonwhites. These studies suggest that the media or other sources suggest that whites may believe they are more likely to be victims (even if this is not the case) and therefore, might be afraid of crime (De Welde, 2003; Gainey, Alper, & Chappell, 2011).

One interesting twist in this research is that it has focused almost exclusively on African Americans as a group; several researchers have argued that other minority groups have been excluded (Lane & Meeker, 2003a; Scarborough, Like-Haislip, Novak, Lucas, & Alarid, 2010). One particular group that has become the focus of newer research strains are Hispanics. This research shows that Hispanics fear crime more than African Americans or whites in part because of their social location but also in part because of language barriers and/or immigration status, which may cause a mistrust of police or the system more generally (Eitle & Taylor, 2008; Melde et al., 2009).

Additional fear of crime research focuses not so much on which group fears crime but which group is feared by others. This research suggests that the racial composition of a place is important in determining fear of crime. If a place is more racially/ethnically heterogeneous, fear of crime levels may be higher. Also, research has found that in places where large minority populations reside, the residents may also have high fear of crime (Chiricos, Eschholz, & Gertz, 1997; Skogan & Maxfield, 1981). Finally, some research has shown that even if participants think they have a high minority population (even if this is not the case), they report higher fear of crime (Covington & Taylor, 1991; St. John & Heald-Moore, 1996). All in all, this is a blossoming area of study in the fear of crime literature and one that needs additional research.

Social class is also a focus of study in the fear of crime literature. Similar to race/ethnicity, little research has been done on this topic. The small body of literature that does exist has found that poorer individuals are more afraid of crime than their wealthier counterparts (McKee & Milner, 2000; Pantazis, 2000). This is based on the social and physical vulnerability experienced by poorer individuals. These individuals may live in neighborhoods where crime is more likely, and so they may be more susceptible to victimization. They may also be physically vulnerable since they may not be able to protect themselves from potential victimization (Pantazis, 2000; Scarborough et al., 2010). As an example, those who are poor may have to take public transportation, may not be able to take precautionary measures (such as installing extra locks, bars, or security systems), and may not be able to vary their routine activities to reduce potential victimization. For these reasons, those who are poor/reside in working-class areas may have greater fear of crime than other income-based groups.

Other Factors that Predict Fear of Crime

A few other factors are sometimes associated with fear of crime, including marital status, parenting status, educational attainment, and previous victimization. Those who are married are often less afraid of crime than their single counterparts (Scarborough et al., 2010; Schafer, Huebner, & Bynum, 2006). However, when examining fear of crime for other people, married men are more afraid for a spouse than for other people, and sometimes more fearful for spouses than they are for themselves (Rader, 2010; Warr & Ellison, 2000). Additionally, parents are more fearful than nonparents, especially when considering fear of crime for their children. Women who are parents are more fearful for children than men who are parents, again, showing an important difference by sex (Mesch, 2000b; Snedker, 2006; Warr & Ellison, 2000). In terms of education, although little research has been conducted on this topic, research has found that those who are more educated are less fearful of crime. However, this has gender effects as well, with educated women reporting more fear of crime than educated males (Schafer et al., 2006).

Finally, the role of previous victimization in the literature has received much attention, primarily because the relationship between fear of crime and victimization has shown mixed results (May & Dunaway, 2000; Schafer et al., 2006). Some studies have found that victimization experiences increase fear of crime (Ferguson & Mindel, 2007; Katz, Webb, & Armstrong, 2003); others have found that victimization experiences decrease fear of crime (Mesch, 2000a); and others have found that victimization has no effect on fear of crime (Ferraro, 1995). Further research has focused on the role of vicarious victimization. In other words, those who know someone (friend, neighbor, family member) or hear of someone through the media who has been a victim are more afraid of crime (Chiricos, Padgett, & Gertz, 2000; Eschholz, Chiricos, & Gertz, 2003; Skogan & Maxfield, 1981).

All and all, then, many factors predict fear of crime at the individual level, including sex, race/ethnicity, age, social class, marital/parenting status, educational status, and victimization status.

Contextual Predictors of Fear of Crime

In addition to individual predictors of fear of crime, the literature has also focused on contextual factors that predict fear of crime—namely, how living conditions and the characteristics of a neighborhood context influence fear of crime.

Racial Heterogeneity/Subcultural Diversity

Fear of crime research at the contextual level has focused on the racial make-up of neighborhoods. For example, neighborhoods that are racially heterogeneous may increase fear of crime levels, so that if individuals live in more diverse neighborhoods, they may feel more afraid of their neighbors, which may induce fear. Thus, racial heterogeneity may explain fear of crime among residents in neighborhoods (Katz et al., 2003; Lane & Meeker, 2000).

Another closely related explanation in the fear of crime literature is the subcultural diversity approach. This approach argues that when individuals lack close relationships with their neighbors, they may be more afraid of others who are not like themselves (i.e., those who are ethnically, culturally, or racially different than themselves; Lane et al., 2014). This approach has elements of social disorganization theory, although social disorganization theorists explained crime as the product not just of racial heterogeneity but rather of turnover within neighborhoods, which caused a lack of social control (Bursik & Grasmick, 1993). For fear of crime researchers, subcultural diversity in neighborhoods is a process of “othering,” where individuals see others as different from themselves, which may in turn increase fear of crime. As stated earlier, fear of crime may be independent of how much crime is actually in a neighborhood. Instead, fear of crime is often based on the perception that crime is near, and the racial/ethnic/cultural make-up of a neighborhood may contribute to increases in fear of crime among residents (Chiricos, Hogan, & Gertz, 1997; Katz et al., 2003; Lane, 2002). Some research has also found that living in a predominantly black neighborhood increases fear of crime, while other research has found that this is true only for white residents (Chiricos, Hogan et al., 1997; Lane et al., 2014; Liska, Lawrence, & Sanchirico, 1982). So, the link between diversity and fear of crime may be based on having a variety of racial/ethnic/cultural groups in neighborhoods or having a large population of racial minorities.

Disorder and Neighborhood Incivilities

Another contextual factor that fear of crime researchers often focus on are the disorder/incivilities within neighborhoods. If individuals perceive their neighborhood as having disorderly characteristics, they may believe that this is a sign of larger problems such as crime, and these individuals may believe they are at risk or should worry about crime (Wyant, 2008). In addition to a general perception of disorder, the fear of crime literature has explored “incivilities.” This idea largely began with Wilson and Kelling’s (1982) broken windows thesis, which suggested that neighborhoods with dilapidated buildings, broken windows, and trash in the streets were more likely to be criminogenic. Fear of crime researchers have also suggested that these factors might lead to increased fear of crime (Markowitz, Bellair, Liska, & Liu, 2001; Robinson, Lawton, Taylor, & Perkins, 2003; Wyant, 2008).

There are two types of incivilities, social incivilities and physical incivilities. Examples of social incivilities are teenagers standing around in the street, whereas physical incivilities involve broken windows, dilapidated buildings, graffiti, and the like (LaGrange et al., 1992; Robinson et al., 2003). Both types of incivilities have been found to increase fear of crime among residents (Wyant, 2008). This is also part of what Lane and colleagues talk about as “community decline”; as they state, “concern about community declines heightens when people are not connected with others in their communities” (Lane et al., 2014, p. 164). The contextual element of incivilities and decline in communities is linked then with fear of crime.

Social Cohesion

Some research focuses not on negative attributes of community decline or disorder but on positive attributes in the community, specifically, trust and social cohesion in neighborhoods. This notion is in line with the larger concept known as collective efficacy (Sampson, Raudenbush, & Earls, 1997). Collective efficacy, which stems from the social disorganization literature, focuses on trust among community members. This trust or social cohesion may help residents informally exert social control over members, which may in turn reduce violence (Sampson et al., 1997; Swatt, Varano, Uchida, & Solomon, 2013). So, community members who know their neighbors and are invested in the neighborhood are more likely to exert social control over other members.

For example, neighbors may keep an eye on other neighbors’ houses who are out of town or they may notice when individuals who do not belong are in the neighborhood. Further, community members who are tied into their neighborhoods are more likely to exert formal social control mechanisms as well; notably, they will call the police when something seems out of place or unusual in their neighborhood (Robinson et al., 2003; Sampson et al., 1997; Swatt et al., 2013). Thus, individuals who feel connected to their communities and are more invested in their neighborhoods are more concerned about what happens in their communities. These individuals may also have lower fear of crime because they feel safer in their community (Swatt et al., 2013). This idea intuitively makes sense, and research has found support for it. Thus, fear of crime is stronger in communities that lack strong ties to the community or perception of strong ties to the community (Markowitz et al., 2001; Scarborough et al., 2010). Communities without strong ties between community members can cause residents of these communities to feel less safe and ultimately more afraid of crime (Markowitz et al., 2001; Sampson et al., 1997).

Measuring “Context”

Finally, in the contextual literature on fear of crime, there are a variety of ways that contextual indicators are measured. Some fear of crime studies focus on individual responses to community-level issues (i.e., asking residents how much they trust their neighbors, how safe they feel in their neighborhood, or what disorderly indicators they notice in their neighborhoods; Franklin, Franklin, & Fearn, 2008; Gibson, Zhao, Lovrich, & Gaffney, 2002; Schafer et al., 2006), while other times, researchers have examined contextual-level indicators aggregated at either the neighborhood level (Wyant, 2008) or the street block level (Robinson et al., 2003). Because there are fewer such studies, focusing on levels of disadvantage in communities by examining larger structural issues such as the percentage of individuals in poverty, the rate of crime in communities, or the rate of those who are unemployed or African American is an important extension of this literature (Porter, Rader, & Cossman, 2012). This research generally suggests that communities with more structural barriers are more likely to exemplify higher levels of fear of crime, although some research has suggested that structural barriers have a modest effect on fear of crime levels, especially when examining fear of crime for other people (Haynes & Rader, 2015; Porter et al., 2012; Robinson et al., 2003; Wyant, 2008). A recent study (Zhao, Lawton, & Longmire, 2015) has provided a new potential trend and/or avenue of research, focusing on “buffer” areas around one’s residence. These researchers found that crime rates and fear of crime rates actually matched up pretty well when examining the 528-foot buffer range around one’s address.

In sum, neighborhood and structural characteristics do affect fear of crime levels, particularly when examining the extent of decline in an area as well as how socially cohesive an area might be. Although these neighborhood characteristics have been found to significantly predict fear of crime, more contextual predictors such as percentage of people in poverty, number of unemployed, or community crime rates have had less consistent results. Future research on fear of crime will likely continue to focus on the individual-level and aggregate-level contextual predictors of fear of crime.

Consequences of Fear of Crime

Psychological Consequences

Fear of crime has two types of consequences: psychological consequences and social consequences. Psychologically, research has found that fear of crime may influence people’s mental health outcomes (Cossman, Porter, & Rader, 2016; Kruger, Reischl, & Gee, 2007; Stafford, Chandola, & Marmot, 2007; Whitley & Prince, 2005). As discussed earlier, fear of crime is an emotion at its core, and so, it makes sense that this emotion may also go hand and hand with another emotion, namely, anxiety. Research has found a significant relationship between anxiety and fear of crime (Whitley & Prince, 2005). Additionally, researchers have found a relationship between depression and fear of crime, with those who are depressed reporting higher fear of crime (Kruger et al., 2007). One study conducted by Stafford and colleagues (2007) found that residents with more fear of crime were nearly two times more likely to have mental health issues.

One interesting part of the mental health–fear of crime relationship is in the direction of causality. In other words, fear of crime may cause individuals to become either anxious or depressed, while at the same time anxious or depressed people may also have higher fear of crime levels. Although most research does not examine how fear of crime may be a cause and a consequence of factors such as mental health (primarily because this research tends to be cross sectional rather than longitudinal), it seems plausible that a feedback loop between fear of crime and mental health may exist. While the psychological consequences of fear of crime provides an interesting avenue of research in the fear of crime literature, these consequences have been vastly understudied, especially in the United States and using longitudinal data (Cossman et al., 2016).

Constrained Behaviors

The most common focus of consequences in the fear of crime literature has been on constrained behaviors. As stated earlier, constrained behaviors are the precautionary measures individuals take to manage potential victimization/fear of crime (Lane et al., 2014). Constrained behaviors are typically broken up into two categories: protective behaviors and avoidance behaviors. Protective constrained behaviors have also been divided into two categories: those that involve weapons (i.e., owning a gun, knife, or some other type of weapon) and those that do not involve weapons but still serve as a protective precaution (i.e., owning a watch dog, taking a self-defense class, installing extra locks, installing a security system). Avoidance constrained behaviors include actions such as avoiding going out late at night, going out alone, or visiting certain places because of fear of crime (Liska et al., 1988; May et al., 2010; Mesch, 2000a; Rader & Haynes, 2014).

Early research on constrained behaviors often put both types of protective behaviors, along with avoidance behaviors, in one scale as an independent variable that would predict fear of crime (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987). Sometimes this early research did not include constrained behaviors as a factor that might predict fear of crime at all (Hale, 1996). As stated earlier, research by Liska et al. (1988) changed this trend a little by arguing that constrained behaviors might be both a cause and a consequence of fear of crime. Since these studies, several studies have focused exclusively on types of constrained behaviors, including studies of weapons (Kleck, Kovandzic, Saber, & Hauser, 2011; Wilcox, May et al., 2006), self-defense courses (Campbell, 2005; De Welde, 2003; Stanko, 1996), and security systems (Vilalta, 2012); or have more comprehensively examined the causes of constrained behaviors (May et al., 2010; Rader, Cossman, & Allison, 2009; Rader & Haynes, 2014).

Specifically, research has found that several demographic characteristics predict the use of constrained behaviors. For example, research has found that being a woman (Cobbina, Miller, & Brunson, 2008; May et al., 2010), older (Beaulieu et al., 2007; McKee & Milner, 2000), or white (De Welde, 2003) increases the chance of using constrained behaviors. Additionally, sometimes it has been found that each of these groups may take more behaviors. For example, when examining gender differences, May and colleagues (2010) found that women were more likely to take avoidance behaviors than their male counterparts. Beaulieu and colleagues (2007) found that elderly male victims were eight times more likely to take behaviors than non-elderly male victims. Further, while most studies have not examined racial differences in use of constrained behaviors, research by De Welde (2003) has found that white women were more likely to voluntarily take a self-defense course than other groups of women. These studies, then, suggest that it is important to study not only constrained behaviors as a consequence of fear of crime but also what groups or types of individuals actually take on such behaviors.


In conclusion, decades of fear of crime research have examined the predictors of fear of crime. Today, research continues to surround this important social topic. While early research on fear of crime focused primarily on conceptual and operationalization issues, more recent studies have focused on individual and contextual predictors as well as the consequences of fear of crime. Most individual-level predictors involve demographic characteristics, such as sex, race, age, and social class. Other factors that have been considered include family status along with victimization experiences (both direct and indirect). Most of these individual-level predictors also focus on vulnerability, and some have had high levels of success in predicting fear of victimization. At the contextual level, this research has examined disorder and incivilities within neighborhoods, along with how social cohesion and collective efficacy predict fear of residents in communities. Larger structural factors such as the percentage of those in poverty and the crime rate have also been considered. In terms of consequences, both psychological (i.e., mental health) and behavioral consequences of fear of crime (i.e., constrained behaviors) have been considered in the fear of crime literature and have been found to predict fear of crime.


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