fear of crime - aja - TTG - short version by esclamelsalhe


									    Fear of crime and protective behaviours in older and younger adults: Results of a
                                   community survey

                    Rob Ranzijn1, Kevin Howells2, and Vicki Wagstaff3

Ranzijn, R., Howells, K., & Wagstaff, V. (2002). Fear of crime and protective behaviours in
 older and younger adults: Results of a community survey. Australasian Journal on Ageing,
                                        21(2), 88-94.

  University of South Australia; Address: Dr Rob Ranzijn, School of Psychology, University
of South Australia, St Bernards Rd, Magill 5072 SA Australia; Ph 61 8 8302 4468; Fax 61 8
8302 4729; rob.ranzijn@unisa.edu.au
  University of South Australia; Address: Professor Kevin Howells, School of Psychology,
University of South Australia, North Terrace Adelaide SA Australia; Ph 61 8 8302 CHECK
THIS; Fax 61 8 8302 2404; kevin.howells@unisa.edu.au
  City of Tea Tree Gully; Address: Ms Vicki Wagstaff, City of Tea Tree Gully, PO Box 571,
Modbury SA 5092; Ph 61 8 8397 7320; Fax 61 8 8397 7385; wagsv@cttg.sa.gov.au

       The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the City of Tea Tree Gully and the
volunteers who collected the data. The research was partly funded by a Divisional Research
Performance Fund grant from the Division of Education, Arts, and Social Sciences of the
University of South Australia.

Please address all correspondence to
Dr Rob Ranzijn,
School of Psychology,
University of South Australia,
St Bernards Rd, Magill, SA 5172.
Ph (08) 8302 4468, Fax (08) 8302 4729
email: rob.ranzijn@unisa.edu.au


Objectives: Recent media publicity has emphasised that older adults feel unsafe in their
communities and that they think that the incidence of crime is increasing. The aim of the
present survey was to evaluate the extent of fear of crime in the community.

Method: A community survey of 287 people aged between 16 and over 90 years in the local
government area of Tea Tree Gully, South Australia, was conducted to measure the level of
fear and how that is related to protective behaviours such as installing security screens and
joining Neighbourhood Watch programs.

Results: It was found that the level of self-reported fear of crime was moderately high but
there were no differences between older and younger age-groups. However, women felt
significantly less safe than men, at all ages. It was also found that there was no apparent
relationship between protective behaviours and fear of crime, even in people who had been
victims of crime. There were substantial numbers of people who had not taken precautions to
protect themselves against crime.

Conclusions: Crime prevention programs may have reduced the incidence of crime but do
not appear to have reduced the level of fear. Theoretical issues, such as whether measures of
fear of crime capture actual fear or perceived risk, are also discussed.

Key points:

       Older adults in this community survey were no more fearful of crime than younger
       Protective behaviours were not related to levels of fear of crime
       Substantial numbers of people of all ages are not following recommendations to
        reduce the risk of crime
       More attention needs to be devoted to reducing fear of crime in younger age-groups

There has been much research over the last 30 years performed to investigate whether older
people have a significantly higher fear of crime than younger people (1, 2) despite the fact
that there is a much lower objective risk of older people being victimised (3, 4). Older people
tend to perceive themselves to have a lower physical resiliency (5) and increased vulnerability
(6), especially to certain types of crime such as robbery or vandalism (1), particularly for frail
people attempting to keep living independently. Other factors that may influence an
individual's fear of crime include perception of the personal risk of being a victim, the
perceived seriousness of the consequences of victimisation (7), living situation (8), and the
differential impact of victimisation upon this group compared to younger people (9). For older
people who are afraid of crime, the consequences may be considerable. They may reduce their
social involvement (10), remain in the house for longer periods, and rarely venture out after
dark (11).

     In a recent statement about crime and older people, Adam Graycar (12) of the Australian
Institute of Criminology emphasised that the forensic implications of population ageing in
Australia have been little explored. Issues of concern to criminologists include the
antecedents and consequences of fear of crime, elder abuse, and the needs of ageing prisoners.
Apart from anecdotal accounts, mainly in the media, there is little empirical evidence about
these issues.

         The way that crime is reported in the media may be an important factor in perceptions
of fear of crime. Much media coverage in recent years has focused on stories of older people
being battered by robbers, so-called „home invaders‟. In 1999 an Adelaide pensioner began a
campaign to increase the penalties for home invasion offenders. In a series of newspaper
articles that followed, seniors stated that they felt highly vulnerable and that their “sense of
security [had been] shattered” (13). Considerable publicity was given to the home invasion
and brutal murder of a 91-year old woman, living alone, in July 2000. Media reports of this
kind suggest that the crime related concerns of older persons are increasing.

        Official crime statistics show that persons over the age of 65 years experience the
lowest rates of criminal victimisation (4). In 1998 3.2% of reported victims of personal crime
in South Australia were aged 60 or more (436 reports), whereas the highest incidence was in
the 25-34 years age group, which comprised 25.7% of the total (4,727 reports). The rates of
offences against the person, sexual offences, and robbery and extortion, were all lower in the
60+ age-group than all other groups apart from the 0-9 year old group. The only category in
which older people had the highest proportions was larceny from the person, in which older
women were most commonly victimised (4).

         The few Australian studies reported to date have revealed inconsistent results about
fear of crime in older compared to younger people. Research in an Australian rural
community found no significant relationship between age and attitudinal measures of fear
(14). However, other research has found that while older persons do not necessarily report
higher levels of fear overall, they are often more anxious about particular incidents, such as
bag snatching (2).

         There has been much effort in South Australia recently to increase people‟s feelings
of security by encouraging protective behaviours, such as installing strong locks, sensor lights
and security screens, clearing shrubbery to improve the visibility of access to a property from
the street, and joining Neighbourhood Watch programs. These endeavours, which have
mainly occurred at the local government level, often with the involvement of trained
volunteers, have had the strong support of the South Australian government (15). The
rationale behind such policies is two-fold: to reduce the actual incidence of crime and to
increase the sense of security.

        The present study investigated the levels of fear of crime in a community sample of
residents of Tea Tree Gully, South Australia, and the relationship between fear and the use of
protective behaviours. Given the inconclusive evidence discussed above, combined with
recent media publicity on victimisation of older adults, it was expected that older age-groups,
especially people aged 65 or more, would show higher levels of fear than younger groups. It
was also expected that fear of crime would be lower in people who had engaged in protective
behaviours than those who had not.

Participants and procedure: A community sample of convenience was recruited through a
number of means. Some very old participants (90+ years) were recruited following a security
audit conducted by the City of Tea Tree Gully following concerns about the ability of this
very old group to protect themselves in a criminal situation. Leaflets and questionnaires were
taken by some respondents as they arrived at the local government centre to conduct normal
council-related business, such as paying the rates. In addition, a group of 10 trained
volunteers distributed the questionnaires to people of their acquaintance. The exact response
rate is unknown but is thought to be about 30% since about 900 questionnaires were initially
available for distribution. In total there were 287 participants, 118 men (43.2%) and 155
women. There were 154 people (65.8%) who described themselves as Australian, 63 British
or Irish (26.9%), and 17 other European (7.3%). There was also one Salvadorean, but this
person‟s data were not included in the cross-cultural analyses. The number and proportions of
people in different age-groups are shown in Table 1. Because of low numbers, the age-groups
16-24 and 25-34, and also 75-84, 84-89, and 90+ were grouped together to provide enough
numbers for meaningful analyses. The relative preponderance of people aged 45 to 64 reflects
the age profile of the volunteers, who approached people of their acquaintance.
Table 1.
Number of participants by age-group
Age-group (Yrs)         N        %
16-34                   38       14.0
35-44                   42       15.5
45-54                   65       24.0
55-64                   71       26.2
65-74                   31       11.4
75+                     24       8.9
Total                   281      100
Note: age-group was not recorded for six participants
         The instrument consisted of a short questionnaire with the following questions.
Response categories for questions 1, 3, 6, 7, 9, and 11 were „yes‟ or „no‟. The range of
possible responses for the „extent‟ questions was between 0 (least) and 10 (most). The
responses to questions 5 and 8 were open-ended, and were later coded into a relatively small
number of categories (see Results).
Q1: Do you believe that crime in your community is increasing?
Q2: To what extent?
Q3: Do you feel fearful of crime?
Q4: To what extent?
Q5: What actions have you taken to improve your safety?
Q6: Have you been a victim of crime in the last 5 years?
Q7: Have any of your friends been a victim of crime in the last 5 years?
Q8: Which crime in particular do you worry about?
Q9: Do you feel safe walking alone at night?
Q10: To what extent?
Q11: Do you feel safe at home alone at night?
Q12: To what extent?

Responses to main questions on fear, victimisation, and safety.
The frequencies of responses to the questions referring to crime incidence, fear, victimisation,
and safety are shown in Table 2, along with the means and standard deviations for the „extent‟
questions. Table 2 shows that the great majority of people thought that crime was increasing
in their neighbourhood, were fearful of crime, had a friend who had been victimised in the
past five years, felt unsafe walking alone at night, but felt safe at home at night. Over a third
of respondents reported having themselves been a victim of crime in the past five years. The
responses are graphically depicted in Figure 1. The answers to the „extent‟ questions were
consistent with the yes/no response questions except for the question about feeling safe
walking alone at night, where the mean extent score was above the midpoint, indicating they
felt moderately safe.
Table 2.
Frequencies and mean scores for main questions, all participants.
Variable                                    N Yes (%) No (%)              Extent (M, SD)
Is crime increasing in your                250 77.2            22.8       5.39 (2.55)
Do you feel fearful of crime?              241 75.1            24.9       5.38 (2.88)
Have you been a victim of crime in the 270 39.3                60.7       -
last 5 years?
Have any of your friends been a            263 67.7            32.3       -
victim of crime in the last 5 years?
Do you feel safe walking alone at          229 30.6            69.4       5.90 (3.29)
Do you feel safe at home at night?         227 70.5            29.5       6.33 (2.76)
Note: The „to what extent‟ questions had a possible range of from 0 (least) to 10 (most)

         30                                                                        No
               Crime Fear Victim Friend Walk Home

Figure 1.
Responses (percentages) to main questions, all participants.
Note: „Crime inc‟=‟Is crime increasing in your neighbourhood?‟; „Fear‟=‟Do you feel fearful
of crime?‟; „Victim‟=‟Have you been a victim of crime in the last 5 years?‟; „Friend‟=‟Have
any of your friends been a victim of crime in the last 5 years?‟; „Walk‟=‟Do you feel safe
walking alone at night?‟; „Home‟=‟Do you feel safe at home at night?‟

Responses by age-group.
When the responses to the „yes/no‟ questions were analysed according to age-group, there
were almost no differences between any age-groups, as shown in Table 3. The only
significant differences were in the „victim of crime‟ question, in which the two oldest age-
groups were less victimised than the other groups, 2(5)=14.18, p=.015. These results are also
displayed in Figure 2.

Table 3.
Analyses by age-group (Numbers refer to „yes‟ responses (percentages))

Variable                               16-34        35-44    45-54   55-64    64-74     75+
Is crime increasing in your            78.8        74.3     76.7     83.1     77.4      63.6
Do you feel fearful of crime?          83.3        71.4     79.7     69.4     80.0      61.9
Have you been a victim of crime in     43.2        36.6     38.5     51.4     24.1      13.0
the last 5 years?
Have any of your friends been a        74.3        71.4     73.3     71.2     51.6      50.0
victim of crime in the last 5 years?
Do you feel safe walking alone at      30.0        28.1     33.9     33.9     25.0      17.6
Do you feel safe at home at night?     75.9        65.6     73.6     71.7     53.6      81.0

         ANOVA analyses showed that there were also no main effects of age-group on any of
the „extent‟ questions, no groups being significantly different from any other. However, the
trends indicated that the two oldest age-groups had lower rates of victimisation than the others
and were less fearful on most of the questions but more fearful of walking alone at night.




     50                                                                               35-44
     40                                                                               55-64



          Crime inc     Fear      Victim       Friend       Walk      Home

Figure 2.
Responses (percentage of „yes‟ responses) to main questions, by age-group.

         Although 106 people said they had been victims of crime, only 74 specified what type
of crime it had been. There were five crimes reported as assaults, one housebreak with assault,
21 break and enter (including one unsuccessful attempt), one prohibited appearance on the
property, and the others were property offences (mainly car theft and vandalism). The
breakdown for categories of crime showed that victimisation was about the same for the first
four age-groups (about a third) but that for the last two age-groups was substantially less (the
numbers in all categories were too small to allow for inferential statistical analyses). The
types of offences were fairly evenly spread across the first four age-groups, with no
significant differences. Just under 25% of both men and women reported having been

Responses by gender.
        Analyses of the responses to the „yes/no‟ questions by gender indicated that women
were more fearful, had higher rates of victimisation than men, and felt less safe. The
differences were statistically significant for the following questions: fear of crime (p=.009,
women more fearful), safe walking at night (p<.001, women much less safe), and safe at
home at night (p=.005, women less safe).

         Age-group by gender analyses demonstrated no particular patterns. Factorial ANOVA
analyses of the „extent‟ questions showed there were no significant age-by-gender
interactions. Non-parametric analyses of the „yes/no‟ questions showed there were few
significant differences between any age-by-gender cells. The only significant differences were
for the questions about fear of crime (65-74 yo women much less fearful than 55-64 yo
women) and having been victimised (the oldest two male groups more than 35-44 yo males).

Responses by cultural background.
        Analyses by cultural background showed there were no significant differences on any

Types of feared crimes.

        Participants were asked an open-ended question “Which crime in particular do you
worry about?” The responses were coded into the categories shown in Table 4. „Other
violence‟ here refers to violence against other people. Table 4 shows that the most feared type
of crime was break and enter. Four people (1.4%) feared all crime, and only six (2.2%) were
not worried about any crime.

Table 4.
Feared categories of crime.

Type of crime                                      Proportion worried (%)
Assault                                            28.3
Break and enter                                    72.8
Vehicle damage or theft                            17.0
Other property damage or theft                     14.3
Other violence                                     14.0

         There were no statistically significant differences in types of feared crimes when
analysed by age-group, by gender, or by age-group-by-gender. However, there were some
interesting trends. The two oldest age-groups were less fearful of vehicle or other property
crimes and of crimes of violence than the other groups, and women were slightly more fearful
of break and enter but less fearful of vehicle and other property crime than men. The highest
level of fear of break and enter was shown by women aged 65-74 (100%), but on the other

categories the two oldest age-groups of women were the least fearful of the age-by-gender

Protective behaviours.
         In an open-ended question, people were asked what actions they had taken to improve
their safety. 223 people (83.2%) had taken action to improve home security (eg, alarms, high
fences, clearing shrubbery, getting a dog, installing secure locks, having a silent number or
installing an answering machine). 45 people (16.7%) performed protective behaviours around
the home, such as being wary of strangers at the door, keeping lights or music on when out,
not using front access of the home, and leaving the car in the driveway when out. 48 people
(17.9%) performed protective behaviours outside the home, such as installing a car alarm,
getting a mobile phone, not using the bus at night, going out only when with other people, and
avoiding poorly lit areas. 16 people (6.0%) took part in public awareness activities, such as
being part of Neighbourhood Watch and watching out for suspicious vehicles. One person had
taken up self-defence (kick-boxing) and another had purchased a personal alarm.

        Non-parametric analyses of the cross-tabulations were performed of these variables
by age-group. There were no significant differences.

Relationship between protective behaviours and perceived safety.
         The participants who reported that they engaged in one or more of the four forms of
protective behaviour were classified on the basis of whether or not they were fearful of crime,
felt safe walking outside at night, and felt safe in their homes. There were no significant
differences in fear or safety between people who engaged in protective behaviours and those
who did not. If anything, there was a trend to indicate that people who engaged in protective
behaviours were more fearful. The only result which indicated greater safety for people using
protective behaviours was for the question about feeling safe at home at night, in which
people who had improved their home security felt safer (70.8%) than those who did not
(65.7%). However, this result was contradicted by the ANOVA analyses of the „extent‟
questions, in which people who had improved their home security felt less safe at home (M =
6.14) than those who did not (M = 6.57), but this difference, like all the others in this set of
analyses, was not statistically significant.

Relationship between having been a victim of crime, fear, and perceived safety.
         People who had been a victim of crime in the previous five years were compared to
those who had not on the questions about fear of crime and perceived safety. The only
significant differences in the „yes/no‟ questions were on fear of crime. Non-parametric (Chi-
square) analysis showed that the difference between the 83.1% of people who had been a
victim and who were fearful of crime and the 71.4% of those who had not been a victim and
who were fearful was significant, p=.04. There were no significant differences in the „extent‟
questions, although those who had been a victim had slightly higher fear levels (M = 5.63
compared to 5.28) and slightly lower perceived safety at night.

         When the results were further analysed, it was found that people who had been a
victim and had improved their security were slightly less fearful (M = 5.75 on the extent
question) than those who had not (M = 6.00), although the results were not statistically
significant. However, paradoxically, people who had been victimised but had not improved
their security felt safer in their homes at night (M = 7.89) than those who had not (5.94).
Again, the difference was not statistically significant.

        Finally, to see if there was an association between elapsed time since having been a
victim and the „extent‟ variables concerning fear and safety, Pearson bivariate correlations
were performed. The results, displayed in Table 5, showed a weak association for safety in the
home at night but no significant relationship with the other variables. Table 5 also shows that
there was no relationship between general fear of crime and safety in the home. There was a

weak correlation between fear and perceived safety walking at night, and a moderate
relationship between the two safety at night variables.

Table 5.
Pearson correlations among fear of crime measures and years since victimisation

Variable              Fear of crime                 Safety at home         Safety walking
Safety at home        .03
Safety walking        .19**                         .40**
Years since victim    -.01                          .24*                   .01
Note: *=p<.05, **=p<.01


The results of this survey demonstrate that there were no age differences in either fear of
crime or perceived increases in the incidence of crime in this community sample. At all age-
groups, most people thought that the incidence of crime was increasing, and there was a
moderately high level of fear. The main effect was of gender rather than age, women feeling
significantly less safe.

         The recent media emphasis on fear of crime among older adults may have been
misguided, since it has largely ignored the level of fear in younger age-groups. The official
rate of victimisation, for all categories of crime, is generally much higher in younger age-
groups than in older ones (4). The results of this survey are consistent with this fact, since the
oldest age-groups reported the lowest rates of personal victimisation as well as victimisation
among their friends. The perception of increasing incidence of crime does not accord with the
actual incidence, which, with minor fluctuations, has remained at a similar (relatively low)
level over the past few years. One wonders whether the media publicity in itself has created a
misperception about both the incidence of crime and its impact on older adults, reinforcing an
erroneous stereotype about frail older people unable to defend themselves.

         There were no significant cultural differences, although people from European
backgrounds had a tendency to feel less safe. The main differences were due to gender,
women reporting being more fearful of crime than men. However, although the differences
were not significant, there were indications that the age-by-gender groups that felt safest were
in fact the oldest women, except for the question about perceived safety walking alone at
night. For this question, this would be a realistic fear, given that older women are in reality
more vulnerable to physical attack, but this may also reflect a fear of falling or problems with
night vision, which is worse for older people than for younger.

         It had been hypothesised that fear of crime would be related to having taken measures
to improve security. It was thought that the reason why the older people were no more fearful
than younger people was because older people were more likely to have installed security
devices and taken similar measures. However, although there was a slight trend in favour of
the age-groups between 45 and 64 years, there were no significant age differences, the level
of attention to home security being high at all ages. Most people in this survey seemed to be
taking security precautions, although around 20% of people were not, especially in the
youngest and oldest age-groups. Perhaps younger people should be targetted for education
and raising awareness.

         It is noteworthy that the age-groups 65 years and over, which according to media
reports are the ones feeling least safe, had if anything lower levels of both fear and protective
behaviours than the age-groups between 45 and 64 years. Furthermore, there was no

relationship, on balance, between protective behaviour and feelings of fear and safety, so this
does not explain why older people are not more fearful than younger groups.

         There were some methodological problems with this survey. Some of the oldest
participants were recruited as part of a security audit conducted by trained volunteers. Raising
the issue of security may have led people to think about safety and security issues, which may
have inflated their normal levels of fear. However, the oldest people were not more fearful
than younger groups. Also, the questionnaire contained as a header the title „City of Tea Tree
Gully Crime Prevention Program‟, which again may have biased the responses in favour of
fearing crime.

         An important theoretical issue concerns what is meant by the term „fear of crime‟,
which is rarely defined (16). The media tend to give this concept a highly emotional
connotation, implying that people are scared and anxious. It has been suggested (16) that fear
of crime describes “a general fear of being attacked, of suffering some physical harm, [or]
suffering an intrusion that destroys privacy and dignity” (p. 53). Although the emotional
response is thought to be an important component (17), people may also interpret a question
about fear of crime in terms of risk perception, the likelihood that they or their neighbours
will become victims of crime (7). Some researchers go further and argue that fear of crime
and perceived risk are conceptually different, given that it is possible for an individual to
estimate their likelihood of being involved in a criminal incident without actually fearing it
(18, 19). Indeed, it has been demonstrated that while risk perception is an important predictor
of fear, it is not perfectly correlated with it (20).

        It has also been argued that fear of crime has a behavioural dimension as well,
behavioural changes being viewed as a response to the combined effects of an individual‟s
perceived risk and system of values (21). Two general patterns of behavioural change have
been identified within the literature: behavioural constraints (avoiding sites and situations
associated with crime) and protective behaviours (e.g. attempting to protect oneself and one‟s
property through the use of security devices, obtaining weapons, etc) (22). Although these
measures are often undertaken to improve feelings of safety, they may sometimes have
negative repercussions. For example, behavioural changes of this kind not only significantly
reduce freedom of movement, they can also have many harmful social consequences such as
physical and psychological withdrawal from community life (8). Furthermore, in some
instances constrained behaviour actually leads to increased fear of crime (22). The results
from the present study seemed to indicate that behavioural responses were on the whole
unrelated to fear of crime. Perhaps people engage in protective behaviours because it is
simply common sense, and not to do so is foolish since it invites criminal behaviour. For
instance, regardless of anxiety or risk perception, most people reduce the chances of their car
being stolen by opportunistic thieves simply by locking the doors.

        Future research could be more fine-grained, measuring fear of crime in a multi-
dimensional way by including measures of risk perception as well as affective measures and
also being specific about fear of different types of crime. It is noteworthy, however, that in the
present study there were no age differences in the kinds of crimes that people were concerned
about. In this study a fine-grained approach was not taken since its main purpose had been to
perform a reasonably large community survey with an easily completed one-page

        In summary, this study indicates that older people are not more fearful of crime than
younger people, the level of fear being moderately high in all age-groups. A substantial
proportion of people, especially the youngest and the oldest age-groups, reported not taking
the specified precautions to improve their safety, such as installing security screens. The
reported level of fear is inconsistent with the actual incidence of crime, and, in particular, the
media stereotype of older people as being vulnerable and fearful was not supported by this

research. Public education about safety and security needs to continue, but perhaps more
could be done to advance the image of older people as being capable and competent. More
could also be done to improve the strength and fitness of older people, especially women, to
further the promotion of healthy ageing and thereby reduce even further the low rates of
victimisation of older people.
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Sydney, NSW: NSW Committee on Ageing, 1997.
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variables on fear of crime and its consequences among urban black elderly individuals.
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South Australia 1998: Offences reported to police, the victims and alleged perpetrators: A
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