In this article, fear-of-crime research is integrated with multidisciplinary knowledge on fear and phobias. At present, many of the practical applications stemming from criminological research have treated fear-of-crime as a crime phobia and have attempted to reduce or even eliminate it from the community. Using Rachman's three components of fear to discuss reported experiences of this phenomenon, it is shown that little is known about the fear in fear-of-crime. The difference between a normal fear and a phobia rests on a continuum of emotional intensity. The placement of the fear within fear-of-crime on that continuum cannot be established from current research, It is recommended that further work be done to determine how people respond emotionally to crime and why such a response is elicited. It is also suggested that the assumption that fear-of-crime be treated as a crime phobia and eliminated from the community be tested through greater knowledge of the fear in fear-of-crime.
Fear-of-crime has grown into a substantial field of criminological research (see review by Hale, 1996). Much research has been devoted to developing a greater understanding of who will and will not be afraid of crime. It has been found that 41% of Australians feel unsafe while walking alone at night (National Crime Prevention [NCP], 2000). Women fear crime more than men (see e.g., Carcach, Frampton, Thomas, & Cranich, 1995; Box, Hale, & Andrews, 1998; Grabosky, 1995; Alvi, Schwartz, DeKeseredy, & Maume, 2001). Lower income earners have higher levels of fear-of-crime (see e.g., Carcach, Frampton, Thomas, & Cranich, 1995; Pantazis, 2000; Lebowitz, 1975; Austin, Furr, & Spine, 2002). The evidence showing that elderly people are more afraid than young people is inconclusive (compare NCP 2000; Box, Hale, & Andrews, 1998; Lebowitz, 1975; Biles, 1983). Concern has developed that fear-of-crime "may well prove to be more difficult to treat than criminality itself" (Brooks, 1974, p. 241). From this research, policy work has been directed towards reducing fear-of-crime especially among women, the poor and the elderly.
These efforts are based on an assumption that fear-of-crime is bad, abnormal and something to be removed. Indeed, the image of the public portrayed by fear-of-crime research has been dramatic. A high percentage of the public is allegedly intensely afraid of crime, locking themselves in their homes, avoiding public transport, especially at night, perhaps even sweating and trembling at the constant thought of crime. Such an image suggests that a large proportion of the public is experiencing a prolonged and intense fear that severely impinges on quality of life. This image and attitude towards the phenomenon is similar to that attached to clinically significant phobias. However, there is little research investigating whether the negative assumption and attempts to remove fear-of-crime are correct.
To test this assumption it is necessary to understand both elements of the phrase--fear and crime. There is much research into the types of crimes that promote fear. There is little research into the emotional response initiated by crime. At present, the default response allowed for in surveys is fear, and a fear that is intense enough to be the causal factor behind avoidance behaviours. In effect, previous research has treated fear-of-crime as a crime phobia.
The current paper seeks to elucidate the fear in fear-of-crime by studying the similarities and differences between fear-of-crime and phobias identified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). This will be done through the use of psychology research and theory on phobias. Research from other disciplines is rarely incorporated into fear-of-crime (with Warr, 2000, being a notable exception). Such integration will provide a better understanding of the fear in fear-of-crime, both as a clinical condition and as a normal emotional response.
This article attempts to answer the following four questions: What is a phobia? What would be a crime phobia? Do people fear crime? Is fear-of-crime a crime phobia? This will be done by developing an understanding about what categorises fear as a phobia, and by comparing those indicators with research on fear-of-crime. Through the discussion, it will be evident that while there are many similarities to phobic symptoms, fear-of-crime can also be seen as a less intense but no less pervasive fear that does not have the disabling consequences of a phobia. This latter type of fear is often viewed as a protective response to the general insecurity of life. It is hoped that further research work will be done in order to decide if fear-of-crime should be treated as a phobia or as a normal response.
What Is a Phobia?
The term phobia has replaced earlier diagnoses of fear such as "dying of fright" from the 17th and early 18th centuries. Fear was then both a consequence of and a cause of death and disease (Bynum, 2002). Today, fear is a negative response usually describing "feelings of apprehension about tangible and predominantly realistic dangers" (Rachman, 1990, p. 3). Fear is distinct from anxiety in that the term anxiety is used with regard to future or past events (Rachman, 1990; Dugue & Neugroschl, 2002; Geer, 1965), and fear to an immediate threat. The ability to identify the causal stimuli is what distinguishes fear from anxiety. However, a phobia is different to being afraid. A phobia is when fear of a stimulus (that most people do not find particularly dangerous) becomes so intense that it interferes with daily life and becomes disabling or distressing (Atkinson et al., 2000; APA, 2002a; APA, 2002b). Phobias are often referred to as anxiety disorders, the above distinctions between the emotional reactions of anxiety and fear being ignored. In this article, a predefined anxiety disorder will be called by the name specified in the DSM-IV. However, the term phobia will be used when discussing the group of anxiety disorders and other intense fears.
Phobias have been separated by their causal stimuli. There are a number of categories of phobias or anxiety disorders identified by the standard clinical tool--the DSM-IV (APA, 1994). The areas to be discussed here are: specific (or simple) phobia, social anxiety disorder (social phobia), panic disorder with agoraphobia, and generalised anxiety disorder. These phobias will be used to develop a benchmark against which a crime phobia may be compared. Fear-of-crime will then be discussed with regards to this list.
There are five subtypes of specific or simple phobia identified by the DSM-IV: blood injury, animal, natural environment, situational and "other". This group of phobias is "characterised by clinically significant anxiety provoked by exposure to a specific feared object or situation, often leading to avoidance behavior" (APA, 1994, p. 393; see also National Mental Health Strategy, 2000). Adults and adolescents may recognise that their fear is irrational or excessive. The focus of the fear must be anticipated hurt from some part of the object or feared stimulus. Upon confronting the fear the phobic will almost invariably have a feeling of overwhelming terror or intense anxiety. The immediate reward of removing the stimulus (and thus fear) sustains the use of avoidance behaviour.
Specific fears are relatively common. These do not necessarily translate to a diagnosis of specific phobias as shall be discussed later. The 1-year prevalence of this type of phobia is approximately 9% and has a lifetime prevalence of 10% to 11.3% (APA, 1994). Age of onset can be in childhood or a further peak can occur in the mid-20s. Methods of acquiring specific phobias range from a traumatic event (directly or vicariously experienced) in informational transmission (e.g., through parents' warnings).
Social anxiety disorder (previously known as social phobia) is a disabling psychiatric condition affecting about 3% to 13% of the global population (APA, 1994). Age of onset is typically in adolescence and rarely develops after 25 years of age (Lepine & Pelissolo, 2000). Social phobia is characterised by a fear of negative evaluation by others (Lepine & Pelissolo, 2000). The most common symptom is blushing (Ballenger, 2000). It is a fear of performance, scrutiny or acting in a way that will be considered embarrassing (Liebowitz, 1999). The most common form is fear of public speaking but it can also be a fear of a mundane activity such as "signing a personal check, drinking a cup of coffee, buttoning a coat, or eating a meal" (APA, 2002a). There are two subtypes that are now used to categorise the stimuli into generalised (impinging on all aspects of life) and non-generalised (specific to a limited number of stimuli) social phobia. Generalised social phobia tends to cause the greatest disability (Lepine & Pelissolo, 2000).
Social phobia sufferers tend to place negative interpretations on ambiguous, self-relevant social events (Amin, Foa, & Coles, 1998). It is the frequency with which these thoughts come to mind rather than the belief placed in them that causes fear. Sufferers tend to increasingly avoid situations as they increasingly believe their negative interpretations (Stopa & Clark, 2000). This fear mostly culminates in avoidance of potentially threatening situations (Lader, 1998; Jefferys, 1997) or enduring such situations in intense distress (Kasper, 1998).
The consequences of social anxiety disorder can be social isolation, impaired educational attainment and career progression, depression and alcohol abuse (Ballenger, 2000). Quality of life is greatly reduced through poor work, social and personal relationships (Lepine & Pelissolo, 2000). This disorder most often emerges in adolescence and tends to peak after the age of 30 (APA, 2002a; Walker & Kjernisted, 2000).
Another anxiety disorder is that of panic disorder. The basis of panic disorder is the panic attack. This refers to brief episodes of intense fear or overwhelming terror for no apparent reason (APA 2002b; APA, 2002c). The symptoms of a panic attack are "sweating, heart palpitations, hot or cold flushes, trembling, feelings of unreality, choking or smothering sensations, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, faintness, unsteadiness, tingling, (and) fear of losing control, dying or going crazy" (APA, 2002b). Any person has a 7.2% chance of suffering a panic attack at some stage over the course of their life, although women are 2.5 times more likely to experience such an attack than men (Rabatin & Kehz, 2002). An attack does not necessarily indicate a potential diagnosis of panic disorder.
Panic attacks can only be classed as a disorder when abnormally frequent or anxiety provoking. A person must experience at least four panic attacks in 1 month or one attack with persistent fear (Rabatin & Keltz, 2002) to be diagnosed with panic disorder. "Panic disorder is characterised by recurrent, unexpected panic attacks with at least one month of persistent concern about the attacks (anticipatory anxiety) and change in behavior …