Fear in Fear-of-Crime

By Clark, Julie | Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Fear in Fear-of-Crime


Clark, Julie, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law


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.

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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. …

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