Latina Teenagers: Victimization, Identity, and Fear of Crime

By Madriz, Esther | Social Justice, Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

Latina Teenagers: Victimization, Identity, and Fear of Crime


Madriz, Esther, Social Justice


Introduction

During the last 20 years, criminologists have dedicated a great deal of attention to the consequences of victimization and fear of crime on people's lives (Clemente and Kleiman, 1977; Covington and Taylor, 1991; Lagrange and Ferraro, 1987; Liska and Warner, 1991; Skogan, 1987; Warr, 1990). Many of these studies focus on the correlates and consequences of fear of crime among whites and Blacks in the United States. The growing population of Latinos and other people of color in the nation notwithstanding, there is a dearth of attention to the impact of victimization and fear of crime on racial/ethnic groups other than Blacks and whites. By ignoring other people of color (Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans), the assumption is made that fear of crime among different nonwhite groups is a homogeneous phenomenon (Parker et al., 1993: 724). Victimization and fear of crime, however, can be an especially important problem for people of color who are foreign born, those who do not speak English, and those who, although born in the United States, are considered "immigrants."

The lack of attention to minority groups - other than Blacks - in the fear of crime literature is especially perplexing once we consider the findings shed by most research on the topic. They indicate that the poor and African Americans are not only more likely to be victims of crime, but they also report higher levels of fear of crime than the wealthy and whites (Garofalo, 1977; Parker et al., 1993; Skogan and Maxfield, 1981). Since Latinos are projected to be the largest minority group in the United States within the next 25 years, there is much need for research and public debate about the effects of crime and fear of crime on this population (Enchautegui, 1995). Moreover, Latinos are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods and in overcrowded homes (Gove and Hughes, 1983; Ringheim, 1993), potentially increasing their levels of exposure to "indoor" and "outdoor" crime.

Finally, poor Latinos have been found to be working in environments that escape government regulations and controls, with many working within the informal labor markets (Portes and Sassen-Koob, 1987). The possibility that Latinos will experience victimization from employers and others is, therefore, substantial.

The levels of poverty among Latinos are now at their highest. According to the latest statistics from the Census Bureau, in 1995, the median household income increased for all American racial and ethnic groups, with the exception of the 27 million Hispanic(2) residents, who experienced a 5.1% decline. The data further indicate that this is the first time in U.S. history that the poverty rate of Hispanics has surpassed that of Blacks. Hispanics residing in the U.S., including those born in the country and the newly arrived, constitute close to 24% of the country's poor, an increase of eight percent since 1985. Moreover, of all Hispanics currently living in the U.S., 30% were under the government poverty line of $15,569 for a family of four. According to Manuel de la Puente, chief of the Ethnic and Hispanic Statistics Branch at the Census Bureau, the reasons for this decline in income are varied: Hispanics tend to have lower levels of education, work in lower-paid service occupations, and many have problems with the use of English (Goldberg, 1997: A1, 11).

If, as the literature indicates, poverty and race are related to fear of crime, Latinas(os) are in a specially vulnerable situation. Parker's (1993) study, "Fear of Crime and the Likelihood of Victimization: A Bi-Ethnic Comparison," further validates this point. Using a sample of 2,235 individuals, he examined the differences between victimization and fear of crime in a sample of Black and Hispanic respondents in selected sections of New York City: Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. His findings indicated that Hispanics report higher levels of fear than their Black counterparts. …

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