Women's Fear of Crime: The Role of Fear for the Well-Being of Significant Others

By Mesch, Gustavo S. | Violence and Victims, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Women's Fear of Crime: The Role of Fear for the Well-Being of Significant Others


Mesch, Gustavo S., Violence and Victims


A number of explanations have been suggested in the literature for the finding that women consistently report higher levels of fear of crime than males. The "shadow" hypothesis argues that fear of crime among females reflects fear of sexual assault. The "intimate" hypothesis argues that women's fear of crime is the result of exposure to intimate violence. Females' fear of crime is expected to be explained by their fear of partners' violence. The main argument of this article is that women's fear of crime might be the result of traditional family gender roles. When asked, women might express fear not only for their own well-being but for that of their children. A survey of a representative sample of women in the third largest city of Israel was used to test this assumption. Women's fear of crime was found to be affected by fear of sexual assault and fear of violent partners. In addition, consistent with the argument of this study, women's fear of violent and sexual victimization of their children had a significant effect on their perception of fear. Future directions for research are suggested.

In recent years, interest has grown in the emotional and behavioral consequences that crime has for individuals. One of the most widely accepted responses to crime is fear of criminal victimization. Fear of crime refers to the negative emotional reaction generated by crime or its associated symbols (Ferraro & LaGrange, 1987; Hale, 1996).

Fear of crime is recognized as reflecting the indirect costs of crime. Fear of criminal victimization may lead some persons to avoid particular places at particular times, purchase crime prevention equipment, join neighborhood watch programs, and modify their daily routine activities and lifestyles (Miethe, 1995). As a result, fear of crime itself may lead to an increase in crime levels. If fear makes people spend more time at home and off the streets, this might reduce the level of surveillance in public places, which in turn may lead to increases in crime rates (Skogan, 1986).

Regardless of the measures of fear of crime used, studies consistently report that women manifest higher levels of fear than do men. Some scholars argue that the gap might be the result of differences in the types of crime that gender groups are exposed to. Females are more likely than males to be at risk of sexual assault. As a result, rape may be perceived as a "master" offense in women, increasing their fear reactions (Ferraro, 1996).

Others have argued that women are at a higher risk of victimization by intimate and known individuals, while men are at a higher risk of victimization by strangers. Most of the studies have used an item that explores the degree of fear an individual expresses of being victimized in his/her neighborhood. While male respondents might interpret this question as referring to their fear of being victimized by a stranger, women's responses might also reflect their fear of intimates (Stanko,1996). Gender differences in the interpretation of the question might explain women's higher fear of crime.

In this article I argue that the higher levels of fear reported by women might reflect the traditional family division of labor according to gender roles. Females are more likely to worry not only about their own well-being but also about that of their children's. When women are asked about their fear of criminal victimization, their responses might be affected by their personal fear, and also by their fear that the children will be victimized by a violent crime. The goal of this study was to evaluate the differential contributions of these explanations to the fear of crime among women.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Research on fear of crime in recent years has produced a number of significant methodological and substantive contributions. At the methodological level, it has been shown that fear and perceived risk of crime are different concepts. Fear of crime refers to a negative emotional reaction to crime or its perceived symbols. …

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