Fear of Criminal Violence and the African American Elderly: Assessment of a Crime Prevention Strategy

By Johnson-Dalzine, Patricia; Dalzine, Lawrence et al. | The Journal of Negro Education, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Fear of Criminal Violence and the African American Elderly: Assessment of a Crime Prevention Strategy


Johnson-Dalzine, Patricia, Dalzine, Lawrence, Martin-Stanley, Charles, The Journal of Negro Education


This study assesses an intervention model for reducing fear of criminal violence among the African American elderly. Seniors aged 55 and older (N = 31) participated in four crime prevention workshops. Post-test analyses determined the extent to which fear of crime was correlated with perceived personal safety, avoidance behaviors, and home protection behaviors. Significantly, 83% of the post-test group, compared to 68% at pretesting, indicated feeling safer in their neighborhoods at night. Significant post-test correlations were noted regarding the following avoidance behaviors and fear of crime: going out with another person, planning one's route to avoid danger, taking something along for protection, and telephoning a friend upon returning home. Notably, 45% reported owning a gun for home protection compared to 29% before the intervention.

INTRODUCTION

The fear of becoming a victim of criminal violence is a major concern among Americans in general. It is especially a concern among older Americans, even though the rate of victimization among the elderly as a group is lower than that of the general population (Covey & Menard, 1988; U.S. Department of Justice, 1994; Yin, 1985). Although some researchers have suggested that seniors in the United States may be unnecessarily concerned about crime, the data on the African American elderly indicate that this group has considerable reason to worry. Despite the general decline in national crime rates noted in recent years (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1997), crime is still a major problem for this group, given the deteriorating conditions in many of their neighborhoods (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994), and their close physical proximity to a population that has been found to be disproportionately involved in violent crime: African American men aged 20 to 29 (Mauer, 1994).

According to statistics reported by the U.S. Department of Justice (1994), older African Americans are victimized at a rate twice that reported for White American seniors in several crime categories, including community and household crimes. The overall rate of violent crime victimization among the African American elderly was 7.6 per thousand, compared with 3.6 per thousand for their White American counterparts. With regard to violent household crimes, the rate for African American seniors was 154.1 per thousand, compared with 70.9 per thousand for Whites. Gender discrepancies have also been noted in the experiences of victimization of African American elderly men and women. For example, the rate for African American women seniors approximates the rate for women in the general population, but the rate for elderly African American men (12 per thousand) far exceeds that of elderly White American men (6 per thousand) (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994).

Several studies have suggested that the fear of being victimized is a greater problem for the elderly than actual victimization (Alston, 1986; Eve & Eve, 1984; Norris & Kaniasty, 1992; Yin, 1985). These researchers further note that victimization, whether perceived or experienced, can have disastrous consequences, forcing individuals to make behavioral adjustments in their lifestyles as a way of coping. The literature reports a myriad of behavioral changes or coping mechanisms adopted by seniors in response to victimization experiences or perception. These measures can be viewed as efforts to protect oneself against personal victimization while outside the home, and as protective and preventive efforts when one is in one's place of residence. Notable among them are limiting social activities, avoiding going out at night, avoiding certain places, limiting or curtailing hospitality to strangers, moving out of a neighborhood, owning weapons, adding locks to property, getting security systems or burglar alarms, marking belongings, leaving lights on when going out, keeping dogs, and participating in crime prevention meetings (Davis, 1986; Janoff-Bulman, 1992; Norris & Johnson,1988; Norris & Kaniasty, 1992). …

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