Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Perceived Risk of Victimization in Estonia and Lithuania

Academic journal article Journal of Social Research & Policy

Perceived Risk of Victimization in Estonia and Lithuania

Article excerpt

Introduction

For the past five decades, in addition to examining the extent and causes of criminal behavior, researchers directed their attention to people's subjective reaction to crime. As Gray, Jackson & Farrall (2008) noted, fear of crime has become a frequent object of scientific inquiry because people's concerns with potential victimization may not only affect one's quality of life, but could have detrimental effects on interpersonal relations and community life in general (Andreescu, 2013). Additionally, the levels of fear of crime in different societies have been examined because they may reflect not only individual insecurities about safety but also broader societal anxieties (see Hummelsheim et al., 2011, p. 327).

Even if for a small number of individuals, who are able to convert constant worries about crime into constructive actions that would prevent victimization, fear of crime could be actually functional (see Jackson & Gray, 2010), as several researchers (Adams & Serpe, 2000; Collins, 2007; Hanslmaier, 2013) pointed out, most individuals who live in fear of becoming victims of crime have their general well-being and social life negatively affected by frequent or even occasional feelings of insecurity. Moreover, (see Maxfield, 1984) when people see the environment they live in as being unsafe, interpersonal relations change and the community's cohesiveness decreases diminishing its capacity to act as an effective source of informal social control in the fight against crime (Andreescu, 2013); fear of crime may also obstruct the citizens' desire to cooperate with the police and help them solve and prevent crime, as some researchers found (Ceccato & Lukyte, 2011).

However, fear of crime is a subjective feeling and its intensity is not always in accordance with local crime levels (Hanslmaier, 2013). For instance, several studies published in recent years found that citizens of former communist states in Europe tend to have higher levels of fear of crime than residents of other countries in the region, despite the fact that crime levels and crime trends in these states are not significantly different from those recorded in other European countries that do not share a communist past (Andreescu, 2010; Jackson & Kuha, 2014). As international crime victimization surveys conducted on representative samples of the population between 1992 and 1996 in 40 countries of the world show, respondents in former communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe (EEC) expressed the highest level of perceived unsafety. Results indicate that almost half (49%) of the respondents in twelve EEC countries felt unsafe in their neighborhoods, while only 29% of the respondents in European Union countries shared the same worries about being victimized (van Dijk & Toornvliet, 1996). An analysis of crime victimization surveys in urban Europe (N=24) found that Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, had in 2000, the highest percentage of residents (67%) who felt unsafe walking alone in their neighborhoods after dark. On average, about 51% of the urban residents of EEC countries expressed a high or very high fear of victimization, while only 24% of residents in Western Europe had similar concerns about crime (Del Frate & Van Kesteren, 2004). A recent multilevel analysis of fear of crime based on data collected in 2004/2005 from representative samples in 23 European countries found the highest level of fear of crime in Estonia, the only Baltic country included in the sample, where about 40% of the residents declared they feel unsafe or very unsafe walking alone in their area after dark. With the exception of Slovenia, where only 9.7% of the population expressed high levels of perceived unsafety, all Eastern European countries included in the analysis (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia) had the highest percentages of people feeling insecure (i.e., rates varied among these countries from 30. …

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