Publication of the Department of Justice Canada -
Note: While this report is dated, most of it remains valid
A report based on a review of literature, consultations with academics and
community leaders and a sample of more than 1,000 newspaper articles
Table of Contents
For some time now, The Church Council on Justice and Corrections has been
interested in the issue of fear of crime in this country. We are
concerned for Canadians who are afraid either because of crime or their
perceptions of crime. As well, we have been monitoring the media
reporting and academic study of this important phenomenon. As a
national organization whose criminal justice and church networks reach
into communities, we were convinced that Canada is a relatively safe
country in which to live but that fear of crime, with its many faces,
still is exerting a significant force on the lives of too many
Canadians. Along with other organizations and individuals, we wondered
about the effect of those fears on the quality of life in Canada, on the
increasing demands for tougher, costlier, punitive responses to crime
and perhaps on the incidence of crime itself.
It became clear in discussions with the Department of Justice that fear of crime is indeed a prominent national issue and that there is an inadequate knowledge base about the subject. The Department of Justice agreed to fund a project that would attempt
to gather together an accessible, single source of knowledge about fear of crime which, hopefully, would then be available to governments as well as communities and interested agencies; that knowledge base would identify the leading themes and critical an
alyses, what is known about fear of crime, precisely what are the nature, causes and impact of those fears and what has been tried or is being recommended by way of measures taken by individuals or more formal programs to respond to those fears. Of great
importance was the need to plunge into the murky waters of the public's perception about crime, and how those perceptions intersect with the public's fears. Clearly, fear of crime was emerging as a separate but related issue to crime itself, with the na
ture of that relationship requiring further study.
This research project was first designed to combine a review of relevant
literature and a consultation with leading fear of crime "experts" in
criminology and sociology. The project met those goals, but initial
research pushed the Church Council further. Pivotal to any
understanding of public fear of crime are demographic factors such as
gender, race, age and sexual orientation. Therefore, the Church Council
added several more academics and community leaders to the
Here are the major components of our fear of crime
(i) Review of Literature
extensive as the report's bibliography is, it is still far from
complete. The fear of crime literature is voluminous, particularly in
the United States, due no doubt to our neighbour's size but also to the
years and extent to which crime and fear of crime have preoccupied that
country as a social malaise. Priority is given in the report to
Canadian literature. However, the criminologists and sociologists
consulted also provided American and other foreign references of
foundational or ground-breaking contributions to present knowledge about
fear of crime. Emphasis was placed on more current literature from the
past ten years.
Noteworthy in this more recent body of writing is
the growing feminist critique of traditional approaches to criminology
which had tended to identify women as a fear group typical of those
whose fears were out of proportion to actual risk of victimization.
Elizabeth Stanko and Liz Kelly, among others, have positioned women's
fears within the continuum of violence so many experience in private and
public places, by those they know or by strangers or distant
acquaintances. So this significant contribution to the study of fear of
crime is acknowledged, alongside the pioneering work in Canada of
Ottawa's Linda MacLeod who has done numerous community workshops
dialoguing with urban and rural women, including immigrants, many who
are victims of abuse or other forms of violence. These women are
fearful because of their experiences and/or their perceptions as women
This literature review is not a professional social sciences
review, with annotated bibliography or footnotes and references. That
type of review is beyond the scope of the project and would be
counterproductive to our decision to write the report in a "popular or
journalistic" style that would appeal to a much broader audience.
(ii) Consultation with Academics and Community Leaders
The Church Council consulted the following academic experts
in the initial phase of the research:
Vincent Sacco, sociology,
Queens University, Kingston
Anthony Doob, criminology, University of
Rick Linden, sociology, University of Manitoba,
Julian Roberts, criminology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa
Jean-Paul Brodeur, criminology, Universite de Montreal, Montreal
Those consultations, along with the literature review, led to
the following individuals being interviewed as well:
Johnson, Program Manager, Violence Against Women Survey, Statistics
Barry Thomas and Sgt. Keith Wiltshire, Canadian Centre for
Carol Holland, Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police
Bias Crime Unit
(iii) Sample of Newspaper and Magazine
The Church Council relied on its own
collection of over one thousand newspaper and magazine articles on fear
of crime (almost all since 1992) to personalize and integrate this study
within the lives of Canadians. Quotes reprinted at the introduction to
several sections are meant to provide readers with a contemporary and
human context for this probe of fear of crime in Canada.
Introduction: An Overview
of crime in Canada is a complex, serious, somewhat misleading and, to a
large extent, remarkably manageable phenomenon. This finding is not
intended to dismiss or minimize the impact of violence and crime on
Canadians. Rather, it includes the message that there is much that
individuals, communities and governments can do through prevention,
education and community rebuilding to assist everyone to lead safer,
fuller and less fearful lives.Fear of Crime: The Theories and some Distinctions
FEAR OF CRIME IS COMPLEX!
Crime causes fear, doesn't it? That equation seemed
self-evident, until social scientists and pollsters began noticing high
amounts of "fear of crime" in people who were neither victims of crime
nor at high risk of victimization. That led some to separate crime and
fear of crime as two different and not necessarily related issues. A
reaction to that position swung the pendulum back to research that
recognized both the distinctness of fear of crime but its ties to crime.
Still others were observing that people with general or more diffused
fears withdrew in isolation from community, abandoning neighbourhoods,
which in itself contributed to more criminal behaviour. So, in quite
another way, fear is also contributing to crime!
fear of crime" is a misnomer, implying, as Vince Sacco of Queens
University in Kingston has said, that "the burden of fear falls equally
on the shoulders of all Canadians". More accurate is the qualifier that
some members of the public are afraid some of the time in certain
situations and that those fears are prevalent in particular groups such
as women, victims of particular types of crime, urban residents and
among those who perceive their neighbourhoods as having higher or
escalating crime rates.
Fear of crime is both public and private,
visible and hidden.
Fear of crime has become a catch-all phrase to
lump together radically different emotions, including no doubt fear but
also anger, grief, lamentation and a pervading sense of powerlessness
nurtured by frustration and experiences of fundamental inequality by
those in various sectors of society.
Even within the single emotion
of fear, a range exists extending on a scale from the bottom end of
worry, unease or anxiety all the way to people sensing a terror or panic
because of profound vulnerability all the time.
As well, fear of
crime has become a sweeping category to embrace not only fears related
to risk of victimization from criminal activity but far more amorphous
fears influenced, in Linda MacLeod's words, by "insecurities,
unfairness, the general nastiness of life, due in part to the
undervaluing of women, children and the elderly, inequities these groups
endure, the breakdown of traditional communities, unemployment, health
concerns and neighbourhood deterioration". Disorder and incivility need
to be taken into account in any treatment of fear of crime.
crime can be more accurately fear of a specific criminal, or category of
criminal. "Fear of crime" is a depoliticized term, according to Tony
Doob from the University of Toronto's criminology department. When used
as a neutral phrase, it masks the real fears and opinions Canadians may
have about young offenders, sex offenders and those from other races.
Fear of crime is the axis where perception and reality meet;
schools of criminology and crime prevention programs are founded on
whether one believes that the fears are based on actual crime rates and
real risk of victimization or are paranoic perceptions so out of touch
with the facts that the perceptions should be discounted or changed.
Do we fight crime or do we fight perceptions, or is it a bit of both?
FEAR OF CRIME IS SERIOUS!
Fear of crime has emerged as
a serious social concern in this country.
For the first time in our
history, Canadians witnessed an election campaign (1993) where crime and
fear of crime competed with the economy as dominant themes. There has
been a dramatic increase in media coverage and especially on radio and
television open-line shows, rampant usually in the wake of any high
Results from the 1993 General Social Survey
confirmed past data that one in four Canadians(25 per cent) felt
"somewhat or very unsafe" walking alone in their neighbourhoods after
dark. For women, this was true for 42 per cent. Almost two of every
five Canadians have changed activities or avoided certain places to
protect themselves or their property from crime.
The quality of life
is certain to be diminished if people's activities are curtailed or if
they feel they must barricade themselves in their homes because of their
fear of crime.
Fear of crime accents the already-existing
cleavages in society, such as race, culture, youth and gender. Hate
crimes are a source of fear for members of some ethnocultural groups or
racial minorities. Social tension escalates along ethnic and racial
Meanwhile, fear of crime gets politicized amidst competing
interest groups and their agendas. Fear-mongering and political
posturing needlessly exacerbate people's fears.
insecurities and fears also undermine support for sentencing
alternatives. Heightened, perceived insecurity results in communities
monitoring the unwanted offenders more closely rather than placing them
in community sanctions or service programs.
FEAR OF CRIME IS
The public, political and media
preoccupation with fear of crime begs the question whether the glass is
half empty or half full. As serious as crime and fear of crime are for
many, specific groups, fully 86 per cent of Canadians claim to be " very
or somewhat satisfied" with their general level of safety (1993 General
Social Survey). That finding gets lost in the hullabaloo around crime
Traditionally, the elderly were identified as a high fear
group whose perceptions did not match their real risk of being a victim
of crime. However, there is new evidence to suggest that inadequate
measures of fear within this group led to overly sweeping conclusions;
seniors answered hypothetical questions on their fears about walking in
their neighbourhood at night. Yes, they would be afraid but they also
seldom went out for a walk at night, for reasons a lot more to do with
health or lifestyle rather than fear of crime. Better designed
questions based on real life habits have determined seniors are afraid
in certain situations some of the time, e.g. when they have money on
them to go shopping for groceries.
Typically, the media gets
blamed as the villains for exacerbating public fears. Their influence
is undeniable, but far from overriding. The media may heighten fears in
their report of local crime particularly and also set much of the
context and agenda for this issue. Yet quite influential as well are
the informal circles in which people move around and tell their
stories, our interpersonal networks, where we observe and weigh what is
happening in the neighbourhood.
Some commentaries refer to fears
only in the negative, as if the goal of crime prevention would be to
eliminate them all. Yet, there are positive features to fear as well,
if they make someone more prudent by taking precautions which keep them
safe. There may well be exaggerated or groundless fear but there are
also fears that help people to assess accurately one's risk and then
FEAR OF CRIME IS MANAGEABLE!
Modern social conditions may make violence and danger a permanent
fixture on the landscape but there is still much that is manageable
about fear of crime. What is important is how Canadians negotiate the
daily threat and experience of danger.
Many people have made major
and minor adjustments to their daily routine and habits, successfully
preventing crime or avoiding risk.
There are numerous crime
prevention programs that are intended to change the physical or social
environment, in many cases reducing anxiety by improving public and
private safety. Citizens have access to opportunities to participate
directly in block clubs, safe escort services, Operation Identification
and self defence courses, to name but a few.
continues to evolve in the country. In its best expression, community
policing is intended to reduce people's fears through increased contact
with the police and in its impact on reducing disorders and incivilities
in a neighbourhood. Foot patrols by police officers ease general
feelings of insecurities more than concrete fears of crime.
crime is overcome through the systematic encouragement of neighbourhood
building where residents feel more responsibility and control over what
happens in the area. This becomes possible in the weaving of solidarity
networks and promoting a self-help mood within communities.
Significantly, communities have the opportunity to map their assets as
well as their needs in this campaign to alleviate fear of crime. There
are talents and productive skills among a wide range of organizations
and individuals in the community.
Local communities can be assisted
to gather detailed information regarding the levels and social
distribution of fear. Many risks can be reduced or managed. Community
members will know what measures and actions can help to make them feel
safer. In some instances, trained community leaders can assist people to
reach a certain comfort level with respect to fears which linger.
There is the prospect of groups that fear one another coming together to
overcome stereotypes and labels - the elderly and young people, men and
women, people from different cultures or races. This is the worthy
task of rebuilding and re-inventing community.
"Fear of crime has far greater potential
to wreck the city than crime itself."
after the Just Desserts killing
underestimate the importance of crime, and there is definitely rising
fear. There is a real perception that we are not strict enough on our
Environics Research Group
"Professionally, and as a mother of two
boys, the level of criminal behaviour really scares the heck out of
Assistant Deputy Commissioner of
"There are people in houses and
apartments inconvenienced by these crimes and made to live in
Ontario Liberal, Provincial
(i) Definitions and Some
What precisely do we mean by the word, "fear",
in the phrase, "fear of crime"?
James Garofalo defined
fear of crime as an "emotional reaction characterized by a sense of
danger and anxiety produced by the threat of physical harm... elicited
by perceived cues in the environment that relate to some aspect of
crime". (1981) Others, though, describe it as more diffuse than a fear
of some specific danger in one's immediate environment; in other words,
fear of crime is caught up in a wider concept of quality of life.
There are many references in the literature and public commentary to
rational as opposed to irrational fear, or reasonable and unreasonable
fears. Emotions and reason are juxtaposed, hinting that fear of crime
includes but goes beyond the emotional response to some immediate
threat. Vince Sacco explains: "Researchers, however, do not usually
have access to people in the context of fear-provoking situations. For
this reason, in surveys such as the 1993 General Social Survey or the
Violence Against Women Survey, fear is understood as a perception or an
attitude rather than as an emotional reaction to imminent danger. Most
commonly, respondents to surveys are asked about anticipated fear or
worry concerning situations in which they might or do find themselves."
So the phrase, "fear of crime", is indeed a sweeping description, one
that embraces emotions, attitudes, a state of being and perceptions.
As well, fear of crime sometimes is confused with
concern about crime. As early as 1971, Furstenberg was writing in the
United States distinguishing between fear of crime and concern with
crime. Fear was on the affective level - "I am worried about my safety"
- while concern with crime was more on the cognitive level - "I have a
general anxiety that crime is threatening". As an illustration of the
difference, Jean-Paul Brodeur from the Universite de Montreal offered
the example of the Quebec resident who might be concerned about famine
in the Third World but would not fear going hungry himself.
different levels, the semantics of this issue must be addressed.
Here are some other important distinctions:
Fear of crime is either concrete, related to
imminent danger from a specific crime, or it is formless, related to
fear of being a victim of a criminal act although the nature of the
crime is not precise. (Figgie Report, America Afraid, 1980) A
member of the gay, lesbian or bisexual community may have a concrete
fear of a gay-bashing crime. A woman may have a concrete fear of
violent sexual assault. But an elderly person might be alone at home
bothered by formless or abstract fears.
Formless fears are more
widespread. Concrete fears tend to touch a person in a way more
immediate and threatening. Both are demoralizing for the individual.
Formless or diffused fears can induce pessimism and contribute to the
decay of a neighbourhood, damaging quality of life.
fears are significant challenges for communities and any crime
prevention program. Many diffuse fears are still very much tied to
crime while others are related to behaviour that is not criminal such as
loitering or the decay of neighbourhoods.
Vince Sacco questions
the relevance of these distinctions for the person who is actually
afraid. They may be more helpful for crime prevention programmers and
policy makers who need to identify the source of those fears to design
Feelings of Insecurity
social scientists prefer this term to fear of crime because the phrase
is intended to take in not only crime but the disorders, incivilities
and a wide range of feelings more broadly related to this topic.
Jean-Paul Brodeur has observed that asking people about fear of crime is
like a leading question from a lawyer, already framing the way someone
will answer. Asking someone about their feelings of insecurity is more
neutral and gets better results, he said. Fear of crime is often
literally translated "la peur du crime" in French but Brodeur prefers to
use "les sentiments d'insecurite."
Anyone who likes horror movies knows that a strong dose of fear is
also an agreeable sensation, quite distinct from the repulsive
sensations usually associated with fear of crime. Yet, pleasurable fear
has an indirect relevance to the subject at hand. Jean-Paul Brodeur
notes that people can be disgusted by the crimes that a Paul Bernardo or
O.J. Simpson are accused of committing yet some of the same people are
also titillated by the details: "groupies" flock to the trials; the
information highway on computers cranks out every lurid detail of the
cases to an insatiable audience. There is much ambiguity about this
violence that offends but seduces.
a criminology professor at Carleton University, describes a moral panic
as an escalating cycle of fear that is somewhat self-reproducing and
exceeds the evidence for the concern which is expressed.
study of moral panic based on a supposed crime wave in Newfoundland
determined that the fear and concern about violence were more in the
mind of certain interest groups and the media.
During a CBC Radio commentary, Ron Melchers,
criminology professor at University of Ottawa, recalled what it is like
climbing the stairs at night to kiss his children after watching the
late-evening television news. The world seems a frightful place,
especially for those he loves. Altruistic fear is fear that those we
love will be victims of crime - our partners, children, parents,
friends. For example, a parent may fear for a teen-aged child working
an evening shift at a fast food chain.
Altruistic fear has not
received much specific attention in the literature or in surveys. Yet
it seems reasonable to conclude that this fear would impact
significantly on our perceptions and the messages we communicate to our
loved ones, for example to our children about how safe we tell them
their world really is.
(ii) The Different
Why do we fear?
People who are afraid of
crime fear fundamentally for their own safety and that of their loved
ones as well as the security of their property.
this fear is a real phenomenon in Canada. What is far less apparent is
the extent of its grip on Canadians and what lies behind those
Rick Linden summarizes three models to explain fear of
High levels of crime lead
to a high number of victims which results in a high level of fear in
anticipation of being victimized. Crime causes fear.
The deterioration of social control, or the
perception that this has occurred, is the source of fear, more than the
objective risk of victimization. Eventually, this fear will cause more
There are personal
characteristics that contribute to people's fear;
some sense they
are physically vulnerable in being unable to resist an attack or
socially vulnerable because they are exposed to the threat of
victimization and will suffer serious social and economic
Direct or vicarious
experience with crime, particulary serious crime, is a common cause of
fear. We fear either because we have been victimized or because we are
aware we could be victims. "It happened to them. It could happen to
me", some conclude. That person may well feel at greater risk and be
anxious about their safety.
In fact, that was confirmed for the most
part in the most recent national survey. Victims of sexual assault and
victims of robbery and break and enter were most likely to express
feelings of fear, at levels higher than the national average (1993
General Social Survey). Forty-six per cent of victims of sexual
assault felt "very or somewhat unsafe" when walking alone after dark; 33
per cent of robbery victims and 32 per cent of break and enter victims
felt the same way (the national average was about 25 per cent). But,
for many other types of crime, prior victimization appeared to have
little or no impact on current fears.
James Wilson and George Kelling wrote the now famous Broken Window
Parable that best illustrates this fear of crime theory; a broken
window in a deserted house is noticed by neighbours, initiating a long
chain of events - more windows are broken and the house is boarded up,
graffiti appears, garbage collects, people stop walking by the house at
night, children are told to stay away, people feel less secure, police
patrols increase, people feel the neighbourhood is less secure than
before, people stay off the street at night, the crime rate begins to
Jean-Paul Brodeur summarized the process this way:
1. Disorder and petty crime are chiefly responsible for the genesis and
development of an acute feeling of insecurity in a neighbourhood.
2. When that feeling is sufficiently acute, a feeling of insecurity
paralyses and disorganizes the inhabitants of a neighbourhood and
determines the breakdown of informal controls, e.g. family control.
3. When informal controls that govern behaviour break down and the
police carry the entire weight of social control, they are powerless to
control disorder, petty offending and major crime.
offenders therefore have free reign and the neighbourhood undergoing
this process of degradation gradually loses its most viable elements.
5. At the end of the process, we find an area inhibited by a passive
population that is terrified and exploited by those who practise their
criminal activities with total impunity.
Rick Linden has
listed the "correlates of fear" for this model. They are:
physical factors - deterioration and signs of physical
the environmental factors - building size,
height, accessibility, surveillance etc.
the social factors
- perceived social mix, social cohesion, sense of community, lifestyle,
lack of control over the environment, isolation, signs
of incivility or social disorder.
are particular demographic characteristics that are associated with fear
of crime. Study after study has identified the primary fear groups to
be women, the elderly, and young men in urban "hot spots", particularly
poorer, young men from minority groups. More recent research has
identified members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community to be
particularly vulnerable. Unquestionably, age, gender, race, sexual
orientation, socio-economic class, education, and employment all
contribute to whether or not someone is vulnerable and therefore
fearful. A combination of factors, found for example in an immigrant
woman of colour, compounds those fears.
Elizabeth Stanko summarized
research into the fear about criminal victimization this way:
- "Police, government policy-makers and citizens alike
conceptualize fear of crime as associated with individual citizens'
concerns about being outside, alone and potentially vulnerable to
personal and harmful confrontation from criminal violence. As such,
fear of crime affects the lives of both women and men: it is
characterized as a feeling involving a diffuse sense of anxiety or
unsafeness when one is alone, particularly when one is alone and walking
on the street after dark, and which may affect a person's lifestyle
choices and mobilit
Two distinct ways of looking at
fear of crime appear to have emerged as we listen to victims and to
society at large. Certainly, there is fear of the violence inherent in
many criminal acts. But there also is the study of fear of crime as a
window into an expression of social malaise, including violence but
linked to economic and social problems that have grown out of
Fear of crime is measured mostly through surveys and
polls. The appendix to this report contains a chapter on issues related
to how fear of crime is measured, including a section on different types
of surveys and the questions which get asked.
Focus groups and the
types of community workshops done by Linda MacLeod and others permit
people to tell their stories around fear. Those stories do not lend
themselves to the neat categories of data preferred by most researchers
but they are the flesh and bones, soul and spirit, to the skeleton of
statistics. The fear dwells in the stories, not in the statistics, and
it is in the stories that it can actually be addressed.
So Are Canadians Afraid? The Statistics , The Stories and The
This section will consider the data from the
most recent surveys as well as attempt to describe the many faces of
fear and its consequences in the lives of Canadians.
on fear of crime in Canada is fraught with landmines, especially
explosive in the use and mis-use of statistics. Vince Sacco reported in
the most recent Juristat that 86 per cent of Canadians are "very
or somewhat satisfied" with their general level of safety. On the one
hand, that might be reassuring to the majority of Canadians and help put
into perspective the occasional heightened level of fear which typically
follows high profile, violent incidents. On the other hand, the 86 per
cent figure ignores many significant problems; actually almost half of
that group - 46 per cent of Canadians - are only "somewhat"
satisfied with their general level of safety, leaving an ongoing
challenge for community leaders and government policy makers in the
country. The 86 per cent figure also conceals much higher proportions
of fear in segments of the population such as women in general and
poorer income, urban residents, including some from minority groups.
Nevertheless, the 86 per cent figure is a good perspective to remember
as this report now puts fear of crime in Canada under the microscope,
magnifying its reality, meaning and consequences for a better
understanding of the phenomenon while not wanting to overstate its
(i) What the surveys tell us
Here are some
highlights from the 1993 General Social Survey and the 1993 Violence
Against Women Survey:
- one in four Canadians said they felt
"somewhat" or "very unsafe" walking alone in their
- women were more than four times as likely as men to
say that they do or would feel "somewhat unsafe" or "very unsafe"
walking alone in their area after dark, and about three times as likely
to say they are "very worried" or "somewhat worried" when home alone in
the evening or during the night.
- there is conflicting
evidence about the elderly and their fears. There is little indication
that fear increases with age, as illustrated when older Canadians are
asked questions which are more relevant to their everyday lives, such as
being alone at home in the evening or assessing their general safety
from crime. While 27 per cent of those aged 15 to 24 stated that they
are "worried" when home alone in the evening, 23 per cent of older
Canadians felt the same worry. But persons aged 65 and over were almost
twice as likely to indicate feeling "unsafe" when walking alone in their
area after dark.
- there was a small but measurable increase in
the level of fear of criminal victimization compared to 1988, reflected
in respondents' levels of apprehension while walking alone in their
neighbourhoods at night. But Canadians were not at a higher risk of
being a victim of crime than they were five years earlier, based on
individual and household victimization rates.
- victims of more
serious crimes had levels of fear higher than the national average.
Fear of walking alone in their area after dark was highest among victims
of sexual assault (46 per cent), followed by robbery (33 per cent),
break and enter (32 per cent) and vandalism (26 per cent).
- Canadians take numerous precautionary measures to protect
themselves or their property from crime. Thirty eight per cent said
they changed their activities or avoided certain places, 32 per cent
installed new locks, 15 per cent installed burglar alarms, 12 per cent
obtained a dog, 10 per cent took a self-defence course, nine per cent
changed their phone number and two per cent obtained a gun.
- regarding precautionary measures women take for their personal
safety: 67 per cent of women lock their car doors while driving alone,
60 per cent of women who drive check the back seat for intruders before
getting in, 31 per cent try to avoid walking past teen-aged boys or
young men, 17 per cent of Canadian women always or usually carry
something to defend themselves or to alert other people, eleven per cent
have taken a self-defence course.
- women who had experienced
violent victimization were more likely to state they always take these
Extensive analysis of
the surveys by researchers begin to put a face on people's fears.
Victimization rates which influence those fears vary according to the
victims' gender, age, geographical location, marital status, type of
main activity and whether or not they engaged in more evening activities
away from the home. Examples may help here. As men get older, their
fear increases; the proportion feeling very unsafe is more than three
times as great in the 65 and over category when compared to the 15 to
24-year-old group. The proportion of urban dwellers feeling somewhat
unsafe or very unsafe is generally twice as high that of rural
residents, for both sexes. Consistent with the 1988 findings, the
youngest and oldest age groups for women (15-24, 65 and older) exhibit
the lowest feelings of safety. Overall, victimization rates for women
are 11 per cent higher than for men, largely because of the fact that
sexual assaults are rarely reported against men. Gender differences are
underlined even in relation to marital status, where the rate of
victimization is 27 per cent higher for single women than single men and
twice as high for separate or divorced women as separated or divorced
men. Separated or divorced women have the highest victimization rate of
Several co-related factors increase risk of
victimization, and related fears. High levels of risk and fear are
evident for women who are young, single, perhaps students or in the work
force, and involved in thirty or more evening activities in a mont (the
last factor identifies a group who usually for social or work-related
reasons go out of their homes almost every night).
international perspective, the 1992 International Crime Survey put
Canada in the lowest third of twelve countries in terms of fear based on
the typical measurement of walking alone in the neighbourhood at night.
On another question, Canada placed in the mid-range of countries in
terms of its citizens taking precautions when going out at night,
particularly through avoiding certain risky areas or staying clear of
certain persons. Twenty-one per cent of respondents acknowledged taking
precautions, ranking Canada twelfth of twenty countries - Japan was the
lowest at 15.6 per cent and Italy was the highest at 38.6 per cent.
Asked if they felt somewhat or very unsafe out alone after dark, 20 per
cent of Canadians answered in the affirmative, compared for example with
Sweden at 13.5 per cent and the United States at 41 per cent. In
general, there was a sense that their own neighbourhood was safe and
crime was a problem elsewhere.
All these statistics can be a bit
numbing and impersonal unless one moves to the stories and the real life
experiences of Canadians.
(ii) Fear of Crime: A
A woman recently wrote this
letter to the Ottawa Citizen:
Women, particularly those working late at night as waitresses,
cashiers or doctors, feel especially vulnerable to certain types of
crime such as sexual assault.
- "When one hears the term
'the silent killer' one usually thinks 'heart attack'. There is another
silent killer. Fear. It engulfs you, washes over you, controls your
whole being.... I find myself lost, in a sea of swirling emotions with
no sense of identity and still controlled by fear - not of the unknown,
but because of past memories - knowing what can still happen.... There
are days I wish the threat on my life had been carried out. My fear
would then be ended. I now have a life sentence of looking over my
shoulder, always being on guard, waiting in case he drinks again, places
the blame for his unhappiness on me and carries out the threat. To
those people who have never lived in an abusive environment, please do
not condemn those who remain in the relationship. It is often safer and
easier to remain where one knows what is happening, how the pattern
runs, what to expect and when.... When we are out of the relationship,
the silent killer will devour us because of the not knowing."
High school students who are gay or
lesbian report a high proportion of harassment, hostility and violence
in high schools where gay jokes are rampant and many students feel
perfectly justified in openly expressing their hatred.
heard of many women's fears in her cross-country workshops:
isolated geographically; having no community network; sensing that
neighbours or a passer-by would not come to their assistance if they
were in danger, or were actually being attacked; believing they would
not receive support from other women; not knowing how to get help if
they needed it (a fear especially prevalent among immigrants, seniors or
People's fear also seems to be influenced by the fact
that, through the media, we are exposed daily to the pain of the victims
of crime in a manner so intense that we imagine ourselves in the place
of those afflicted.
(iii) Fear of Crime: The Consequences
The consequences of all forms of fear of crime are enormous (individual
communities would need to study which of these consequences are
A Quebec task force reported in 1993: "It's hard to evaluate the social
costs of crime.... Such costs also affect society as a whole, and
create a climate of growing insecurity, greater mistrust and an
increasing collective inclination toward punitive aggression. In
certain neighbourhoods of major cities, hard hit by crime, a number of
changes have been noted. Residents avoid leaving their homes and lock
themselves in; mistrust and isolation take over; infrastructures and
services deteriorate; the labour force moves elsewhere; and economic and
cultural development stagnates or regresses."
- Studies reveal that fear of
victimization increases psychological distress and decreases outdoor
physical activity, both of which negatively affect health.
of crime is identified as a factor that can increase the chances that
children from public housing developments will fail in school.
- As women isolate themselves and withdraw from the community in an
effort to protect themselves, communities begin to die. Communities
wither, Linda MacLeod reminds us, because women are still the "keepers
of the community". Women tend to be the volunteers for social and
health programs, run the after-school programs, attend the
parent-teachers associations, etc.
- Because of a concern for
personal safety or for the security of their property, citizens may be
unable to take advantage of social or cultural opportunities in their
communities; discretionary income may be diverted towards "security"
- Fear of crime affects zoning decisions, stops people
from coming to certain tourist spots for holidays, and influences
organizations in their selection of sites for conferences (this is
practically non-existent in Canadian reported concerns although quite
prevalent in what is reflected in the American literature).
- Parks and playgrounds are abandoned and downtowns are
- Levels of interpersonal trust are undermined,
frequencies of social interaction are reduced, patterns of spatial
mobility are affected. Self-protection measures can be costly in human
as well as economic terms.
- Fear and the withdrawal from
community which it spawns can widen the rift between classes as the rich
or upper middle class move to what they perceive as safer areas and/or
protect themselves with sophisticated security systems and security
- The literature indicates that fear of crime may itself
be seen as a form of psychological distress which lessens the quality of
life, restricts access to social or cultural opportunities, and
undermines the social integration of local communities.
- Some women who fear victimization and may already have been
victims of sexual assault report an inability to sustain relationships
over the long term. Some are afraid to leave their home, paralyzed by
an experience of violence which continues to keep them hostage. Years
of abuse or a single violent incident can cause nightmares for years and
make physical contact or a healthy sexual relationship impossible.
- Regardless of its source, fear of crime may cause
individuals to withdraw physically and psychologically from community
life, consequently weakening informal social controls and a
neighbourhood's mobilization capacity.
- While understudied
compared to residential areas, business areas are negatively affected as
well by fear of crime and related physical and social disorders.
- It seems psychologically self-evident that fear makes people
more defensive and can also make people more punitive.
- Fear of
crime can undermine public confidence in the police as protectors and
sustainers of order in society.
- Women may choose to appear and
act "masculine" to divert male attention. A woman may choose not to get
into an elevator if there is a lone man in it, she may park her car on
the street rather than underground parking, decide never to take a taxi
at night or keep her window shut tight on a hot summer night.
However, not all of
the consequences of fear of crime are negative or lead to dysfunctional
Fears may lead to new daily rituals and precautions that are
prudent and helpful. Elizabeth Stanko captured many of those rituals in
her discussions with women who survived physical and sexual violence.
"I only take five dollars with me now", "I just focus on where I am
heading", "I go with someone else now". Streetwise rituals included
varying routes home, walking on the street-side of the sidewalk or
pavement, walking assertively, avoiding dimly-lit areas, selecting
parking spaces carefully, never carrying valuables in a handbag, having
friends wait outside until one is safely inside, carrying articles or
weapons for self defence. There are subtle, small adjustments made by
those afraid of crime, for example the decision to take a taxi instead
of walking or going with someone else rather than alone.
fear of crime and crime hurt community, especially in that they
undermine people coming together and interacting through healthy, viable
Who are the "Fear of Crime"
Groups in Canada?
While cautious about importing and applying
American research to the Canadian scene, there is valuable and
fundamental data in this regard. Numerous studies point to several
common variables that account for who is afraid of crime: gender, area
of residence (urban or rural), satisfaction with the neighbourhood, age,
health, education, social class, marital status, experience of crime,
helpfulness of people in the neighbourhood, number of persons living
with you, and race. For the most part, those variables influence fears
in Canada as well. The most important demographic predictors were sex,
area of residence, age, health and whether the individual lived alone.
A large body of research has confirmed that fear of crime is greater
among women, the aged and the economically disadvantaged.
demographic profile is significant when, as Vince Sacco has noted, those
at high risk of victimization in this country do not in every instance
coincide with those who have the highest levels of fear. The risks of
victimization in Canada are greatest for those who are young, under 25,
male, living in urban areas, members of ethnic minorities and/or
economically disadvantaged. Their risks increase even more so if they
actively engage in evening leisures, frequently consume alcohol and if
they hold certain types of employment. Interestingly, this profile of
victim is quite similar to the profile of offender, who also happens
largely to be from the same group as has just been described. Glaring
exceptions to this risk profile are women who are victims of sexual
assaults and victims of break and enter crimes in more affluent
Those young males in urban hot spots may or may not be
fearful. Few are at telephones waiting for Statistics Canada to call!
They appear either to be a low fear group or do not admit their fear for
a number of reasons - a mix of male macho and youth bravado, a feeling
of invincibility and their self-confidence against any danger in the
street or the neighbourhood.
But there are many primary fear groups
which have been studied.
(i) Women and Fear of Crime
Fear on Trial
- "Fear stalks the city. Although you might think it
would prefer the shadows, it is not really afraid of the light.... Fear
can strike at any time. It starts growing in childhood and is passed
down from mother to daughter.... Fear knows no age limits but, like
violence, carefully chooses its target. It lives and grows in the
hearts of all women, regardless of their appearance, age or colour
because... fear belongs to women."
- "The fear of violence is something
terrible. Physically, it's terrible; mentally, it's terrible. However,
the stigma and the fear of coming out and the lack of resources are
worse than the beating themselves."
not Beaten, Linda MacLeod
- "What, then, makes
the death of Georgina Leimonis more frightening still? I think it is
that in the dark stairwell and the night-time parking garage, I have
always known the risk was there, in the shadows. Every woman does. We
take it because it is, after all, a very small risk, and this is still
Canada. We have calculated the odds and made our choice. At least that
much seems in our control. But what are the odds of death from sitting
in a brightly lit cafe on a Tuesday evening with your friends, in the
midst of a cheerful crowd of strangers indulging a sweet tooth? There
used to be no odds on that, not in this country, not even for a woman.
Now, it seems, there are."
Globe and Mail
Holly Johnson calls it debunking the
Women were a high fear group who were not at high risk of
victimization, so the traditional theory in criminology concluded.
This line of reasoning was founded on a fear of crime concept that too
narrowly looked at violent crime committed in public places, mostly by
strangers, and almost totally ignored fear of danger from a woman's
perspective. The standard thesis failed to capture women's lived
experiences of sexual and physical violence.
In more complex
analyses of fear of crime, being a female always emerges as the most
significant risk factor. Many researchers conclude this is more closely
related to a very specific fear of sexual assault. Women have an unique
vulnerability to sexual aggression. This fear of sexual assault is then
woven into anxiety about other crimes, such as burglary or robbery
attended by the threat of sexual assault. And, in the words of Holly
Johnson, Project Manager for the Violence Against Women Survey who is
writing an academic text on violence against women and their fears,
"young women learn about sexual danger at a very early age. It is young
women who are seen as sexually attractive. It is open season on them.
It is young women who are among the highest fear group."
assaulted often by known male assailants, leading to fear of known and
presumably safe environments and fear of violence in familiar
environments, such as neighbourhoods.
Like men, women's fears are
influenced by age, residence, income, race and marital status. Yet
women's fears cross the boundaries of all those variables. This report
has already cited the staggering statistics confirming that slightly
more than four in ten women feel unsafe in walking in their
neighbourhood at night.
- "It becomes apparent when
women's patterns of victimization are compared to men's," writes Linda
MacLeod "that because a higher proportion of women are victimized in
their own homes, because women are more likely than men to be victimized
by someone known to them, and because women's victimization is related
to economic, physical as well as social disadvantage and vulnerability,
it is much more difficult for women to avoid their victimization or to
predict it, even if women were to severely curtail their patterns of
daily life by reducing their activities outside their homes. Thus
women's feelings of helplessness in the face of potential victimization
are higher than those of men, and fear among women naturally and
appropriately escalates to a higher level than fear among men."
The reasons for their fear are complicated. Among others,
Elizabeth Stanko and Liz Kelly have made a monumental contribution to
the understanding of women's fears of crime by placing those fears
within the continuum of violence or threat of violence
experienced by too many women in society. Victimization surveys tended
to ask respondents only about their previous twelve-month experience of
victimization and only dealt with offences in the Criminal Code. A
woman who was raped at 17 would not be categorized as a victim in a
survey interview conducted when she was 24, despite its profound effect
on her life, including her fears.
In Surviving Sexual
Violence, Liz Kelly describes this continuum of violence drawing on
the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of contiuum as denoting
either a basic common character that underlies many different events or
a continuous series of elements that pass into one another and which
cannot be readily distinguished. Women can and too often do experience
abuse, intimidation, coercion, intrusion, threat and force, primarily
from men. Kelly documented and named the range of sexual violence women
experience and fear: sexual harassment(including looks, gestures,
remarks, acts), pressure to have sex, sexual assault, obscene phone
calls, coercive sex, domestic violence, sexual abuse, flashing, rape and
incest. These are not clearly defined, distinct categories stretching
in linear fashion in a woman's life. Rather, they intersect in layers
of acts and emotions, resulting in what Holly Johnson of Statistics
Canada calls fear of crime becoming "a shorthand for many things
associated with women's experience and fears related to violence".
Note: Much of this is feminist garbage.... twisting the facts to suit the prejudices and hatred of men
The Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women which was a farce and waste of money, alluded to this
continuum, noting that violence ranges from verbal insults through
physical blows to murder and is the consequence of social, economic and
political inequality built into the structure of society and reinforced
through assumptions expressed in the languages and ideologies of sexism,
racism and classism.
The Violence Against Women Survey in 1993
attempted to honour this "continuum of violence theory" by expanding the
reference period of victimization from one year to any occurrences since
the age of 16 and expanding the scope of threatening behaviour which had
been previously not measured. For many, this represents a more accurate
reflection of risk, although the survey had its critics for its
description of sexual assault and for excluding men and everyone under
Part of the difficulty in gauging whether the fears and
precautions taken by women are warranted is in the debate on the
reliability of statistics and the known under-reporting of crimes such
as sexual assault. Victim surveys generally confirm that official crime
rates substantially underestimate the magnitude of the problems,
particularly in areas such as violence against women, children and the
The impact of violence on women is a complex matter.
Acts of violence cannot be ranked arbitrarily in a line of severity
based on seriousness of the offence, as if that automatically would
determine the seriousness of its impact or corresponding level of fear
to be expected. Yet that is what early research in this area did.
Flashing, for example, may be categorized as a minor offence vis-a-vis
Criminal Code punishment and perhaps even minor from the perspective of
the victim and the victim's circle of friends who might laugh it off
and/or be grateful that nothing more serious happened. However,
flashing is a poignant reminder of a woman's vulnerability, the victim
terrorized because she has no control over the situation and knows it is
largely up to the perpetrator how far it will go. Her fear of crime is
linked inextricably to an imminent fear of danger. Her being "flashed"
is tucked away in her book of life that will influence future chapters
and future incidents where fear lurks. In the example of flashing, one
immediate, localized effect is that a person may well not go to a
particular place or engage in an activity at a particular time anymore.
Flashing produces other negative and more general effects, adding to
fears of open spaces or going out alone.
As well, obviously serious
offences such as rape are seldom an isolated event. A rape may also
involve a threat with a weapon, robbery, assault and even murder. In
the eyes of a woman, every rape carries with it the threat of death.
Rape can define a woman's life forcefully in terms of pain and terror.
A woman named Linda told Elizabeth Stanko: " I think of my life as
pre-rape and post-rape in some ways."
Gordon and Riger, in their
book, The Female Fear, list seven factors contributing to women's
fear: socialization teaching girls to be afraid of sex and men and
giving women ambiguous messages about their sexuality; experiences with
rapes or mini-rapes, petty rapes, unwanted hugs, pinches etc.; myths
about rape which suggest women are responsible; the visible presence of
a neighbourhood, anti-crime organization; personal knowledge of actual
crimes; media sensationalizing of crimes; general societal condoning of
sexual violence and male aggression in courtship. From her community
dialogues with women, Linda MacLeod would add several more factors:
isolation of the individual woman, insufficient contact with police; a
general sense that no one cares about either the individual or the
neighbourhood or about perceived problems; and feelings of powerlessness
to affect perceived problems.
Fear is aggravated by the knowledge
that women do not have power, status or even credibility in segments of
society. Women's fears are intensified by their responsibility and
altruistic fear for their children - that those children will be hurt or
that they themselves will be hurt and will be unable to care for their
children. Fears are magnified by a woman's feeling of physical
The many voices of women in fear were heard when
Linda MacLeod did a series of community workshops in 1990 sponsored by
Secretary of State Canada. Fears of sexual assault outside the home by
a male stranger or a slight acquaintance, as well as sexual and/physical
assault in the home by a partner, may have dominated the discussions but
there were other fears:
- fear of being unprotected by the justice
- fear particularly pronounced by aboriginal and other racial
and ethnic minority women of being assaulted physically or sexually by
- fear of people in authority more generally, including
church leaders, health-care workers, social workers and lawyers.
- fear of being isolated by geography, lack of knowledge, illiteracy,
language, racism or the lack of people's concern for one another.
- fear of intolerance and racism.
- fear that their children will not
- fear of sexual harassment and physical or sexual assault
in the workplace.
- fear of prevalent portrayals of violence against
women through the media, through sexist or implicitly violent advertising and through the widespread availability of pornography.
- fear of men generally.
- fear of living in a violent society.
As this report was being written, Statistics Canada released a study,
Women Assaulted by Strangers, based on more detailed analysis of
the Violence Against Women Survey data; the study announced that women's
safety fears are also traced to encounters with strangers, with one
quarter of the women surveyed from age 18 to 24 acknowledging they had
been assaulted by a stranger at least once since the age of 16 in acts
that ranged from unwanted sexual touching to rape involving injury.
Judging from the initial media fallout, it seemed that the pendulum
had swung back to the perception that women had more to fear from the
stranger than from those they knew. Holly Johnson said the very first
media question asked of the Statistics Canada author was: "We were led
to believe that the home was the place women should fear the most. Now
this report is saying the opposite."
Holly Johnson comments: "The
author's response was that this report is just the latest analysis of
data from the Violence Against Women Survey. It is added to what we
already knew. It doesn't contradict earlier findings. Those questions
and reactions seem to indicate a lack of appreciation for the women's
perspective and the continuum of violence.... We also get locked into a
crime prevention mode that says it has to be either public or private
danger and that the public danger has to be the stranger, the monster
predator. Not enough distinctions are made."
The Women Assaulted
by Strangers study indicated that only nine per cent of sexual
assaults were reported to police. Forty-four per cent of the women who
chose not to report those sexual assaults gave as their reason that it
was too minor while another 14 per cent felt the police could not do
anything about it. Holly Johnson said it is very difficult to interpret
from a survey what the women mean when they describe a sexual assault as
too minor. It may in fact have been minor or, quite to the contrary and
typical of battered or assaulted women, they may be minimizing the
offence, think no one will understand and that the criminal justice
system will not be helpful.
The location of the stranger assault
varied - the street, a bar or dance and public building being more
common but a car, her workplace, public transport, her home and a rural
area also proving unsafe. Consequently, a "geography of fear" for women
slips into a "geography of limitation", curtailing lifestyles and
mobility. It begs a thorny but necessary social policy debate about who
is responsible for male aggression; where does one draw the line between
expecting women to take reasonable, prudent precautions for their safety
and their right to live full, equal and whole lives.
fears of more and more women who are either in single-parent or two
parent families are aggravated in Canada because most do not have the
choice of restricting movements outside the home. They must work.
Significantly, with respect to fear of crime, this new study found that
among women who had been physically assaulted by a stranger, almost half
reported being more fearful and two of every five women said they were
more cautious or aware. For sexual assault victims of strangers, one in
four women was more fearful and slightly more than one in three women
more cautious or aware.
Any fear of crime study and any
fear-reduction or crime prevention program needs to give prominent
attention to this experience of women. Perspective is demanded too. It
is good news that almost three of every five Canadian women are
not afraid of walking in their neighbourhoods at night. Surely
there are lessons to be gained from their lives about fear and coping
with fear. Yet for too many women in our country, their fear is
increased by their understanding and/or experience that they have no
"safe" place. In the words of Elizabeth Stanko, "if women commonly
encounter threatening and/or violent behaviour from men who are
strangers and from men who are known to them, how can they predict which
man will be violent to them and in what instance?"
Getting older in Canada does not put one at greater risk
of victimization but it does increase one's fear of crime in some
substantial ways. This is a significant group to assist in their fears
related to crime, for a number of reasons:
in certain situations,
seniors exhibit high levels of fear of crime; the fragility and
pronounced vulnerability of some seniors demand greater attention; this
is the fastest growing segment of the Canadian population.
the next century, one in four Canadians will be a senior citizen.
Studies have shown today's seniors to be more independent and
financially secure than past generations with, of course a notable
exception being that a disturbing number of seniors are at, or below,
poverty levels. One sensible hypothesis is that crime will increase
against seniors as their numbers and assets increase. Their fear of
vulnerability is also likely to increase. That will result in seniors
placing more calls to a police force that has trouble even now meeting
all the demands from the public. Constable Chuck Prince, a British
Columbia community police officer, describes seniors as a "victim
waiting for a crime to happen".
We have already reported on Vince
Sacco's Juristat article which suggested that there is mixed
evidence for the view that fear of crime is a more serious problem for
the elderly. They are almost twice as likely to indicate feeling
"unsafe" about walking in their neighbourhood at night - an exercise
they may not regularly do in any event - but their fear levels matched
other groups when they were asked about being home alone in the evening
or assessing their general safety from crime. Interestingly, elderly
women had significantly lower amounts of fear about being home alone at
night. Holly Johnson speculated that may have something to do with
women outliving their partners and being more accustomed to being alone
in the home. Those in their home alone who do report fear have
difficulty managing a home and implementing sound crime prevention
The elderly have concrete fears about specific crime.
They worry about grocery shopping while carrying money in their wallet
or purse. Some resist and even fear the technology of credit cards or
instant banking cards. In Winnipeg, according to Rick Linden, they are
concerned about auto theft, purse snatching and break and enter.
However, the elderly are not specifically targeted for most crime,
except for a few crimes like scams or frauds.
They are a good group
to examine for an understanding of the analysis that the crimes
committed against them may not rank at the high end of seriousness but
may have very serious consequences. There are profound differences for
the lives of a twenty-five-year-old woman, as compared to a
sixty-five-year-old woman, of either having one's entire savings wiped
out by a fraud, or falling and breaking a hip during a purse snatching.
So seniors may have high amounts of fear for crimes which many in
society might not categorize as serious. Their physical and financial
circumstances may hinder their recovery from crime.
fears are related more to vulnerability than to victimization. Seniors
represent three per cent of all victims of violent crime while they are
16 per cent of the population. Their rate of victimization was so low
according to the 1993 General Social Survey that it could not even be
measured, given the survey's sample population of 10,000.
seemingly at actual risk now as a senior citizen, that is not to say
that earlier life experiences, including victimization, may well be
colouring their fears in the present and future.
fear of criminal victimization seems more linked to their physical and
social vulnerability. It may include a logical assessment of their
ability to defend themselves physically in the face of an assailant who,
often enough, is much younger and a male. As a consequence, they are
more frightened before, during and after the commission of the
Many seniors struggle with increasing vulnerability because
of aging, frailty and losing control. They are afraid of becoming ill,
or poor, or being abandoned by their family and friends and, according
to Ron Melchers, there are a host of far less remote fears which plague
their minds constantly. If communities assisted them with their fears
about crime, - both the concrete fears and the more diffused fears which
relate to their other fears - that may lessen their sense of
powerlessness and help them deal with the other fears which are not
related to crime. Those struggles cannot be eradicated completely in
the human journey but there are social supports that might well enhance
the quality of life during a period many find fearful.
Research from several American studies on the fear of crime among the
elderly deserve mention:
- fear of crime was related to
dissatisfaction with the neighbourhood, low morale and involuntary
isolation. The elderly lose access to many community facilities as they
age, including churches, community centres, the neighbourhood grocer,
doctor and druggist. The elderly who are poor are more afraid.
- an interesting fear of crime study on elderly Jews living in
Boston and London, England revealed the significance of community
interaction in dealing with those fears. Residents in both cities had
comparable experiences and language to describe the problem of crime and
its impact on them. But the Boston seniors retreated behind closed
doors while the London residents continued their daily routine almost
uninterrupted. Researchers discovered that the London group felt much
more a part of their community.
- "members of kin" networks
may act as threats to the elderly through their warnings of dangers from
crime. Fear of neighbourhood crime was greater for those who more
frequently socialized with relatives, presumably hearing the "news" and
gossip of the community. This points to the need for a de-briefing and
support group for seniors to speak about their fears and what they are
hearing about crime. Even that group itself needs skilled facilitators
to ensure that the telling of stories will not make matters worse.
Urban men and women are more
fearful than rural men and women and they are more likely to take
routine measures to protect themselves from crime, according to the 1993
General Social Survey. Rebecca Kong, writing in a Juristat
article on Urban/Rural Criminal Victimization in Canada, reports
other population groups, victimization rates will vary according to
factors such as gender, age, marital status, type of main activity and
number of evening activities per month. In both urban and rural areas,
the highest rates of personal victimization included women, young
people, people not married, students and those out most evenings in the
- compared to rural populations, a larger proportion of
urban residents are fearful in certain situations. Urban residents are
twice as likely to feel unsafe when walking alone in their
neighbourhoods after dark. One-half of urban residents and over
one-third of rural residents feel worried when using public
transportation alone in the evening.
- Those fears are at least
partly related to concerns about victimization; 27 per cent of urban
residents reported that they had been victims of crime in the previous
year, compared to 17 per cent of rural residents. The rate of personal
victimization was 44 per cent higher among urban than rural residents
and the rate of household victimization was 67 per cent higher among
urban than rural residents.
- fear is not only a function of
area of residence but also of gender. Women in both urban and rural
areas consistently demonstrate higher levels of fear than men, with 38
per cent of women in urban areas and 32 per cent of women in rural areas
saying they are "very or somewhat worried" about being at home alone in
the evening(compared to 12 per cent and 9 per cent for the men in each
- people living in urban areas were twice as likely as
rural residents to have installed new locks or a burglar alarm, taken a
self-defence course or changed their telephone numbers to guard
themselves against crime. Less than one-quarter of rural residents
changed their routine or avoided certain places to keep from being
victimized, compared to over one-third of urban residents.
The rural resident may have less fear of the stranger, not
only because of the smaller, more tightly-knit community he or she
resides in but because statistics confirm that almost three-quarters of
violent incidents there are committed by an acquaintance or relative.
(71 per cent in the rural population, compared to 57 per cent for the
"Given that urban populations are victimized at a
higher rate and are more likely to be violently victimized by a
stranger," writes Ms. Kong, "it is understandable that urban residents
are more fearful when in certain situations and more likely to take
precautions to protect themselves and their homes."
urban resident is not afraid all the time but again in mostly concrete
situations, maximized by when he or she meets the "stranger", stranger
in the personal sense or stranger in the cultural sense. It is urban
life that gives us those situations where we meet up with so many people
from different cultures.
Victims of Crime
already been considerable reference elsewhere in this report to the
effect of victimization on fears. It was mentioned that fear of crime
is measured by two primary factors - perceived risk and perceived
seriousness. A 1981 survey in Seattle concluded that these two factors
carry equal weight but that fear levels were not necessarily always the
highest for violent crimes. Reducing perceived risk did appear to be an
effective means of reducing fear.
In Canada, while there are not
obvious, sharp differences generally in the fear level between victims
and non-victims, there are noticeable, increased fears and added
precautions for those who have been the victim of a few serious crimes
such as sexual assault and robbery.
Anyone who has had a home
burglarized knows the lingering, emotional damage caused by the break
and enter. People for some time cannot return to their home in ease.
Once the key has opened the front door, eyes dart from room to room,
furniture to furniture to see if anything is out of place. Ears strain
to hear strange noises in the yard or driveway. People sense a personal
violation because of the penetration of their private space. Some admit
to recurring nightmares.
Those who have not been victims may
minimize the impact of less serious crime. However, Howard Zehr, who
has worked extensively with victims and victim/offender reconciliation
programs, contends that being a victim is a deeply traumatic experience
even for minor crime. As well, victims will have fears from the crime
which they now associate with a whole gender, male for example, or an
entire race. Zehr noted that the persisting emotional intensity for
victims might suggest a crime happened recently when in fact it may well
have occurred many years ago. Many victims report the experience of a
re-victimization through their disappointing dealings with the criminal
justice system after the crime. This can also exacerbate their fears.
Signficantly, the "monster" created in a victim's mind tends to shrink
in many cases to manageable proportions once the victim is able to
confront the offender in a safe setting and begin to get answers about
why he or she was selected as a target.
The General Social Survey
data from 1993 indicated that two-thirds of victims of sexual assault
were unable to carry on with their normal activities for at least one
day following the incident and that twenty per cent said they found it
difficult to resume their normal activities for ten days or more.
Psychological injuries - including stress and fear-induced paranoia -
are common outcomes of a victimization experience and may be
particularly severe for victims of sexual assault.
literature, there was reference to an interesting project in Houston
where police did follow-up contacts with victims every two months after
the crime. The contact reassured some victims but there were also
cultural differences in how the police were received and how the program
impacted on victims. Some Hispanic groups with a history of tense
police-community relations did not report the same reassurance felt by
Finally, there was the assumption in some of the research
that fear in a victim will dissipate with time. Yet, there are other
studies that observed that, despite an initial decline in the fear level
for victims in a first phase after the crime, that the fear level later
increased, as a result of changes to lifestyle and behaviour along with
taking extra precautions such as buying a security alarm.
Barry Thomas and Sgt. Keith Wiltshire, from
the Canadian Centre for Police-Race Relations based in Ottawa, are in
the midst of a number of urban consultations with community
stakeholders. While those consultations were not on fear of crime
directly, the issue surfaced frequently in the discussions.
He suspects the elderly in many of these groups have a
"double and triple whammy" with respect to their fears, struggling like
seniors in the Caucasian race to deal with elder abuse but also being
prisoners because of language problems and, in the case of women, often
inferior status within their culture. The racial factor mingles with
the youth factor so that a group of young black men on a streetcorner
are perceived to be more threatening.
Montreal: The Spanish and Latin American community aired its
grievance about a 1994 World Cup Championship celebration in the city in
which members complained that a police overreaction led to calling out
the riot squad. The community said they were paranoid about making
official complaints to the police. Immigrants spoke of being afraid of
gang crimes and the police, the latter fear linked to the risk of
- Toronto: The concern for youth and
particularly black youth predominated in the consultation here. There
were references to the dangerous mix of black youth and firearms, "a
daily occurrence in Scarborough". Many articulated an altruistic fear
for the youth and for others in the community.
Four separate consultations were held with the Chinese, Vietnamese,
Black and Aboriginal communities. Barry Thomas watched a Chinatown
jeweller take 25 minutes to put two steel grates over his store. Similar
security was evident elsewhere. There were references to high levels of
fear with personal safety and property concerns at the top of the list
in the consultation with the Chinese community. Disorder and incivility
are a problem for some. "You see people fixing themselves (drugs) right
on the street. Chinatown is dead at 8:30 in the evening," Mr. Thomas
said. The elderly have concerns with fears. Wealthier families from
Hong Kong and Taiwan are concerned with the number of robberies and
break and enter crimes. The Vietnamese consultation focused on youth
gangs, including the threat of home invasions which are a reality in the
city. Many of the gang members are from the refugee camps. "I guess
the streets of Vancouver are tame compared to some of the camps and the
experience of Vietnam," Mr. Thomas noted. "The kids hang around on the
street, have time on their hands, get into petty and then more serious
crime. They get hassled by the police, stopped, get a rap or a
reputation and then bothered constantly. They get criminalized fairly
He said the aboriginal
situation in Vancouver is desperate. Participants commented on pimps
from other ethnocultural groups preying on the young women. There are
few services, suicide is high and urban natives tend to get criminalized
Rick Linden commented that the amount of crime
in the Vietnamese community does not increase fears throughout Vancouver
because most people realize they are not at risk - the victims are other
Vietnamese. This is not to dismiss the problem of crime in that
community; however, it is an illustration that, for the most part,
people judge what their risk is, and act accordingly.
crimes are a source of fear for personal safety for ethnocultural groups
and individuals, particularly hate organizations which promote racism.
People feel threatened directly because they are members of a group
which is attacked.
In cases of family violence, women may be afraid
of how they will be treated by police and courts. They fear the adverse
reaction that may result if they violate community norms by exposing
private family matters to public scrutiny. Linda MacLeod and Maria
Shin conducted telephone interviews with 39 women immigrants who had
been abused as well as some community workers. These women spoke
neither French or English as their first language. "We know very little
about these women, for they are invisible to most people who are not
part of their culture, who do not speak their language. Their abuse and
suffering are often invisible even to people in their culture. They
truly live silenced lives with silent fears and unheard hopes," their
The fear of reporting and its related fear of
reprisal are both in evidence in ethnocultural communities. A Toronto
Star story in 1989 referred to those fears and distrust of government in
the Asian community making potential witnesses to crime reluctant to go
to the police. Criminals then use this fear and distrust to flourish.
Constable Quoc toan Trinh in Montreal estimates that 75 per cent of
crime within the Asian community is not reported.
As well, those
immigrants and even Canadian-born members of ethnocultural groups tend
to congregate and settle in large urban centres because of their greater
access to their cultural and community associations. So any fears
related to crime are compounded by this urban factor. Fear of the
stranger from another culture alienates these individuals even
When there is crime in their community, this group faces
enormous obstacles. There tends to be a poor general knowledge of the
law due to unfamiliarity with the Canadian way of life. People are
discouraged by language difficulties. There may be limited income and
apprehensiveness about dealing with people outside of their own cultural
community, especially when the crime is within their cultural group.
One focus study by the Law Courts Education Society of British Columbia
found that the Chinese community did not view the court system
favourably and would avoid the justice system wherever possible. As
well, a lack of proficiency in English can "in effect be the closed door
behind which some seniors live in confined and sometimes fearful
existence". People stay home, perhaps out of fear of danger, but also
because it is more comfortable for them.
The Gay, Lesbian
and Bi-Sexual Community Xtra, TorontoFeb. 18, 1994
Calgary Herald, Jan. 7, 1990
- " Many of his
colleagues didn't recognize (Jeff) Harris when he arrived in the
emergency ward, vomiting blood. Nine doctors, including an eye
specialist and oral surgeon, hovered over him, estimating he had lost
more than six pints of blood. When the swelling in his brain subsided,
it took more than six hours and 280 stitches just to close the wounds
temporarily - and wire together the 27 facial fractures, including 11
breaks in his smashed jaw."
- Incident involving Ed Pollak's partner:
"He was kicked in the face, in the head, shoulder, arms with boots. Like
a sack of potatatos. He had bruising from his waist to his neck for a
crime is a significant reality in the gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual
community in Canada. It is directly related to victimization and a
sense of vulnerability.
People have been murdered, brutalized or
harassed because someone thought they were gay, lesbian and bisexual.
They are verbally abused, physically harmed and sexually abused. In
Ottawa, statistics from the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Bias Crime
Unit indicate that 45 of 387 investigated offences since the unit's
creation had to do with an incident based on bias against sexual
orientation. Gay and lesbian students in high school report a high
proportion of harassment, hostility and violence where gay jokes are
rampant and many students sense an immunity in openly expressing their
hatred. These students classify schools as the least safe place in the
The U.S.-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
states that one in five gay men and one in ten lesbians reported being
assaulted, one third reported being threatened with violence and nine of
ten experienced some type of harassment, threats or assault based upon
perception of their sexual orientation. Carol Holland from the Ottawa
bias crime unit cited anecdotal evidence of gay bashing, including a
woman beaten, a brother murdered, a harassed youth who dropped out of
school and anti-bashing posters which were defaced in schools.
crimes have a unique and extraordinary impact on victims. There is
excessive brutality by the perpetrators - weapons such as bats, hammers
or a screwdriver are not uncommon. There is the terrorization and
personal rejection of someone for who they are. Gays, lesbians and
bi-sexuals are viewed by the perpetrators as deviant sexual beings
rather than human beings. As one young, heterosexual woman told a
fellow crime prevention worker, "when heterosexuals meet another
heterosexual, they see a whole person. When some heterosexuals meet a
gay or lesbian person, they see only sex."
In most other hate or
bias attacks, the victim makes the mistake of entering alien territory.
But with "gay-bashing", attackers usually leave their own territory to
hunt down their victims.
Victims of bias crimes suffer two to three
times more symptoms of trauma than do victims of comparable crimes that
do not involve prejudice, according to the National Institute Against
Prejudice and Violence in the United States. A bias crime can directly
affect the victim, the entire target group and the community at large,
in terms of the distribution of fear.
Kevin Berrill, an
American hate crimes expert, is eloquent in his description of the
pervasive damage from these crimes:
Predictably, there is also
the problem of the crimes not being reported or those who refuse to
press charges out of fear of reprisals or fear of being "outed". There
is fear that they will be subjected to uncaring hospital, police and
court systems. So their fear of crime encompasses a fear of the
criminal justice system where they have experienced re-victimization
through further discrimination and hatred.
- "As with racist,
anti-Semitic, sexist and other bias-motivated crimes, these attacks are
intended to violate and isolate not just the victim but an entire group.
Unlike opportunistic crimes, these attacks are motivated less by the
desire to rip people off than to rip them apart... they are acts of
terrorism intended to punish gay people, women and people of colour for
being visible and to frighten them from exercising... freedom of speech,
association and assembly."
As with other groups, a
combination of demographic factors - for example, a woman of colour who
is a lesbian - greatly escalates one's fear of crime.
There were a number of other groups either reporting much lower
levels of fear or for whom very little research has been done. This
report now highlights several of those groups.
The study of male victimization, vulnerability and related fears is
a virtual wasteland.
Pockets of fear are acknowledged in the
General Social Survey data, with only about one of every ten Canadian
males fearful of walking alone in their neighbourhoods at night or being
alone. Those levels of fear increase as men get older. Income levels
affect male fears more than female fears. Men restrict their lives less
Research indicates that men are more likely to show
anger than distress or shock in response to burglary. They also feel an
altruistic fear out of concern for their partners, parents and
Co-related factors again can compound fears. Gay men have
a sense of how their homosexuality places them in many situations of
vulnerability. Men from several minority groups have had to assess
their physical vulnerability and negotiate risk because of experiences
There are a few reasonable hypotheses and some
speculation about why we have such little sense of the impact of such
criminal violence on men. For sure, men are almost completely excluded
from the major victimization of reported sexual assault, although more
recent studies are acknowledging more and more boys who have been
Often criminology's failure to explore men's
particular experiences of violence is attributed to men's reluctance to
report weakness. Are men reluctant to report or acknowledge fear
because of masculine bravado and the accompanying childhood and
adolescent lessons regarding their personal safety - who is better than
who, who is bigger than who, who is stronger than who?
research there is indicates that male victims of assault view their
victimization through a male frame, the essence of which sees
victimization as weak and helpless. Many men who have difficulties in
expressing feelings find themselves isolated and unable to ask for
support. There is more of a tendency in men to externalize blame for
the victimization while women will internalize that blame.
Men manage danger quite differently. Sometimes they physically
challenge it because of their size and stature. Danger is seldom a part
of their everyday experience and they rarely need to isolate themselves,
as many women reported having to do. Some men enjoy the advantages of
status - economic, racial or sexual -, with profound consequences for
their levels of fear.
According to Elizabeth Stanko, while women's
fears are placed within a wider structural context of economic, racial
and gendered inequality - steeped in the analysis of structures of
patriarchy - explanations of men's experiences of criminal violence
neglect the structures of men's lives, unless it be the structure of
class against class. There is very little research on how men feel
about the assaults in their lives or how different men respond to
Any focus on younger men and their experience
of violence highlights certain lifestyle choices which present criminal
opportunities. In other words, a number of young men who are victims of
crime are offenders too, getting injured in the act of crime.
One study in Britain interviewed 33 men to explore a male
understanding of the gendered context of their responses to assault. It
was quite apparent that their frame of masculinity, "being men", was at
the heart of their emotional, physical and social responses to
victimization. Some referred to the "John Wayne syndrome", "Macho Man",
"cave man", "defender". Negotiating physical violence while growing up
was a backdrop to their lives. These men acknowledged the complexities
of race, class, sexual orientation, physical ability and geographical
influences on this negotiation of violence. They thought violence was
something one had to deal with, that danger and harm a physical
challenge which many men accepted.
Fear was the emotional reaction
most consistently reported. At the time of an attack, many feared for
their lives. Fear was also clearly related to a particular venue or to
situations which served as triggers to remind the victim of the
stressful event. The British participants made the following comments:
"I won't return to a football match"; "I won't casually talk to people
like I used to"; "I'll never open the door to anybody, especially a
knock on the door at night."
The men spoke of the trap they find
themselves in, needing help but not wanting to burden their wives or
mothers and sensing their response is "unmanly" and weak. Men are not a
homogeneous group. Their experiences of victimization and any
emotional fallout were mediated by their age, ethnic origin, sexual
orientation, religion, employment and several other factors.
has also been practically no research on how police and other services
respond to men who are assaulted.
Sexual Offenders and their
Many sex offenders live their lives in fear, not only
literal fear for their lives within prison because they are the "scum of
the scum" in the prisoners' own caste system but fear that an
unsympathetic public will stigmatize them forever. After Toronto police
had warned residents that a convicted sex offender was planning to live
with his mother in the same apartment building, Fran, one of the
residents, told the press: "His mother is taking him back in, so
everybody on the floor is looking to move. Everyone is petrified."
As well, sex offenders have their own fears about loved ones; they are
concerned about public backlash or vigilantism hurting their families.
A Washington State mother told a newspaper after her 16-year-old son was
identified publically: "This is our prison. We live in constant fear."
Inmates in Prison
Very little research has been done on
fear of danger or fear of crime for inmates in prison, although
anecdotal evidence strongly corroborates fears related to physical or
sexual assault. One of the few studies, conducted on 300 inmates in a
maximum security prison in Nashville, Tennesee, discovered that fear of
victimization was an extremely important predictor of inmate well-being.
Older inmates and those with more education reported better mental
health as well as less stress and fear levels.
Those reporting the
highest levels of fear tended to be young, socially isolated and more
frequent targets of victimization. Fears can impact negatively on
longer sentences and family and social ties can deteriorate rapidly.
Elizabeth Stanko noted in her research that it is the rare man who
mentions the threat of sexual violence, an exception being men in
There were isolated references in the
research to other fear groups, almost none of which have been studied in
any depth. Those groups are: street and homeless kids, persons with
disabilities e.g. the legally blind, store owners and refugees.
Who Are Canadians Afraid Of?
Tony Doob is convinced that
the generic phrase, "fear of crime" is a polite, neutral, depoliticized
term masking Canadians' real fears of very particular types of
criminals. People don't fear crime. People fear criminals who do crime
and, in Doob's view, there are specific kinds of offenders who people
especially fear. Young offenders. Sex offenders. Those from another
race or culture, for example the black community with Jamaican roots in
Toronto. It is Doob's contention that we need to be honest about that
in order to begin to unpack those layers of fear; perhaps in some
instances, in certain locations, those fears are grounded in genuine
risk of victimization but Doob knows well the statistics confirming that
those fears often have less to do with crime rates than with prejudices,
attitudes, ignorance and misinformation.
Fear of the Young
- "The way they (violent
schoolchildren) express themselves is a lot more extreme. I don't think
teachers walk around all day worrying about their safety. But there is
a climate of concern which, in a lot of cases, is bordering on
Toronto Board of Education
- "Why are we so afraid of our kids?
What about society being responsible for its crimes against youth? It
is so much safer to depersonalize people and make them into these evil
creatures. Then you can feel like you're crusading against something
rather than realizing they could be just sad little boys."
Edmonton woman who works with young offenders and their
There is a raging debate in this country about youth
crime, who is responsible for it, and what should be done to young
offenders. It has been an emotional debate not always grounded in
reason, perhaps somewhat understandable in the wake of rare but
shocking, high profile crimes which leave communities reeling and which
echo across the land for months after the incident. In the words of
Julian Roberts, criminology professor at University of Ottawa, there is
no such thing as an overreaction for those who witness the murder of a
family member. Their anger, their grief, their rage, are predictable
and normal. But among other Canadians, the vast majority of whom have
not suffered that horror, enough still feel threatened and afraid. They
add their voice to a "law and order" chorus, supporting the current
crackdown on young offenders. What is it that Canadians fear when they
consider young offenders and their crimes? Do legitimate concerns give
way to fear and why?
Consider recent developments:
homes are being broken into and a good number of the offenders are
While many schools offer safe environments, some teachers
report in several urban centres disturbing increases in cruelty and
violence, even at the elementary school level with accounts of bullying,
penny-ante extortion and the occasional weapon in use.
fear for our children is high because of some knowledge of the pressures
they face. Bhim Rana, a Toronto social worker, said: "Guys are carrying
guns because other guys are carrying guns". Fred Matthews, who authored
Youth Gangs on Youth Gangs, said: "The research says students are
scared. I have to go to board people and teachers and say: 'What part
of "I'm scared" is it that you don't understand."
27-year-old, British-born engineer out for a stroll on a Sunday night in
Ottawa is gunned down by young offenders. An Edmonton woman
investigating a noise in her house is stabbed to death by a young
offender. An elderly Montreal couple is clubbed to death by three young
teenagers who, according to news reports, murdered "for the thrill of
it". These high profile incidents hit too close to home for many
Canadians who are visibly shaken by the pain of the victim's families
and can well imagine the same crime happening to them. What is more
normal than a Sunday walk or getting out of bed to check on the children
because a parent had heard a noise in the house?
Ken Hatt believes
that there is a moral panic surfacing against our youth - an escalating
cycle of fear that is somewhat self-reproducing and exceeds the evidence
for the concern which is expressed. Some politicians during election
campaigns can mirror and feed that moral panic.
Julian Roberts is
not sure that the anti-youth orientation in the country is fear based,
in the sense that someone would fear a young offender in the same way
that he would fear a bank robber. He calls the "fears" more of a moral
outrage. "The public turn on the television and they see a young
offender, maybe just one young offender, laughing at the law and saying
it is a joke," he explained. " That makes people mad. They say these
kids don't respect us and society's laws." The frustration and
powerlessness some parents experience with their own children also can
sustain the outrage about youth criminal behaviour.
adults today are not the first generation to be concerned about
delinquency or youth rebellion. It is written in the daily struggles of
every generation. As legitimate as the concern about youth violence is,
Vince Sacco thinks the country is in need of this historical perspective
Indeed perspective is what is required in any measured response
to youth crime. Lou Golding, social worker with the Scarborough Youth
Link social agency, said "most schools are safe. Ninety per cent of the
students in even a rough school are adept at steering around risky
Fear is also a two-way street, according to youth.
Jean-Paul Brodeur referred to the chronic feelings of insecurity among
our young. Kids resent being hassled by store owners and waitresses.
People fear them or at least react negatively. "People put all the
blame on us. They don't understand what it's like for us.... There are
reasons behind what we are doing" commented a youth in a substance abuse
program with Portage at Elora, Ont.
Fred Matthews has identified
vulnerability factors in the young person's family and developmental
history that would either predispose the youth to involvement in gangs
or aggressive violent or anti-social behaviour - previous history of
physical or sexual abuse or neglect, substance-abusing parents, criminal
or dysfunctional family, unemployment, difficulties in adjusting to a
new life in Canada, child poverty, undiagnosed learning problems or
difficulties in school, and the presence of current or chronic life
It is the "us" and "them" world that breeds fear, and
can foster scapegoating. Urban cities are built without places for
teenagers to hang out. "They want a place to go and not be hassled,"
a parent commented. "But people get fed up with skateboarders blocking
customer traffic at the mall, or littering the parking lot, or breaking
bottles." The vast majority of law-abiding teenagers hang around on
street corners or at shopping malls, a typical socialization process
that is often misunderstood as representing a threat to the community.
These groups can become involved in nuisance behaviour and, less
frequently, in violent or other criminal activity based on situational
It seems logical that the fears, frustrations and moral
outrage directed at young offenders are partly responsible, along with
the youth behaviour, for the current staggering number of cases entering
the youth justice system. Police sources speak of pressures from
parents or school authorities to charge youth. For example, Ontario
locks up more kids than any other province; the number of 16 and
17-year-olds held by police has tripled during the last five years from
311 a day to 1,000 a day. The minor cases of the school yard fights,
threats and petty thefts, including the failure to pay Toronto Transit
fares, are making their way into court in greater numbers. One downtown
Toronto youth court judge said he hears about ten cases a month of young
people failing to pay transit fares. According to Dick Barnhorst,
director of the provincial government's Office of Youth Justice, "there
is the myth that the justice system can solve the crime problem, that
the answer is more police, more court appearances, more custody. So
we've done that, but now we have so many cases, the system is clogged,
and when it's clogged, as it is now with both serious and minor matters,
it makes it difficult to deal effectively with either kind of case."
Fear of the Sex Offender
While some in the public are
prepared to acknowledge the social causes underlying youth crime, there
appears to be zero sympathy for the sex offender. "Monsters" -
"Predators" - "Animals", scream the tabloid headlines. They are the
criminals people seem to fear the most. Pedophiles who lurk near
playgrounds. Violent offenders who prey on women.
in some instances are identifying sex offenders upon their release.
Some released offenders like Wray Brudeo are hounded by neighbours
until they flee for the anonymity of a strange town where there are few
familial supports and where nobody knew enough to take security measures
Altruistic fear is extraordinarily high among people
fear sex offenders. Sexual crimes - sexual abuse of children and
particularly horrific murders such as what Paul Bernardo is charged with
- are so abhorrent and inconceivable to most people that it seems quite
impossible to see the humanity of the offender. Some conclude that only
a "monster" could do such a thing.
Yet those "monsters" we fear have
almost all been abused themselves. It is next to impossible to hear
that point in the current climate of fear when the public looks at a sex
offender and sees only a deviant, scary, sexual problem instead of a
"Sex offender" is a category for a wide range of
offenders from high risk to non-violent, encompassing offences from rape
or pedophilia to voyeurism or exhibitionism. Frank Proporino, Director
General of the Research and Statistics Branch, Correctional Services
Canada (CSC), acknowledged that the public is inclined to write sexual
offenders off, especially when it hears that there is no procedure to
cure them. "Sexual offenders are part of our world. We can manage
them, with some success," he said.
A recent national CSC forum on
intervention programs for sexual offenders heard that most of the
statistical information on sex offenders lacks sufficient number of
subjects or there has not been a long enough monitoring period to be
able to identify and target those likely to re-offend. The numbers
generally suggest a recidivism rate of 43 to 45 per cent for those
untreated but only 16 to 18 per cent for those treated. The confusion
comes in trying to establish an accurate profile of which offender
committing what types of offences and under what circumstances is most
likely to reoffend.
A few faith communities and support groups
from Alcoholic Anonymous in southern Ontario are currently helping a
handful of released sex offenders in their long struggle to reintegrate
in society, holding them accountable for their behaviour but trying to
set labels aside.
Fear of the Offender from Another Race or
- "When we have fear of the unknown, we kill
the unknown. That is a natural instinct."
Speaking to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
Chief Jonas Sangris
- "Although we live together, it is not like we are living
together. That is how I look at it."
Speaking to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
In the wake
of the celebrated Just Desserts murder in Toronto, as police searched
for three black suspects of Jamaican origin, Art Lymer, president of
the Metro Toronto Police Association, said: "Are we getting imported
crime? If we are, let's export it as soon as possible."
think controlling immigration is the answer to crime.
But Tony Doob
"By saying fear of crime, we make it invisible,"
Doob said. " People will speak in codes here. In Toronto, it has become
okay to blame crime on Jamaicans. People in their minds make a
distinction between Jamaicans and blacks, legitimizing prejudice."
Is Canada importing crime? Derrick Thomas, a senior Immigration
department researcher, is the author of a report indicating that people
born outside Canada are actually far less likely than native-born
Canadians to commit crimes that land them in a penitentiary. "This
study suggests that, so long as care is taken, these levels of
immigration will not contribute to any disproportionate increase in
serious crime in Canada." Foreign-born people make up 20.2 per cent of
the Canadian population but represented only 11.9 per cent of those
incarcerated or on conditional release in 1991. Government figures
indicate that 18 of every 10,000 Caribbean-born immigrants in Canada
wind up in penitentiary. Yet, in an Angus Reid Southam news poll of
1,508 Canadians taken in 1994, 51 per cent supported the view that
certain racial or ethnocultural groups are more likely to be involved in
crime than others.
There may well be a crime problem within the
Jamaican community in Toronto and in ethnic communities elsewhere. Many
of those communities' leaders acknowledge it to some extent, asking,
though, that its proportion be shrunk to its realistic size, stripped of
the prejudices and fears that colour the fear of crime issue.
According to Michael Petrunik and Joseph Manyoni, there is the new
concern about the criminal stereotyping of visible minorities. Among
the factors influencing this was the influx of "non-whites" to Canada's
major cities, along with a perceived increase in certain kinds of crime
as well as several prominent incidents where there have been allegations
of racism on the part of the criminal justice system. Even the term
"visible minority" lumps together many racial, ethnic and varying
cultural groups. There are many socio-economic and generational
differences among members of any one particular group, blacks included.
Petrunik and Manyoni note: "Different visible minority communities may
differ significantly not only in terms of types and levels of crime, but
also fear of crime, attitudes to the justice system and approaches to
dealing with crime."
At the core of the fear of crime problem here
is the relationship of several racial groups with the police. Tim Rees
acknowledged in a 1985 study that Canadian social and political
institutions have not been able to respond easily and quickly to the
changing multi-racial community they are meant to serve. There have
been numerous cases of police and community tensions caused by specific
The police would like to keep race-crime statistics, at
least partly, no doubt, to demonstrate the prevalence of crime in
certain areas and within certain communities. Tony Doob acknowledged
the validity of keeping those statistics for other good reasons but
never to label a particular race as criminogenic. For example,
race-crime statistics can be used to uncover discrimination in the
treatment of people, determine what kinds of programs and personnel
would be most useful, and identify groups coming into the system and
highlight the need for prevention work in specific communities. But
police-based official statistics do not do an adequate job of describing
most crime and would not give an accurate profile of crime by a certain
John Lea provided an excellent description of the vicious
cycle in which minority youth can get caught up in, especially in their
dealings with police:
- " The labelling of an ethnic group
as crime-prone or even a large section of it such as young males,
facilitates the adoption of general policing strategies oriented towards
stopping blacks in those areas of the city with a significant black
concentration, or in central shopping areas where any black youth
becomes suspected of theft. The culmination of this process is a
situation in which the labelling of an ethnic group as crime-prone
rapidly leads to a disproportionate number of members of that group
being stopped or arrested. This amplifies the original involvement of
the group in crime. This magnification process, reflected in police
arrest statistics, serves to act as a confirmation of police stereotypes
of criminality, leading to further concentration of policing resources
deployed against the group and further artificial magnification of its
arrest rates. It gets compounded when youth act along the lines
suggested by the explanation and/or use racism as a justification for
whatever wrongdoing they commit."
There is silent and
not so silent fear of anyone different from ourselves. Fear of crime in
this respect is fear of difference. We fear anyone's unpredictability.
We ask: where did they come from; what will they do. Fear becomes a way
of reacting to a perceived negative. There is fear of people who look,
talk and act differently from the majority. Studies repeatedly show
that fear is high in neighbourhoods experiencing unexpected increases in
"minority" populations. Jean-Paul Brodeur commented that fear of crime
and feelings of insecurity get exploited in reaction to immigration in a
neighbourhood. People feel their jobs are threatened and that housing
prices will drop. Lagrange has reported on the anxiety and fear of being
replaced by foreigners at places of work; finding oneself unemployed
gets transferred to the stereotype of immigrants who are all criminal.
Delinquency becomes the point where a feeling of vulnerability to many
diverse aggressions is crystallized.
As well, these fears of
difference intersect with fears of victimization so that someone who is
assaulted by a person from another racial group can stereotype a whole
race and become afraid of them all.
Criminal justice is a high
priority issue for many Canadians who feel themselves marginalized or
threatened as the composition of Canada changes towards more visible
minorities. A report by Stan Lipinski of the Department of Justice
noted: "Urban centres are facing considerable pressure with the movement
of immigrants to major Canadian centres, increasing stress on community
relations and services. As society becomes more complex, there is a
growing diversity of cultural communities with differing values and
beliefs that is playing a role in defining that vision."
Thomas, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Police-Race
Relations, referred to the disproportionate fears in the community
compared to true risk and crime rates. What he worries about is the
development of "sophisticated apartheid" in several major Canadian
cities, what he defines as "apartheid without the signs". Thomas,
himself an immigrant from South Africa, recognizes that some fears are
quite normal; he referred to the normal consequences of a first attempt
at integration for immigrants where those in Canada fear those who look
and act differently. "This is a very old immigration story," he said.
But where we fail as a country is in the second stage where true
enculteration should happen. We haven't defined for immigrants what it
is to be a Canadian. Some immigrants make it on this level. Some
don't.... We have a choice. We can have a form of sophisticated
apartheid as in New York, where blacks do their thing in one community
and whites do theirs in another, with constant war at the border. Or we
can negotiate peace now, before it's too late."
What is Influencing Fear of Crime in Canada?
This section assesses
several of the more prominent influences in the evolution of fear of
crime as an issue in this country.
Canadian living in
Florida commenting on local TV News
- "If it bleeds, it leads."
Globe and Mail news story
- "No one has been
arrested (a series of unsolved murders on the street)... raising fears
that a killer could be sitting at the next table in the coffee
There is an extraordinary
temptation to jump on the bandwagon to denounce the media as the
villains responsible for public fears about crime. The media does exert
considerable influence, particularly with local media reporting local
crime and the national and regional media providing a context and agenda
for this issue. However, as with the rest of the fear of crime
phenomenon reported in the literature, the connection between fears and
what the media reports is more complex than many think.
Some Helpful Background
Ruth Morris of Toronto is a Quaker
and prison abolitionist who is interviewed by journalists periodically
and happens also to be a media watcher. She reminds the public that
there is no plot by the media to incite fears or a moral panic. "By
presenting the mostly bad-news, unusual stories, they are doing their
job," she said. "They are writing about the exceptional, for the usual
is not news, and most people are interested in the unusual as news." We
never see the headline: 99 of 100 planes landed safely today or
All but One out on Prison Passes Return . Maybe we should have
those stories but there are credible journalists whose experience tells
them that "news" is the exceptional, the "out-of-ordinary" daily
events. Yet, the reporting of the "out of the ordinary" certainly
demands perspective and the occasional "reality check", surfacing now in
more news and other media programs. "The Scandinavian press have been
trained by their correctional system to include in every story about a
parole violator committing an offence the fact that 75 per cent of
parolees make it through parole without committing new offences," Mrs.
Morris said. "They still cover the immediate story, but they include a
corrective fact to balance it."
What is dangerous, though, is the
mix of this thirst for news with the world of crime, great fodder for an
insatiable pack of newshounds. Crime has more than its share of
newsworthy items. Crime-reporting becomes susceptible to sensationalism
and lazy journalism. It is not difficult to do crime stories; no more
than a few phone calls or a film crew on assignment is needed for
evening drama on the airwaves, sure to inform but to entertain as
(ii) The Media has a Significant But Not Overriding
The media's influence is quite significant.
While there is some conflicting data, several studies reveal a clear
connection between newspaper or other media coverage, and fear of crime.
Homicide and other brutally violent crimes obviously illicit the most
Fear also increases if crime appears to have been random and
violent and if a local crime is given prominent coverage. The media can
reduce complex matters to simple news accounts, with damaging results.
According to Tony Doob, approximately 95 per cent of the public
mentioned the media as a primary source of information (1987 study).
Television is listed most often as a source of information about
sentencing. "If the public is informed about something in a 37-second
news story, it has to look to simple solutions for complex problems," he
Television puts the horror and pain of victims like Melanie
Carpenter of Surrey into our living rooms on a daily basis.
sells newspapers. So does fear. A 1991 study of the Toronto media
determined that almost half of the news content pertained to deviance
and crime-related topics.
The Media Monitor reported in the United
States that in a single year, from 1992 to 1993, the number of
crime/drug stories covered by the three major American networks doubled
from 830 to 1,698. It is logical for people to conclude that there must
be more crime if they see more crime reported on television.
1982, a series of attacks on women in Toronto led to a "moral panic"
that was played out in the media. The media became the forum where
interest groups, politicians, law enforcement agencies and others
competed for publicity to articulate their own goals, positions and
interests. Some would say the media manufactured the moral panic. Many
more would agree at least that the media participated in it.
the media's influence on public perceptions of the extent of crime and
violence that is noteworthy; there might be more break and enter crimes
in higher income neighbourhoods but that is not the type of crime
typically reported by the media, which prefers more violent crimes often
in urban hot spots. Consequently, fears in the higher income
neighbourhood may not be high or proportional to the actual crime rate
in their own community but residents may fear travelling in those inner
city areas and the residents from there may be more fearful, partly
because of the news stories. A 1981 study revealed that newspapers may
contribute to an unreasonably high fear of victimization from violent
crimes as well as an unreasonably low concern with property crimes.
Significantly, the authors of that report concluded that the media
influence on public opinion of crime problems increases proportionately
to the decrease of the individual's personal knowledge of the social
conditions contributing to crime.
The media has an "anchoring
effect" in its presentation of crime, according to Julian Roberts. By
emphasizing the more serious crimes such as homicide, the news media
appear to nudge up the perceived seriousness of other, actually less
serious and unrelated offences. Roberts has done tests demonstrating
that people will be more punitive of even a less serious case if they
have read ten serious cases before turning to the other one. So the
media helps to anchor the "ship of state" in the waters of violent crime
which in fact are not the norm, detrimentally shaping perceptions of
Studies of newspaper readership profile a high proportion of
older people and those with occupations with higher income. Their fears
of vulnerability are reinforced when they are given the message over and
over again that people like themselves can and frequently do become
victims of both property and personal crime.
The media influences
setting the national agenda of crime, as well as affecting the public's
concerns and knowledge of crime rates.
Having acknowledged all of
the above, the media's influence is not overriding, and there are others
who share the responsibility for what the media mirrors daily to a
Julian Roberts said that studies that show direct
links between coverage and fear of crime do not always reveal what the
precise effect is. Attention has to be paid to the variables in each
study. "The effect is not always a direct fear thing," he said. "It
may increase concern or a desire for punishment but it is not certain to
increase fear in every instance. Sometimes, people know the high
profile case is exceptional." To that point, Tony Doob argued that
coverage of the Bernardo case, once the suspect was arrested, likely
does not further induce fear, not only because a suspect is behind bars
but because people learn of the case's bizarre and exceptional nature.
Most conclude they would not be at risk and that there are not many
people out there doing what he and his wife were charged with doing.
Much more likely to induce fear is front-page coverage of the recent
Montreal murders of an elderly couple in their home by a trio of young
teenagers who are accused of clubbing them to death with a baseball bat.
The crime's randomness and brutality in a context of "ordinariness"
The media cannot by themselves create out of nothing a
sudden concern for an issue as broad as violence. What the media does,
however, according to Jean-Paul Brodeur, is to select from within the
field of violent crime particular types of deviant behaviour that have
the potential for crystallizing public anxiety.
Is the media
causing the emergence of violence as a public preoccupation or is it
feeding on a concern which exists on its own? The answer is probably a
bit of both, with the media both reflecting and creating public opinion.
Brodeur recognizes an upward spiral where a social phenomenon and its
representation by the media are mutually reinforcing each other. He
added that it may be partly reasonable in the way that the media
responds to a public demand for news of violence but that "they can be
meeting this demand in an exploitative way through their
sensationalization of violence."
As well, some people demand this
type of coverage. People have a voyeuristic interest in horror, pain
and death. There is this paradoxical denunciation of violence yet
fascination with it. There was also some research indicating
that the media's influence was felt more at the social and political
level than in the daily lives of people.
(iii) Coverage of
High Profile Incidents
The media's coverage of high profile
incidents tends to leave a wound on the nation's psyche, particularly if
there is little or no perspective offered. As Neil Boyd put it, "it's a
mistake to react to a single incident and presume that things are so
much worse than 10 minutes before the event occurred."
coverage still happening a week after the incident might make a public
forget this is still one crime, not seven crimes for the seven days it
has been in the press. Coverage of The Just Desserts Cafe shooting and
the few drive-by shootings such as the one in Ottawa seem to have a
lasting impact and they heighten the public's view that the menace is
Although there are more responsible
exceptions, most press coverage of these types of stories tends to cater
to the public's fascination with the unusual crime. Such coverage can
leave a distorted impression of the extent of the problem. As
well, so much more media attention is paid to the crime than its
The coverage tends to magnify the intensity of public
concern. In the context of the Just Desserts Cafe murder, Christopher
Dornan, an associate professor at Carleton University school of
journalism and communication, acknowledged the danger that the media's
handling of these incidents can lead to "an irrational hysteria, in
which people believe that they are unsafe and believe that this sort of
outrageous and appalling crime has indeed already become commonplace.
And it scares them out of their wits.... You have to remember these
things have a limited shelf life. If nothing else happens untoward of
this order in the next week, it will be gone."
(iv) Race and Crime
and the Media
The slippery slope of race and crime issues filter
through to the media, with certain consequences for public fears. Peter
Desbarats, dean of journalism at University of Western Ontario, noted
that the media coverage of the Just Desserts murder was influenced by
the fact that it involved a black suspect and a white victim in a middle
class neighbourhood. He said expressions of cultural and racial bias by
the predominantly white media may often be unconscious but they shape
public opinion and exacerbate negative stereotypes. "Divisions in our
society are becoming wider and deeper, and there has been a hardening of
attitudes towards immigrants. It is now more socially acceptable to be
racist than it was even five or six years ago."
editorial page editor at the Toronto Star, said that the media has a
myth making propensity toward immigrants and visible minorities which,
in troubled economic times, contributes to a trend to make scapegoats of
Blurring the reality between news and
entertainment are the "pseudo-newscasts" and documentary formats evident
in television programs like Hard Copy or A Current Affair.
It is not known how much they augment fears. They tend to re-inforce
myths and perceptions about crime, its offenders and victims.
People learn through personal
experience, or because they have been told on good authority -
especially the authority of friends, neighbours and others in their
interpersonal networks - that bad things happen to people like them.
Their everyday encounters encourage them to think they are strangers in
their own neighbourhood.
Fear of crime appears to be worse
in large cities and anywhere where people do not know their neighbour
and don't know where they fit or where their support is. Julian Roberts
gives an insightful example to illustrate the power people transfer to
those informal and interpersonal circles in which we move and live.
Roberts cited the prospective car buyer who after a thorough research of
automobile companies, including reading every report on the ranking of
cars based on insurance information and customer satisfaction, decides
to buy a Volvo. He leans over his backyard fence to chat with his
neighbour about the decision. The neighbour tells him he is crazy to
buy a Volvo because he had one and it was a "lemon". "What do many of
us do?" Roberts asked. "We throw out all the research and studies and
buy another kind of car."
People do tend to give weight to their
interpersonal networks, where they hear and observe so much about what
is happening in the community or the neighbourhood. People have a large
number of information sources to draw on besides the media, including
their neighbours, fellow churchgoers or members of the clubs or
associations they join. This is the place of real community news,
stories and gossip. This is the place where people observe and comment
on changes in the neighbourhood, who is staying and leaving, where kids
gather. This is where complaints get passed on about loud music or
noisy neighbours, where one hears third hand about a break and enter on
the next street.
It is the immediacy and the intimacy of those
networks that bring home the fear of crime.
If people are talking
about crime which happened somewhere else, fear is not increased by the
influence of this network. But if the talk is about local and
neighbourhood crime, fear is pushed up; news about break and enter
crimes accounted for greater escalation in fears than any other personal
or household crimes covered by one survey. The "knowledge" of burglary
victims is remarkable through these informal circles.
has written a book about the stories of crime victims that circulate and
why people want to tell those stories. She found that people want to
hear these "moral stories" and "cautionary tales". There is a
therapeutic value in the story with trade-offs between teller and
listener. On the one hand, the victim deals with the grief and fallout
from the crime. Uninvolved third parties pass on the story out of
curiosity and to relieve their own anxiety. But there can be a
multiplier effect on fear.
However, there should not be undue
emphasis placed on the power and ability of these informal conversations
among citizens to intensify fear of crime. They do have an impact, but
there is conflicting evidence about how significant it is.
Disorder and Incivility
The first chapter on the theories of
fear of crime described the influence that disorder and incivilities
have on crime and related fears. Wesley Skogan is a leading proponent
of this school of thought that links disorder in cities to fear of crime
and crime itself, with a cyclical effect produced because both physical
and social disorders and incivilities become a predictor of people then
withdrawing from the life of the community. This in turn leads to
further community disintegration and freer reign for people who commit
Many of the aspects of disorder cannot be effectively
policed because they are not covered by criminal laws. People gauge the
wellness of a community and its neighbourhood area by various signals,
including graffiti, disorderly conduct, noisy neighbours, accumulating
trash, vagrancy, drug syringes in a park etc. As the declining social
control is exploited by the criminal element, the level of safety and
order continue to decline. Skogan and others found that disorder was
more prevalent in poorer, less stable, minority neighbourhoods, where
fear levels are also higher than the national average.
incivilities are related intricately to other factors that combine to
escalate fears; there is less frequent social interaction, lower
community solidarity, less informal co operation among neighbours to
prevent crime and less household crime prevention activity.
the very people with resources to be part of the solution leave the area
or withdraw into a cocoon.
As people do withdraw and fears increase,
there is less supervision and more of a sense of the community and its
problems being out of control. Disorders can affect market forces and
investment decisions about where, for example, bankers might loan money
to clients to locate. An area can become stigmatized. Ross Hastings
has explained that all these factors taken independently and together
lead to further crime.
The removal of the disorders in order to
reduce the feelings of fear and improve the quality of life appears to
have an impact on people's perceptions of risk.
The Politics of Fear of Crime
In a speech to the Canadian Criminal Justice
Association, Globe and Mail justice reporter Kirk Makin touched on the
politics of fear of crime:
Makin was not impugning Machiavelian motives to every politician and
police officer; nevertheless, he highlights a disturbing element which
Tony Doob has written about in a book on the portrayal of violence in
the mass media. "It is dangerous, indeed, when three of the most
powerful agents of community education - the police, political interests
groups, and the media - benefit so directly and dramatically from the
fear of crime in the community."
- "... to most politicians, the
votes lie in creating fear, not calm. The dividends are in demanding
longer sentences and the curtailment of conditional release programs,
not in leading a public debate on the shortcomings of prison and
alternative punishments. The key question is whether people are
responding to the issue itself of fear of crime or to the political
issues. Paradoxical situations exist because politicians and
representatives of professional crime-fighting agencies, especially
police, are concerned about the problem, as well as the issue of crime.
Since the assessment of police crime statistics is the primary technique
used to evaluate the effectiveness of federal anti-crime programs, these
statistics can be self-serving measures of organizational effectiveness
and a peer index of the true incidence of crime."
Fear-mongering and political
posturing needlessly exacerbate those fears. Doob believes there are
politicians who exploit fears either deliberately or by naive
assumptions. The crime fighting rhetoric of some politicians can
escalate moral panic when they go beyond representing legitimate
concerns of their constituents in order to amplify the voice of emotion
in the justice debate for their own political benefit. Crime pays, in
votes. As well, many police may be warranted in lamenting dwindling
resources to deal with crime - their jobs are dangerous, their
frustrations are high, they periodically handle horrible human tragedy -
but sometimes the heightened fear of crime gets used to translate into
higher budgets, more manpower and more sophisticated equipment.
Elliott Leyton, in his Newfoundland study of a supposed crime wave,
describes the pattern at work here: interest groups decry the terrible
crime wave; they name the cause; they say they are the only ones who
have the answer; they need more money for their budgets. "The language
is always crisis. The violence card is the card they play," he
Andre Normandeau of Montreal cites other political
implications of fear of crime. He thinks a major problem in policy
making is the intentional ambiguity of the justice legislation
promulgated, due to numerous compromises between often contradictory
interests. In order to get more general support, the objectives have to
be vaguer, the philosophy less explicit. So the political, financial
and bureaucratic restrictions undermine the expectations for order,
security and liberty. "Is it really not an imaginary hope of ours to
allay the age-old fear of violent crime and the insecurity of men and
women in every country, in every era?"
borrowed an analogy from a critique of media to note that politicians
like the media both reflect and create public opinion. "It can be
claimed, justly, that crime issues are blown out of all proportion by
politicians who want to be elected by stressing the necessity for more
law and order," he said. "However, this is only pushing back the
question one more step. Why is it, we can ask, that politicians exploit
certain issues, such as crime, and not others? One answer is that some
issues reverberate more intensely in the minds of the voters because
they are genuinely concerned about them, i.e. they have high
There appear to be few politicians, police and other
stakeholders in the criminal justice system who will tell the complete
truth that no law can protect an individual or society. Fewer still
want to remind the public of the vulnerability and risks inherent in the
"Politicians like quick fixes but there are none
for the economy and there are none for crime," Tony Doob said.
Fear of Crime in the United States
The "war against
crime" has been waged in the United States for over 30 years, dating as
far back as the 1964 and 1968 presidential election campaigns. Yet it
seems that in the past few years particularly, crime and fear of crime
have gripped that whole nation. Crime increases. More people are
locked up than anywhere in the western world. Fear of crime has been
described as quite a unique and cancerous social malaise attacking the
quality of life.
Is this a harbinger of what awaits Canada? Our
fear of crime "experts" think not, although they recognize warning
signals from our southern neighbour. However, those fears in so powerful
and so near an ally in whose country many Canadians travel and have
family networks can have repercussions on our own fear levels. A
reality check is needed.
Tony Doob recalled a family gathering with
relatives in Washington, D.C. where an evening outing was preceded by a
lengthy conversation about where to eat based on safety considerations,
including what number of cars would be needed, what parking space there
would be and how far they would have to walk from the car to the
"I don't hear people having that kind of conversation
in Canada," he said.
Inner cities in the two countries, Toronto and
Detroit for example, are dramatically different in people's sense of
safety and mobility during the day and at night. The disorder and
decline evident within many American urban centres have not reproduced
Julian Roberts acknowledges it may only be a difference
of degree in terms of fears but he also recognizes profound, qualitative
differences too. "There are differences in community building factors
around attitudes to police and the prevalence of guns. In Canada, there
seem to be constraining attitudes, a law-abiding mentality which is not
there in the United States. Just look at the subways in Toronto. They
are different experiences for commuters here than for people in most
Indeed, guns and the issue of race relations are cited
as the most formidable differences between the two countries, although
there are community leaders in Canada who warn of escalating problems in
these very areas. So far, though, Canada has been spared the widespread
epidemic of violence evident in the United States where Holly Johnson
notes that more than 20 states now have given citizens the right to
conceal weapons. A study of victim surveys from twelve countries
reported that the American rates of assault, robbery and burglary were
not extraordinarily higher than those of other countries but that their
level of gun use was much higher and their level of both gun and non-gun
lethal violence far exceeded those of other industrialized
Yet, in Canada, only three per cent of men and one per
cent of women said they obtained a gun as a precautionary measure to
In the United States, young black men have
between seven and 12 more chances of being killed by a gun than do white
males. Over two-thirds of the prison population are non-white
minorities. According to Jerome Miller, executive director of the
National Center for Institutions and Alternatives, "now when we talk
about building more prisons, when we talk about longer sentences, when
we talk about throwing away the keys, when we talk about cracking down
on violent offenders, everyone knows we are talking about blacks. And so
the sky is the limit now."
One American study distinguished between
fear and loathing with the latter being described as racial prejudice.
Loathing was found to be a significant factor in gun ownership while
fear was not. Vince Sacco said that "one can't understand anything
south of the border, including education, health and crime, without the
Fear of Crime: Perceptions and Reality
(Editor's note: this chapter on
perceptions is related to two other parts of this report, namely the
section in the preceding chapter on the media and also the description
of fear groups in chapter four. The chapter on fear groups,
particularly, gives a good appreciation of people's "reality" and
Rev. J. Francis Xavier
- "Last week's killing was a sad,
solitary incident. Things have changed around here, but their
reputation has stuck, and this won't make changing the image any
Commenting on the murder of a
David J. Rothman
- "The figures of how few
places in a large city account for so much of the homicides do not
relieve the fears of those who live elsewhere.", commenting in an
article TV Makes Us Neighbours of All
New York Times
Already this report has made several,
explicit references to the effect of perceptions on fear of crime:
There is the perception in Canada that we are not strict enough
on criminals. There is the perception that social controls are
deteriorating. Perceptions are crucial elements in one"s fear of crime.
- fear levels were higher among those who perceive their
neighbourhood as having higher or escalating crime rates.
there was a small but measurable increase in perceived fear of
victimization in the 1993 survey although there was no change in actual
risks since 1988.
- some fears are dismissed as irrational or
exaggerated if they are thought to be affected by misperceptions.
Unquestionably, fear of crime is fundamentally affected by how
Canadians perceive their personal worlds. How we see reality at times
does not coincide with what reality is. But those perceptions in turn
can become our reality and that is significant. For example, if someone
perceives the world as unsafe, when in fact it is safe, or relatively
safe, then that person feels and acts as if the world IS unsafe. This
has profound consequences for one's life, for public opinion, for public
fears and for demands on policy.
These are not neat categories,
however, for perceptions not only slip into reality but reality slips
into perceptions; for example, as quick as some people might be to
dismiss the "misperceptions" about how threatened Canadians are, those
"misperceptions" usually have some grounding in reality, unless we are
dealing with absolute paranoia where a totally fictitious world has been
Perceptions are important for they run our lives. And
perceptions are important because public confidence has always been a
fundamental component of our justice system.
This subject is of
significance to policy makers and academics who weigh the merits of
spending dollars and research to fight crime or to fight perceptions
about crime. The subject is complex and warrants a few, everyday
examples as an entry point for the discussion.
Rick Linden told the
story of crossing into the United States at the Manitoba border when his
wife automatically locked the car doors. "North Dakota is not a
dangerous place. It has a very low crime rate but because I guess she
felt we were in the United States, she did it," Linden recalled. She
was not at any great risk, so one might want to either dismiss her
misperception or change it through the sharing of hard data about crime
in North Dakota. Yet it is not that simple. Her precautionary measure
took only a few seconds, probably made her feel better and, most
important, in taking the precaution she did not expose herself to any
other real risk of victimization through a false sense of security.
After the Just Desserts slaying in Toronto, Tony Doob was on an open
line show attempting, through statistics and some common sense, to put
perspective on this tragedy as a rare occurrence which did not make the
city unsafe. An irate caller scolded him, saying he would understand
those public fears better if he lived near the Just Desserts cafe. Doob
continues the story:
His fear about the
traffic was grounded in real risk. Crossing the street was really
dangerous. Another murder at the Just Desserts Cafe in the next week
would be more in the realm of lightning striking twice.
- "Well it just so happens that I do
live a few blocks from that cafe. I told the caller that what I feared
about my son going to eat at the Just Desserts restaurant now was not
his being where this murder took place but taking his bike to get there
because in fact he would have to cross a very busy intersection where
there have been several accidents."
and final story raises yet another way in which perceptions and reality
intersect. Rick Linden heard a Canadian Armed Forces general recall his
experience in Rwanda where the internecine, tribal warfare between Hutu
and Tutsi soldiers included enormous fear mongering. A Hutu-controlled
radio station was spreading false stories that Hutus returning to Rwanda
after the war were being slaughtered by the Tutsi soldiers. The purpose
of the stories was to keep Hutus in a neighbouring country in the
refugee camps in order to organize for an assault to overthrow the Tutsi
government. The Canadian peacekeeper said it was a classic case of
having to address the misperception about Hutu safety in Rwanda. But,
and it is a big but, one had to guarantee first that any fear-reduction
program through correcting misperceptions indeed did not put Hutus at
These stories set the stage for an assessment of the
(i) What Language to Use
The research literature and media files reveal very interesting language
people use to describe the seeming chasm between perceptions and
reality. Fear of crime gets distinguished as "rational" or
"irrational", "reasonable" or "unreasonable", "misguided" or
These are well-meaning attempts by academics or
commentators to distinguish between fear that is grounded on real risk
of victimization as opposed to fear in which one is not all that
vulnerable. As insightful as those terms may be to give a theoretical
framework to the issue, they are neither helpful to or respectful of the
people who are afraid. Fear as an emotion should never be dismissed as
irrational or factually unfounded. On the other hand, fear as a state
of being may well be discussed and assessed on a rational level.
Tony Doob is one academic who does not like the terms often used in this
discussion. Even those so-called 'irrational' or 'unreasonable' fears
are plausible and we must deal with them.
Doob's point is
significant. Even misperceptions contain plausible fears, in other
words real and legitimate fears for that individual, and should not be
dismissed. Sound principles of adult education and community
development would reach the same conclusion, albeit for different
reasons, about what to do about those misperceptions. Education or
change can happen only through a process which starts where people are
at and respects that place without hastily dismissing it as a
- "Take the example of the woman who checks out the back
seat every time she approaches her car. She may not really be at risk
but that woman has read all the stories on this and seen all the movies
where it does in fact happen. There is the frequent image of
underground parking lots. Why not check it out and ease her mind, much
like I check if I left the stove on even though I am sure I didn't. It's
a bit demeaning to women to say her fears are unreasonable. Sure she
may be more vulnerable at home or on a date or at a bar but it is fairly
rational also to have fear related to dark places, cars and nights.
This fear is real to her."
(ii) Does Canada Have a Problem with
Misperception about Crime?
Much energy is expended on the
debate about whether fears of crime are founded or unfounded, whether
they are or are not based on actual fact or experience but more on
impressions of danger or a mistrust of strangers.
On the surface,
there appear to be conflicting data about the public's ability to
appreciate how difficult and complex the crime problem is. On the one
hand, in a 1993 Environics poll asking people to rank a series of issues
in terms of solvability, crime was placed third from the bottom, just
above ending poverty and cutting the federal deficit. But that
seemingly sophisticated assessment that there are no easy answers about
crime seems to be lost as people weigh in with somewhat, simple
solutions to enormously complex problems.
Julian Roberts has a
theory about why this is so. He recognizes that crime is no less
complicated an issue than figuring out the factions in Bosnia or all the
pressures on the economy. Yet he also notices that everyone seems to
have an opinion and a solution about crime. "For a lot of people, crime
is perceived as a morality play. It is about good and evil, with a
victim, an offender and an offence. And everyone as a child or parent or
an employee in the work force has had to deal with bad behaviour and how
to stop it. We all know or think we know what works. Yet crime which
we speak of in such simple terms is so complex. The criminal justice
system is so complex with so many inherent contradictions. It is
difficult even for a rational, competent person to understand."
For sure, the perceptions' picture is complex. A Justice
Department report in 1994 noted that 85 per cent of Canadians perceived
an increase in the amount of violent crime in the country over the past
few years yet only one per cent of Canadians identify crime or violence
or justice related issues as the most serious or pressing issue facing
the country. They were strongly concerned about what they perceived to
be increased levels of crime in this country but they tended to view
their own neighbourhoods as safe places in which to live. There appears
to be a subtle distinction between one's fears and one's concerns.
This also leads to a crucial truth about perceptions of crime.
Perceptions are rooted in the real life situations which people find
themselves in; Doob is intrigued that very thoughtful colleagues of his
who, after assessing the statistics which point to Canada being a safe
place, say: "well, that can't be because I know four people on my street
who have bought burglar alarms". Indeed, they may have bought burglar
alarms, but to assuage fears or for reasons quite independent of crime
rates. People's reference point is always their lived experience and
the local scene. National data or even local, city data have to be
balanced alongside a person's own knowledge and experience in their
actual neighbourhood or the community in which they live.
(iii) The Role of Statistics and their Limitations
Getting into the debate on statistics about crime rates is a little like
swimming in shark infested waters.
Figures about crime might
reassure the public or point to areas of concern that should be
addressed. But is it not a given that people believe one can manipulate
statistics to prove anything? A University of Alberta study concluded
that "the truth is somewhere in between. Statistics are both accurate
and useful, but criminal statistics are subject to many influences that
make interpretation difficult. Pressures influence gathering and
reporting. Police cannot respond to or record all crime. Information
gets handled differently in different areas. Increases or decreases can
be products of the reporting system too. So they are an imperfect
measure of criminal or violent behaviour but they are a good measure of
societal response to crime."
The furore which tends to follow the
release of crime rates and victimization survey data increases public
confusion, thereby increasing anxiety. Jean-Paul Brodeur has noted that
keeping crime statistics in the news and the ensuing debate over the
statistics over-dramatize the release of the crime data which then
becomes the target of fierce denunciations from opposing sides. "My
hypothesis is that such heightened visibility of crime statistics and
the highly emotional climate in which they are published would tend to
aggravate public feelings of insecurity and give a much higher profile
to the issue of violence," he said.
However, statistics or hard
data are a fundamental part of any rational discussion; a Calgary study
showed that people who are given accurate information about violent
crime are less fearful than those who are not. Statistics have an
important place in the national dialogue and in the overall response to
But one should not respond to fears of crime primarily
or exclusively by statistics.
The dangers with statistics have been
It has been demonstrated through victimization
surveys that official crime rates substantially underestimate the
magnitude of the problem, e.g. violence against women, children and the
elderly. Those surveys show that less than half of all crimes are ever
reported to the police and, in addition, some crimes are less likely to
be reported than others, e.g. less than one in ten sexual assaults
according to the most recent data. Different community groups may also
be more or less likely to report.
Statistics become weapons as well
in the hands of certain interest groups. Statistics may be used to
prove an ethnic or cultural group is criminogenic or that in those
cultures violence is accepted. Statistics may be invoked to justify a
racist remark that women and men in a particular culture are more
violent or inferior. Linda MacLeod comments on the use of statistics:
"We are playing with fire, we are playing with a loaded weapon, and this
weapon must be used extremely carefully, sensitively and responsibly."
Certainly there will be interest groups who manipulate statistics by
using them for their agenda.
But even worse, trying to ascertain
accurately the situation in order to evaluate crime trends, may have
profoundly negative consequences. It can lead to the development of a
false sense of security. Or it can needlessly frighten individuals and
make people conclude that society is deteriorating rapidly while in fact
people are simply better informed and resolved to act.
underscores the importance of fully understanding the true significance
of the statistics and adopting methods of assessing them more
Doob has a chart on his wall illustrating the number of
youths aged 12 to 17 who were accused of a homicide offence between 1974
and 1994. Over the 20-year period, there are considerable fluctuations
in the number of homicides but overall, from the start to the finish,
there is a consistency indicating there has not been any dramatic
increase in the number of murders by young offenders.
Yet this chart
and those statistics are a landmine in the debate on youth justice
because, in Doob's own words, the graph depicts a "sawtooth curve" where
there is enormous variability with peaks and valleys for many of the
years. Depending on one's agenda, citing a particular year or showing
a trend by starting a year earlier or later than another, the truth
gets "fudged". For example, taking the years 1985 and 1993, the murder
rate by youth "declined sharply" from 57 to 35. Stepping back one year
at both ends, the murder rate "soared" from 36 to 58. One can pick any
number and year to show what one wants to prove. "It becomes incredibly
deceptive," Doob said. "As soon as you hear anyone quoting between two
years, that should set off alarms."
Statistics have a place in
showing an overall trend and explaining variations. They can give the
big picture. They have a place, for example, in telling Canadians that
there is not a new generation of youth killing people in epidemic
proportions or any more than what has been happening in Canada in the
past 20 years. That is important in itself, but it is also of little
relevance to the victims or the community reeling in the immediate
aftermath of a tragedy; and it is of little relevance to a Canadian who
is mad that "kids are getting away with murder". That Canadian may need
a forum to vent his emotions, and only much later in that forum or
elselwhere may he or she be ready to hear the statistics.
Statistics don't stop people from worrying.
convince anyone they are safe. Doob is convinced, though, that
statistics are relevant, especially in challenging those who would
mis-use statistics to advance their own agenda. He jumps into the fray
every time he hears a media report start with the phrase, "because crime
rates are increasing". There is not an overall increase in crime but
only in certain areas. Distinctions must be made and Doob challenges
everyone to make them.
Julian Roberts has conducted studies
indicating that people make more enlightened responses if they have the
facts of a case. For example, he has tested individuals giving one
group a quite superficial report of a crime and another sample the
details of the facts of the case. Those in the latter group tended to
support the actual sentence given by the court while the first group was
more punitive. However, for quite other reasons, there is a limit on
the impact of statistics in changing perceptions because, as Roberts
observed, for any issue there will always be a bedrock of opinion that
is ideologically committed to another position. Take, for example, the
debate whether those who receive a 25-year prison sentence should be
eligible for a judicial review for parole at 15 years into their
sentence. Roberts explained that a segment of the population opposed to
those reviews may be open to examining data about the individuals
represented by those cases but another segment would be opposed on any
grounds and likely would not be amenable to any statistics.
(iv)Some Preliminary Conclusions on Perceptions
Perceptions and reality are not two opposite poles. However,
learning from the Rwanda example, there may be a few instances where it
is warranted to challenge perceptions quite apart from dealing with fear
of danger and/or fear of crime.
A perception of an individual or
community deserves respect, if not always agreement. It makes little
sense to dismiss or discount those perceptions, or to deal with them
exclusively by referring to statistics.
There is a need to focus on
perceptions particularly in the wake of a high profile incident which is
not in keeping with normal types of crime. Some assessment of
perceptions are particularly important for those driven by altruistic
fears or an escalating moral panic.
Canadians need instruction in
understanding and interpreting statistics related to crime, as well as
their reliability and limitations. Attention should be paid to ways to
defuse the charged climate that accompanies the release of crime
statistics, or to release the information in ways where the public also
learns more about the meaning of the statistics at the same time.
Certainly, statistics have their place in the response to fear of crime.
Canadians convinced the country is lenient with offenders need to know
that Canada has the second highest incarceration rate in the western
world. However, that data may not move an individual who is driven by
ideology or who would benefit much more from an ongoing community
process and forum to make one's views known and to check out perceptions
Part of the "perception" problem is the too
restricted way in which we view crime. Vince Sacco mentioned it is
harder to craft solutions when there is only one conceptualization of a
problem. "We don't have a pro-crime lobby so everyone is against crime
and it tends to invoke only one emotional response in a way that invites
demagoguery and permits no opposition," he explained. "If we could see
the problem of crime in more than one way, construct it differently
perhaps, we could get at more solutions."
As Stan Lipinski has
concluded, "while coming to grips with people's perceptions and opinions
with respect to deeply-held beliefs about crime will not be easy, the
alternatives will impose prohibitively higher financial burdens on a
criminal justice system that can ill afford them."
Other Significant Issues
Fear of Crime in Quebec
our church and criminal justice networks in Quebec in recent years have
confirmed the distinct way in which fear of crime is experienced in
that province. People couldn't always explain the difference but almost
all confirmed that, to a large extent, Quebecers did not get caught up
in the phenomenon of fear of crime quite the same as the rest of
There is substantial evidence to back this, according to
Jean-Paul Brodeur. A recent government decision to close eight jails
for budgetary reasons elicited no outcry or expression of fears. The
demand to make prisoners serve their full 25-year, "life" term elsewhere
in Canada is non-existent in the province. The province has hardly
ever made a dangerous offender application unlike every other
jurisdiction. There is high satisfaction with Quebec's juvenile justice
legislation that preceded the passage of the Young Offenders Act and
which appears to be strongly on the side of child protection as opposed
to punishment.. (It will be revealing to monitor the response and fears
after the savage murder of a retired Anglican priest and his wife by
three young teenagers in Montreal early this April.)
"It seems in so
many ways, it is tame compared to elsewhere with respect to how much
fear of crime dominates or occupies the public concern," commented
Brodeur does not fully know the reasons for this. He does
not notice the same "political correctness echo chamber" that crime and
fear of crime reverberate through in English Canada.
a long-time volunteer to prisoners who moves back and forth comfortably
in the French Canadian and English Canadian worlds, has sensed that the
Quebec media, generally speaking, has more positive stories related to
prisons, parole and rehabilitation.
There are no provincial polls
published to confirm the level of fear although Brodeur is aware of some
private polls done to track people's view of independence which show
that crime is well behind the public deficit as the number one concern
of the public. Yet, he has also seen another quite recent poll
indicating concern about crime is higher than earlier thought.
Brodeur thinks the politics of fear and resentment so evident in the
United States may catch up to Quebec. A concrete fear along with great
interest for many residents is the motorcycle gangs and their drug
trade. "The gang's headquarters are in Sorel. People in Sorel aren't
afraid of them but the rest of Quebec is," he said. "It illustrates the
need to track different fears for different crimes and criminals in
different areas. People are afraid of some offenders but not all."
Does Fear of Crime Make People More Punitive
research has found that more fearful Canadians are not more punitive but
that reducing fear of crime does not make them less punitive, especially
in the case of violent crimes. A significant study of the public by
Marc Ouimet in 1991 did not confirm the seemingly logical assumption
that fear of crime would make someone demand more punishment. However,
the same study which also interviewed over 200 court practioners
determined there is still an indirect effect on more punitive sanctions
because judges sometimes base longer prison sentences on the notion that
the public fears crime and is demanding those types of sentences. The
influence of this misperception was particularly the case for less
serious cases as judges decided whether custody was appropriate and how
long the sentence should be.
A telephone interview with almost 500
Calgary residents in 1987 discovered that those who receive accurate
information about violent crime are significantly less fearful but those
lower fear levels did not translate into less punitive attitudes. The
conclusion was that punitive attitudes have less to do with fears than
with people's attitudes and perceptions about violent crime.
Demographic variables are a factor here. Women are more fearful but
tend to be less punitive. The elderly become more punitive but that may
be related to a wide-ranging vulnerability they feel and a sgtronger
allegiance to traditional criminal justice institutions.
measure of fear generally does not predict the measure of punitiveness,
Vince Sacco cautioned that the mixture of several emotions, i.e. anger
or frustration with fear, might indeed make someone more punitive.
Responding to Fear of Crime
When the decision is made to do something about fear of crime in a
community or in an entire country for that matter, the question left
begging is what to do, and who does it.
There has been massive
government and community expenditures on crime prevention programs that
usually include the goal of reducing people's fears or insecurities
related to crime. This last section of the report now summarizes those
approaches, with an evaluation of their success specifically in terms of
what their impact is on fear of crime. The report will also pull
together the recommendations from the academic experts and community
leaders who were consulted, as we begin to design the elements of a more
effective way to deal with those fears.
It is as important to know what not to do in
responding to fear of crime as to decide what to do. Justice Minister
Allan Rock has said repeatedly that his government does not want to push
Canada into a cycle where people believe they have to acquire a weapon
for protection or in other ways to withdraw from full participation in
society and their communities. United States documentation confirms
that most of these weapons are then used against the person who bought
them or they are stolen and used in a criminal offence. Precautions
which tend to isolate or alienate an individual within a community can
worsen the fears.
It is also irresponsible to tell people not to be
afraid when there is a risk. Where fear is justifiable because of
genuine danger, it is taken away at great peril. One's fear of crime
should be at a level appropriate to a threat. A person can more
accurately assess one's risk and then live accordingly. A program whose
exclusive goal is the reduction of fear might stand on its own in
situations where fears are not grounded in actual personal risk in any
way, shape or form.
There is no value in hyping fear either,
although some programs induce it as a by-product in order to encourage
people to take safety precautions. Research confirms only limited,
short term, positive effects through programs which do this. Keeping
people afraid for a long period of time has other negative
Elizabeth Stanko has suggested that it is important to
approach fear of crime from the perspective that violence is a norm in
our lives and something we need to deal with; modern social conditions
make danger a given. This view is not intended as approval of the
violence or ignoring the work necessary to overcome the social
conditions which cause violence. What she is doing is setting some
clear boundaries about what is manageable about fear of crime. What is
important is how we negotiate the daily threat and experience of
Risk-Avoidance and Risk-Management Behaviours for
Individuals and Groups
To allay our fears, we have been inundated
with advice and strategies on ways to avoid being targets for crime.
Keeping violence and crime at bay is an active process, something which
many have made a routine part of every day in big and small ways.
Those afraid of violence from a partner or acquaintance often monitor a
person's behaviour, on the lookout for and assessing the warning signs
When going away, people might take numerous precautions
to create the impression that the house is occupied. This eases
people's anxiety and in many cases provides enough protection for one's
property. And there are countless other safety features which have
become part and parcel of everyday life - several universities now
provide escort services for females to get to their campus residence or
car in a parking lot, gasoline stations and convenience stores keep only
a small amount of cash in the register over night, transit companies
demand exact fares, libraries and stores put beeper codes on books and
articles, video surveillance is in almost every store. The airport
passenger screening measures are a way of life now, years after they
were introduced specifically to target hijacking of airplanes. All of
these measures impact on fears by targeting crime-conducive
The Ministry of the Solicitor General of Canada has a
booklet summarizing various crime prevention schemes, many which are
intended to reduce fear of crime:
Changing the Physical
Police department environmental design review,
home security surveys, improved street lighting, changing traffic
patterns, police directional aids, neighbourhood clean up, installing
emergency telephones, crime prevention programs for businesses.
Working within the Criminal Justice System:
Victimization surveys, street observation, police mini-stations,
neighbourhood beats, Operation Identification, court watch, crime
reporting projects, police and community boards, community service
officers, home security surveys.
Direct Activities for
Block clubs, citizen patrols, radio patrols, escort
services, block houses, Operation Identification, self defence
Those interested in a more thorough review and evaluation of
many Canadian examples of these approaches should contact Rick Linden of
the University of Manitoba. Here are a few general comments on each
(i) Changing the Physical Environment
vulnerability must be assessed accurately at the outset. This has been
done through household safety and security surveys which might measure
resident victimization, fear of crime and behaviour modification. These
programs are aimed primarily at protecting residents from outsiders and
are very limited when the primary threat is from someone who is known.
Fear can be heightened by several site-specific cues:
there may be undue risk for the pedestrian due to inadequate lighting,
blocked escape for the victim or concealment for an offender. Those
fears are specifically related to a site where the implementation of
certain safety measures is quite possible.
The Toronto Transit
Commission (TTC) had an excellent safety record for its commuters
although many women reported they were afraid to ride the subway. The
TTC installed closed circuit monitoring of the subway station platforms
and marked the place on the platform where the car which has a security
guard stops. "I understand women routinely use this area and while in
one way it is the most simple of measures it seems to have improved the
quality of life without turning up the dial of the criminal justice
system," Tony Doob commented.
However, physical factors
alone cannot be relied on to preserve local order and feelings of
security. They may have reduced risk and lowered the level of
insecurities for certain types of crime, some of the time, and for some
individuals. They are much more limited in reducing fears related to
serious violence and crime.
(ii) The Example of Community
Policing as an Approach within the Criminal Justice System
The public wants police to be visible in the community. Community
policing is intended to reduce people's fears especially through
increased contact with the police. This eases insecurities although it
may or may not impact greatly on crime rates, and indeed may even be
undermined in communities where there have been tense relations between
the police and ethnocultural communities. As well, there is always the
prospect that crime is being displaced in a number of ways rather than
being deterred by community policing.
Community policing also
appears to have some effect on reducing disorders and incivilities which
would then impact on fears. Foot patrols seem to be effective in
reducing fear of crime. They foster positive attitudes about the police
and apparently impact more on feelings of insecurity rather than
concrete fears of crime. Yet those feelings of insecurity warrant
attention too for they can weaken informal social controls and
contribute to an increase in crime.
Of course, community policing
can mean a lot or practically nothing depending whether it is a
superficial or genuine expression of police and citizen partnership
empowering the entire community to deal with the problem of crime and
fear of crime.
Jean-Paul Brodeur is currently writing a report on
community policing in Canada, citing
"mixed results, some
encouraging yet somewhat discouraging evaluation". Community policing
works better in communities which need it less.
iii) The Example
of the Neighbourhood Watch Program as a Direct Activity for
Neighbourhood Watch programs had a logical ring
to them. They were intended to encourage a sense of citizen concern for
the community, primarily by overcoming social isolation and distrust
through bringing people together in a common purpose. It was known that
fear of crime is lower in neighbourhoods where residents feel more
committed, more in control of their environment and where the
neighbourhood is more socially cohesive.
But Neighbourhood Watch is
getting a poor report card of late for many reasons. There is a sense
that there needs to be so much more community building than simply
making neighbours aware of unusual activity in the area. Many
participating neighbourhoods had no sense of community in the first
As well, anxiety can even go up initially as people learn how
extensive crime is or its potential problems are for the community.
Fear of crime is definitely lower in neighbourhoods where residents feel
more responsibility and control over what happens in the area. Finding
the best way to achieve this remains the challenge.
In Rick Linden's
view, almost all of the crime prevention programs have suffered from
poor planning and inadequate, ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
The literature and consultations with academics
referred over and over again to some fundamental principles to remember
in any fear of crime program.
"Specific and Concrete" works
better every time!
The first chapter explained that "public fear
of crime" is a misleading expression because the burden of fear does not
fall equally on everyone's shoulders. Effective, fear-reducing programs
are contingent on identifying who is afraid of what in which
circumstances and acting accordingly in the most concrete ways. For
example, several Winnipeg senior citizens were anxious about
encountering youth in front of a medical centre. Their appointments
were switched to mid morning when the students were in school. There is
a world of difference in knowing only that seniors fear youth in
Winnipeg and in determining in a particular neighbourhood that seniors
are afraid of waiting for the bus at particular bus stops between two
high schools at 4 o'clock when students get out of school.
Something more easily can be done in the latter instance, including
programs where the seniors and students might meet on each other's
"turf". There is the need to be attentive to local conditions that
prevail in specific situations.
Don't Reinvent the Wheel!
It is crucial that existing clubs, churches and a host of organizations
become interested in the issue of fear of crime and its specific
relevance to their mandates. Canada does not need another organization
to be created to deal with this issue. Crime prevention and reducing
fear of crime need to be a permanent feature in their mission and
agenda. The motivation for individuals to get involved is to protect
their families and their property as well as the desire to make our
communities better places in which to live.
But Do Re-Invent
Responding to fear of crime is all about systematic
encouragement of neighbourhood building, weaving solidarity networks and
promoting a self-help mood within communities.
Rather than starting
with the traditional assessment of a community's needs, there is much
sense in approaching the problem first by mapping a community's assets.
A community needs to do an inventory of assets, household by household,
building by building, block by block. John P. Kretzmann and John L.
McKnight explain that the community inventory will discover "a vast and
often surprising array of individual talents and productive skills.
Everyone is gifted, including and especially those marginalized because
they are too old, or too young, or too poor." The inventory and
community partnership should include local institutions, like businesses
and schools, parks, hospitals, community colleges, libraries, social
service agencies, citizen associations, churches, block clubs and
cultural groups, as well as the gifts of individuals.
Community Identification and Participation
Rick Linden has
described community as a collection of people with common interests and
concerns whether or not they share a common geographical area.
Communities may be natural in origin or created through the concerted
organizational efforts of individuals. The "community" may be an
association of pharmacists or all the people who use the place where the
crime and problem exist.
Community ownership of these programs is
not going to work unless, in Linden's words "the practioner of crime
prevention involves the community early in the planning process and has
respect for its views, priorities and ability to mobilize resources."
Trust the community members. They know what measures and actions
can help to make them feel safer. They need practitioners to play an
advisory and legitimizing role bringing together groups and facilitating
the process and journey.
Community surveys can be used to supplement
official crime analysis data in identifying crime and related problems.
Citizens' perceptions of problems in the neighbourhood along with any
neighbourhood-based, community victimization data help inform decisions
where to implement prevention programs. People identify the offences
they believe are most common in their neighbourhoods, the ones they are
most afraid of, and those that cause them to take precautions. This is
important, preliminary work because the best co-operation usually comes
from those who are concerned about these offences. "The surveys
typically measure the fear and concern of members of the community,"
Linden said. The study of a neighbourhood can determine whether or not
it looks orderly. If graffiti, garbage, broken windows and poorly tended
yards are common, it is likely that a substantial effort will have to be
made to help residents regain control of their community.
initiate a truly community-based program, it will be necessary to cross
some administrative boundaries, including inter-ministry co-operation at
one level of government or between different governments.
Where People Are At! Figure Out What Can Be Done
almost all fears are plausible, regardless of whether people are at
actual risk. Deal with the fears and provide a process and forum for
all that those fears communicate. Find out what people are afraid of and
get people talking to one another about this. A local community can be
helped in gathering detailed information regarding the levels and social
distribution of fear. Assess the local environment for physical and
social disorder. Weave into the discussion the information and
resources they need along with the "bigger picture" in the region or
country which may be required for perspective. Determine if risks can
be reduced or managed. Figure out how to make people reach a certain
comfort level with respect to fears which linger.
the Groups Who Fear Each Other
Responding to fear of crime
includes the challenge of facilitating a dialogue among people who are
different and who, consequently, might fear one another.
women need to come together to talk about their experiences of violence
and danger. Men who have made choices about non-violent behaviour and
care about the violence perpetrated against women can still be astounded
at the extent of women's fears and precautions. Women need to find ways
to share this reality with men and men must find a way to learn and
share with other men about the reality of violence and how to negotiate
danger in the lives of both genders.
The elderly and young
people need to meet so that fears and stereotypes may begin to fall to
the ground. The elderly are an enormously, untapped wealth of wisdom
and experience for future generations of Canadians. Many are surrogate
grandparents and mentors waiting to be introduced to young people.
People from different races, cultures, sexual orientation and a host of
other divisive factors should meet to address their fear of difference.
In the words of Theresa Holizki, Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan
Human Rights Commission, "cross-cultural training is a proven way to
eliminate fear of difference and lack of knowledge. It increases
people's racial and cultural sensitivity and teaches us to accept the
differences among us. When we explore and learn about other cultures,
about negative stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, about what
makes culture, heritage and race different, we will be able to
co-operate and communicate more effectively with culturally diverse
individuals and communities. In the process we learn too that different
isn't better. It isn't worse. It is merely different."
Primary Place for Women's Experience of Fear of Crime
Responding to fear of crime should embrace the needs expressed by women,
relying substantially on women's testimonies of what makes them feel
safe. Fear of crime has to address the somewhat simple myths of the
safe home and the dangerous stranger. Local women's leadership can be
encouraged and supported in their creation of programs and policies
which reduce fear, victimization and vulnerability.
Tap into the
Everyday Experiences of People. There is Wisdom Here!
need to identify and have opportunities created to share their everyday
experiences in negotiating safety. People's way of understanding danger
is complex and highly private, grounded in a lifetime of experience.
Somehow, we need to tap this wisdom. In safe environments, we need to
hear what those strategies are. We need communities to dialogue and
anguish together about what are prudent and reasonable rules of
self-restriction and what is unreasonable or demeaning to
We Need More Research about Fear of Crime's
There is still precious little, in-depth
knowledge of exactly what people fear and why and what they do about it
in everyday life. This means taking the research to where people are
living, beyond the surveys. Vince Sacco identified research areas that
still require attention: how fear varies across situational contexts;
how people talk about and express their fears; the role of interpersonal
communication in the transmission of fear; the role of altruistic fear;
the impact of parental socialization about danger; and fear of crime and
its relationship to social disorder.
These are only the
initial ideas and generally sketched recommendations from the
consultations and review of literature. There needs to be a more
thorough analysis of the report's findings to determine how to address
the issue of fear of crime in any specific community.
Canadians want to be safe. It is a fundamental human need and a human
right. The fact is that many Canadians are safe, although some do not
know it or act and live as if they do not know it. Yet too many
Canadians are not safe. Fear of crime, in all its countless expressions
and masks which this report has identified, violates that basic
necessity of safety. Responding to the fear of crime reclaims the path
to healthier, safer communities.
is Fear of Crime Measured?
How fear of crime is measured is
critical in the determination and assessments of levels of fear in the
country and who is most afraid. Yet the measurement of fear of crime is
always somewhat removed from the scene of the crime. There are no fear
monitors or fear index to apply to someone at the time he or she is
being robbed or assaulted. Researchers are not there to do any
physiological check-up of blood pressure, heartbeat or dryness of mouth
Surveys and Polls
Fear of crime is measured,
then, through a variety of surveys and polls in a variety of ways,
determining the level of fear associated with walking alone in one's
neighbourhood at night or being home alone, or the fear of becoming a
victim of crime in general or a victim of a very specific crime, and
about the use of measures to protect oneself and one's property. So,
for example, in the 1983 Vancouver Urban Survey, Vince Sacco helped
design typical fear questions such as "How safe do you or would you feel
walking alone in your neighbourhood after dark?" The choices for
respondents were: Very Safe, Somewhat Safe, Somewhat Unsafe or Very
Unsafe. There are limitations to this type of question because it tends
to uncover only a generic fear of crime. Yet the "walking alone in your
neighbourhood at night" question happens to be one of the most widely
used barometers to measure fear of crime.
Most surveys provide a
sense of the extent to which people worry about becoming a victim and
the anxiety they feel about their personal safety in various
The General Social Survey is conducted every five years
and includes a sample of 10,000 telephone interviews with Canadians aged
15 years and older. Several questions on fears and worries are
The 1993 Violence Against Women Survey was historic in its
scope, intending to contextualize women's fears related to their
experiences since the age of sixteen. A target population of 15,000
women aged 18 years and older was contacted to measure the extent to
which women worry about their personal safety in everyday situations,
the extent to which fear imposes limits on their opportunities and
freedom of movement, and how they manage threats to their safety in
their daily lives. The Violence Against Women Survey tried to determine
the levels of fear in everyday situations, how often the respondent is
in each situation and what situations she might avoid because of fear
for her safety. So, for example, respondents were asked how safe they
felt while waiting for or using public transportation after dark, how
often they used it, and if they felt safer, would they use it in the
future. These types of questions prevent a skewing of data caused when
a high percentage of the population who are afraid of using public
transportation in fact never use it on a regular basis.
Victimization surveys are also significant, providing a way of looking
at crime from the perspective of individual victims. They describe what
has happened to individual Canadians and they describe the way in which
people respond to their victimization experiences. Because many crimes
are not reported to the police for a variety of reasons, victimization
surveys do a better job of capturing people's personal experience with
crime. Victimization surveys interview a sample of the population
about their experiences with crime during a specific period of time,
usually the 12 months prior to the survey.
has been made between concrete and formless or diffused fears. Concrete
fears are measured with a question of how respondents rated the chances
of certain events happening to them in the future, e.g. break and enter
or assault. Formless fear is measured by asking people how they felt
about walking alone in the neighbourhood during the day or after dark.
So once someone responds that they are afraid of walking alone at
night in their neighbourhood or being alone in their home, they can then
be asked why they feel this way. Answers can range from a very general
worry about the possibility of being a victim of crime to becoming
victims of specific crimes. Marc Ouimet contends that "the concrete
fear should provide a more accurate assessment of people's fear of crime
than the generic measure, since the latter may be associated with a
general mental state of the individual rather than a conscious
assessment of a real danger of crime". Yet, it seems that those
diffused fears still need to be addressed.
Another way to track
fear is to go beyond measures of pesonal fear and risk assessments to
have people estimate the crime rates in a neighbourhood. Respondents
are asked to imagine a sample of one hundred people living in their
area. The question posed is: how many of those do you think have been
or will be victims this year of the following specific crimes....
Increased estimates in the amount of crime will suggest an increased
level of fear and can then be compared to actual crime rates.
Sacco pointed out that the research has not always been precise in
determining what people mean by fear of crime. Take for example the
fear related to your house being burglarized. Fear is a function both
of the likelihood of the break and enter happening and the seriousness
of its consequences. If a crime is likely to happen, and the crime is
serious, fear will be higher. People know murder is very serious but
the likelihood of any Canadian being murdered is extremely low. So
one's fear of being murdered may not be high. The chances of getting a
family bicycle stolen are much greater but the consequences are not all
that serious. Consequently, one's fear of having a bike stolen may well
be minimal. Many women have a high fear of sexual danger based on both
factors of likelihood and seriousness. Because different people may
have different understandings of what is serious, surveys can also ask
participants whether, if certain crimes happened to them, they would
consider them serious.
An innovative Montreal project of a high and
low crime neighbourhood explored fears by having participants look at a
city map and tell the questioner where they would not go, at what time
and why. Better than a general survey, this asked very specifically
where and in what situations in the community a person felt unsafe. The
"mapping" of fear revealed the relevance of fear of crime as a personal
concern and the perceived geographical extensiveness of fear areas.
Any survey will only scratch the surface of the issues related to fear
of crime, yet it is a significant scratching, based on people's
experiences, perceptions and opinions. Surveys are good starting
points. But, as Rick Linden observed, surveys are restricted in what
they tell us, often having conflicting data. They do not always get at
real life issues, although it seems some are doing a better job now by,
for example, contextualizing fears or making sure to qualify
hypothetical scenarios by follow-up questions which check out the
respondent's actual habits.
Public opinion polls reported in the
media are usually less substantial "snapshots" of public opinion. There
should be caution about such polls because so much depends on the
wording of a question, the context in which the question is posed and
the timing of the poll. Yet the reporting of their results itself
influences public opinion about fear of crime.
An individual's fear
of crime and the success of fear-reducing strategies can also be
measured in "before and after" interviews with people who took
precautions or were somehow affected by a crime prevention measure, e.g.
living in a neighbourhood where lighting has been improved, or
participating in a burglary victim assistance program or self-defence
"experts" who participated in the consultation were invited to name
their "10 Commandments of Fear of Crime". Vince Sacco, Jean-Paul
Brodeur and Rick Linden offered their "10 Commandments", "Twelve
Commandments" and "One Commandment" respectively.
1. Little agreement exists regarding the most
appropriate way to define fear of crime for research purposes.
Fear of crime is probably much more rational than many people argue.
3. Fear of crime is a much more serious problem for some in society than
4. Political and journalistic rhetoric has overstated
the problem of fear of crime.
5. Fear of crime is more a situational
response than an enduring psychological disposition.
6. The focus of
fear of crime research and fear of crime interventions should be the
7. Fear levels vary quite markedly depending
on how fear is measured.
8. The mass media are less important in
explaining fear than is often believed.
9. Too often we tend to
confuse fear with other emotional reactions to crime.
More attention needs to be devoted to qualitative research on fear of
1. Avoid the generalizations that
fear is irrational or rational. In some cases, it is and in others it
2. Talking about your fears in a group meeting may enhance
one's own level and that of others.
3. Fear of crime may be a
crystallization of other insecurities.
4. Always make a distinction
between specific fear, unfocused (diffused) fear and inferential fear
("I am not afraid in my own part of town but I would be in another part
5. Fear is an emotion. It should never be dismissed for
being rationally or factually unfounded.
6. Fear is an emotion.
Hence it may fluctuate. Never give up on reducing fear through
education. If a fear of crime has no real ground, don't dismiss it but
try to change the perception.
7. Fear of crime has been shown to be
fear of disorder.
8. The effect of fear is not always negative.
They may be used by the lonely and/or the elderly to reinstate
solidarity. If you take away their fear, you also take away their bond.
(which may be a disastrous result)
9. Fear affects crime-fighters in
a fashion that is sometimes more dramatic and consequential than
citizens' fear. Police shootings, when unwarranted, are caused by
10. The strategies for addressing fear are not the same
as the strategies to deal with the alleged causes of fear (dealing with
crime and dealing with the fear of crime)
11. Fear may be
12. With regard to the fear of crime, the action of the
media is a "black hole", i.e. terra ingognita. Its impact is an
1. Plan ten times (a reference to
the most glaring weakness in most crime prevention programs)!