Individuals who live in high-crime communities may experience more fear than those who live in communities with lower crime rates. Fear of crime and victimization can influence overall fear on many levels. People who have highly dysfunctional and violent families may have individual fear, which can increase their fear of their neighborhoods and communities. This type of relationship can also be positive. For instance, if people feel safe within their own homes, perhaps they will have less fear of crime regardless of their social environments. To better understand how perceptions of safety can influence fear of crime on various levels, J.R. Porter of the Brooklyn College and Institute for Demographic Research at City University of New York recently led a study that evaluated national data from 2,610 individuals who were part of the Panel Study of American Religion and Ethnicity (PS-ARE).
Porter discovered that the individuals who felt most socially vulnerable were those who had highly disorganized family units, elevated poverty levels, and racial differences. The higher the level of perceived personal fear, the higher the levels of neighborhood and community fear in the participants. The study also revealed that the participants from racially divided areas reported higher levels of collective fear. Women in highly violent areas were more likely to have the highest levels of individual fear. For all the participants, county-wide violent crime led to higher levels of perceived fear, but high levels of property crime did not increase the participants’ fear. In addition, Porter found strong evidence for the existence of learned fear patterns. In particular, family members, parents, and peers who communicate fear of crime increase the individual fear, whether it is warranted or not.
Porter said, “Perhaps most interesting is our finding that even in the face of high rates of violent crime, being in a union of some sort decreases the likelihood that one is likely to feel unsafe in their neighborhood.” In fact, the protective effect of marriage was most noticeable in the communities with the highest levels of crime and disorganization. This finding was realized across all demographics, neighborhood conditions, and crime levels and provides support for existing research that suggests marriage and relationships provide a protective benefit. Porter believes that policy makers and community leaders should increase efforts to promote healthy relationships to reduce perceived fear in high-crime communities.
Porter, J. R., Rader, N. E., Cossman J. S. (2012). Social disorganization and neighborhood fear: Examining the intersection of individual, community, and county characteristics. American Journal of Criminal Justice 37, 229-245.
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