Are Victorians afraid of crime?

23 March 2020
While intense and frequent concern about crime is rare, a survey of nearly 3000 people from across the state reveals online harassment is the chief source of this kind of angst.

New figures have revealed the types of crime many Victorians are most worried about and how social activities – like talking with neighbours or joining a community group – can make people feel significantly safer.

Led by leading criminologists from the University of Sydney and Monash University, researchers surveyed nearly 3000 residents from across 70 Victorian communities in 2019 to gauge the levels, frequency and intensity of people’s worry about crime.

Their results have been published in the Social Cohesion and Pro-Social Responses to Perceptions of Crime report, released today.

How people experience fear of crime

People surveyed were asked how many times they had worried about crime happening in their local community in the past 12 months, and how intense that worry was.

“Our results showed that intense and frequent worry about crime is relatively rare – 57percent of respondents reported they had not worried about any form of crime at all in the past 12 months,” said lead researcher Professor Murray Lee, from the Sydney Institute of Criminology at the University of Sydney Law School.

Other results showed:

  • cyber-related harassment – including online abuse and fraud – was the crime that people worried about most frequently and most intensely, followed by burglary (or property crime) and then robbery (violent crime committed against a person)
  • harassment-related crime was the type of crime people were least worried about
  • people who had been a victim of a crime in the past 12 months expressed greater worry across all crime categories
  • people who lived in urban areas were more likely to worry about burglary, robbery and harassment than those who lived in rural or regional areas. However, there was no significant relationship with cybercrime and regional/urban residence
  • on the whole, women worried slightly more about crime than men – particularly about harassment and burglary
  • those who reported being most worried about crime were likely to be between 45-59 years of age.

Respondents were also asked whether they believed they would experience victimisation in the next 12 months. The majority of respondents (60 percent) believed it unlikely they would fall victim to crime in the next 12 months.

Social activities key to quelling fears

The researchers also sought to highlight how people respond to their fears and what impact these responses have on their lives.

“Our findings suggest that engaging in pro-social actions can be beneficial for individuals and, potentially, could build cohesion in communities where perceptions of safety are compromised,” Professor Lee said.

“For example, more than 80 percent of people who spoke to their neighbours about their fears reported they felt safer as a result. More than 70 percent of people who sought advice or help from the police also felt safer as a result.”

Other constructive actions taken by people which equally reduced their worry included activities like joining a community group, engaging with their local council and becoming involved in an online support group or campaign.

Opportunities for policy and practice

Drawing on the findings from their study, the researchers suggest strategic approaches for the government and policymakers, such as:

  • targeted crime and safety messaging, such as online safety campaigns
  • crime prevention initiatives aimed at community building
  • encouraging greater connections between the justice system and the community
  • ensuring coordinated efforts between local government and local organisations.

“Our findings strongly emphasise the need for careful crime prevention planning and crime messaging,” said co-author Rebecca Wickes, Associate Professor in Criminology at Monash University.

About the Social Cohesion and Pro-Social Responses to Perceptions of Crime project

The project was undertaken in 2019 by researchers from the University of Sydney, Monash University and the London School of Economics.

It deployed a stratified and randomised sample survey of 2,862 respondents across 70 communities in Victoria. It also comprised qualitative focus group interviews with a total sample group of 69 respondents across 15 focus groups. These focus groups targeted harder-to-reach groups less likely to be represented in the survey, but more likely to express concerns about crime.

While the project was interested in levels, frequency and intensity of people’s worry about crime, the researchers also sought to highlight how people respond to their fears, and what impact these responses had on their lives. The researchers also mapped out a range of risk and protective factors likely to impact negatively and positively on people’s worries. This mixed methods approach gave the researchers unique insights into both the concerns people have about crime, the actions they take based on these concerns, and the way in which they discuss and describe their worries.

Declaration: The research was funded by the Department of Justice and Community Safety, with additional funding from a University of Sydney Commercial Development and Industry Partnerships grant.

Hero image: Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash.

Loren Smith

Assistant Media Adviser (Humanities)

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