Different Measures of Vulnerability in their Relation to Different Dimensions of Fear of Crime

M. Killias
2000 British Journal of Criminology  
Vulnerability has, in research conducted over the last decade, been found to be significantly related to fear of crime. It seems to be particularly helpful in explaining seemingly disproportionate fear levels among women and the elderly, as well as in a few situational contexts. In the present research, a representative sample of Switzerland's population (N=726) was interviewed on various aspects of fear of crime in the public sphere. All respondents were asked how they assessed their own
more » ... sed their own ability to escape or resist in case of an attack by a young assailant. In addition, interviewers rated several aspects of respondents' 'visible' vulnerability. In multivariate analyses, vulnerability, as assessed by respondents themselves, explained fears and worries about crime better than interviewer-assessed measures of vulnerability. It is concluded that, in comparison to demographic and contextual (neighbourhood) variables, physical vulnerability seems to play an important and consistent role in the genesis of fear of crime. Over many years, fear of crime was seen as a function of media exposure, or as a consequence of neighbourhood characteristics and-direct or indirect-exposure to crime. Drawing on the work by Skogan and Maxfield (1981) , who first introduced vulnerability as a theoretical concept in this context, as well as on research on fear in different (e.g. military) contexts, the first author presented a theoretical model focusing on vulnerability as a key concept in the genesis of fear of crime (Killias 1990 (Killias , 1991 . This model distinguishes between, on one hand, personal, social and situational aspects of vulnerability, such as gender or age, living in certain areas, and neighbourhood characteristics (Vrij and Winkel 1991) , and, on the other hand, several dimensions of threats, i.e. the probability of crime, the seriousness of feared consequences ('how bad will it be') and the feeling of having no control (Bandura 1986; Goffman 1973) over the likelihood of (criminal) events, nor their outcome (seriousness). This model uses nine cells of different combinations between the several dimensions of vulnerability and fear of crime. Since it has been able to integrate much research data on fear of crime in the streets, it has been discussed and somewhat enlarged in theoretical (Hale 1996; Alimam 1993; Schwarzenegger 1991) , as well as in empirical research. Of particular interest in this context are: the British Crime Survey of 1994 and 1998, where physical size, health condition and confidence in self-defence abilities were found to be correlated with worries about violent crime (Hough 1995 (Hough , 1996 Mirrlees-Black and Allen 1998) ; almost identical 437 * School of Forensic Science and Criminology, University of Lausanne, Switzerland. The authors would like to thank Corinne Brignoli, student of forensic science at University of Lausanne, for help with updating this paper's documentation. They also appreciate the valuable suggestions by two anonymous reviewers who encouraged them to amplify certain methodological aspects.
doi:10.1093/bjc/40.3.437 fatcat:mf3c43f3tzfklowcfutzeo6qo4