Public Perceptions and Reactions to Violent Offending and Victimization

Mark Warr

INTRODUCTION

During their life course, individuals will normally come to learn about violence through at least one of two distinct processes. Some will themselves become victims of violence and may draw on those experiences in reaching conclusions about the nature and circumstances of violent behavior. Others will never experience violent victimization directly but will instead learn of such events indirectly, through the social networks in which they participate, through news and other depictions of violence in the mass media, or from other sources. Still others will learn about violence through a mixture of direct and indirect information.

In the same way that learning about violence can be characterized as direct or indirect, the consequences of violence for an individual or a population can be direct or indirect. Some individuals will undergo short- or long-term changes in their lives as a consequence of being personally victimized. For others, the mere prospect of becoming a victim will be sufficient to produce voluntary or involuntary changes in behavior or lifestyle.

The distinction between direct and indirect experience with violence is of utmost importance, because the ratio of these two

Mark Warr is at the Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Public Perceptions and Reactions to Violent Offending and Victimization Mark Warr INTRODUCTION During their life course, individuals will normally come to learn about violence through at least one of two distinct processes. Some will themselves become victims of violence and may draw on those experiences in reaching conclusions about the nature and circumstances of violent behavior. Others will never experience violent victimization directly but will instead learn of such events indirectly, through the social networks in which they participate, through news and other depictions of violence in the mass media, or from other sources. Still others will learn about violence through a mixture of direct and indirect information. In the same way that learning about violence can be characterized as direct or indirect, the consequences of violence for an individual or a population can be direct or indirect. Some individuals will undergo short- or long-term changes in their lives as a consequence of being personally victimized. For others, the mere prospect of becoming a victim will be sufficient to produce voluntary or involuntary changes in behavior or lifestyle. The distinction between direct and indirect experience with violence is of utmost importance, because the ratio of these two Mark Warr is at the Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control is one of the features that most distinguishes violence from other social problems or adverse life events. In the United States, the proportion of citizens who suffer a violent victimization each year is rather small (e.g., U.S. Department of Justice, 1992; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1993). In American culture, however, news and other forms of communication about violence are ubiquitous and unrelenting, with the result that one is far more likely to hear about, read about, or watch violent events than to experience them. To use an example, the crude annual probability of being murdered in the United States is roughly 1 in 10,000 (9.3 per 100,000 in 1992 according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data). According to the 1988 General Social Survey (National Opinion Research Center, 1988), approximately 10 percent of the adult population of the United States personally knew a victim of homicide during the year preceding the survey. The probability of knowing a victim of homicide is therefore about three orders of magnitude (or 1,000 times) greater than the probability of being a victim. Similarly, the proportion of Americans who worry about being murdered (22% by one estimate; see McGarrell and Flanagan, 1985) is far greater than the proportion who will actually be murdered. These observations have two immediate implications. First, the social consequences of violence cannot be fully understood by focusing exclusively on victims; investigators must look beyond those who are directly victimized to those who suffer forms of indirect victimization. Although the plight of victims is not to be discounted, an exclusive emphasis on victims is a little like rushing to aid those caught in an apartment fire and ignoring those who jumped from the windows. Secondly, because indirect information on violence is far more prevalent than direct information, it is imperative that investigators examine the information on violence to which the general public is exposed, including the sources, accuracy, and consequences of such information. This paper examines the current state of evidence on public perceptions and reactions to violent offending and violent victimization. The first topic on our agenda is public fear of victimization, including the individual and social consequences of fear. Next, we examine the images and information on violence to which the general public is exposed. Following this, we consider social evaluations of violent behavior, specifically, the perceived seriousness of offenses. Then we conclude with an examination of public opinion concerning legal sanctions and criminal justice. The literature we consult in this paper falls for the most part

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control in the domain of criminology and, as such, pertains primarily to violent crime. And although our principal interest lies in violent offending and victimization, when appropriate, we examine violence as a special case within the larger context of criminal behavior. FEAR OF VICTIMIZATION In The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (1967:3) offered this observation: ''The most damaging of the effects of violent crime is fear, and that fear must not be belittled." By adopting this position and by commissioning research on fear, the commission granted legitimacy to an area that had largely been ignored or dismissed by criminologists. Since the commission's report, however, research on what has come to be known as fear of crime has increased markedly, and measures of fear have come to be included routinely in national polls and recognized as important social indicators. Although much research on fear of crime has been merely descriptive, the area is gradually acquiring a more theoretical and cumulative character. After considering some conceptual issues pertaining to fear, we examine the current state of knowledge about fear of crime. CONCEPTUAL ISSUES There is no conventional definition of fear of crime, and the term has been equated with a variety of emotional states, attitudes, or perceptions (including mistrust, anxiety, perceived risk, fear of strangers, or concern about deteriorating neighborhoods). In psychology and certain of the life sciences, however, the term fear is more uniformly used to denote a specific emotional state that is phenomenologically familiar to most people, that is, a feeling of alarm caused by an awareness or expectation of danger (see Sluckin, 1979). This affective state is frequently (though not necessarily) associated with certain physiological changes, including increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, decreased salivation, and increased galvanic skin response (Thomson, 1979). Although fear of criminal victimization differs from other forms of fear (e.g., fear of falling, separation fear, fear of predators) in the object (stimulus) of fear, there is no evidence that fear of crime is qualitatively different from other forms of fear. Fear of crime may be evoked by a clear and present danger, as

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control when an individual is confronted by an armed assailant or is issued a verbal threat of violence. This type of intense, immediate fear appears to be what some have in mind when they speak of fear of crime. As sentient and symbolic beings, however, humans have the ability to anticipate or contemplate events that lie in the future or are not immediately apparent. Hence people may experience fear merely in anticipation of possible threats or in reaction to environmental cues (e.g., darkness) that imply danger. Psychologists commonly use the terms fear and anxiety to differentiate reactions to immediate threats (fear) from reactions to future or past events (anxiety). This terminological clarity has not been adopted in research on fear of crime, but it appears that most measures of fear are designed to capture anxiety rather than fear of victimization. This approach evidently rests on the assumption that anxiety about possible victimization is more common among the general public than fear resulting from actual encounters with crime. In view of the high ratio of indirect to direct experience with crime, that assumption would seem to be eminently warranted, but there is no direct evidence for it. Another justification for emphasizing anxiety rather than fear is the possibility that anxiety about possible victimization commonly leads people to avoid places or situations in which the threat of actual victimization (and hence fear) is likely. Although we retain the conventional phrase "fear of crime" in this paper, the term fear is understood to include anxiety about future victimization, unless otherwise noted. Fear of crime is sometimes portrayed as a discrete variable, much like a switch that can be turned off or on. However, the range of English-language terms commonly used to describe states of fear (terror, worry, alarm, apprehension, dread), as well as self-reports and physiological measures of fear, indicate that fear is a quantitative or continuous rather than a discrete variable (Sluckin, 1979). Consequently, fear in a human population is characterized both by its prevalence (the proportion of a population that experiences fear during some reference period) and its magnitude or intensity (the degree of fear experienced by fearful individuals). Hence one population may have small but intensely fearful subgroups, whereas another suffers from widespread but moderate fear. In addition to magnitude and prevalence, fear is also characterized by its duration, both among individuals and within social units (e.g., communities). Because criminal events (or exposure to immediate signs of danger) are commonly fleeting, episodes of fear (strictly defined) are likely to be relatively brief. Anxiety, on

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control the other hand, is by no means so short-lived and may become a chronic or obsessive condition (Sluckin, 1979). When individuals are confronted with an ostensibly dangerous environment, they may quite naturally experience fear for their own personal safety. In addition, however, they may also fear for others (e.g., children, spouses, friends) whose well-being they value. Fear of crime is sometimes broadly construed to include fear for others, extending even to one's neighborhood, city, or nation. If investigators have been generous in defining fear, however, the fact is that virtually all research in the United States has concentrated on personal fear. This is most unfortunate because it is entirely possible that fear for others is at least as prevalent as personal fear and may have consequences that are distinct from, or that amplify, those arising from personal fear. Furthermore, measuring fear for others would permit investigations into the sociometry of fear in social units. For example, in family households, do wives fear for their husbands as much as husbands do for wives? Do they share equal fear for their children? MEASURING FEAR Fear can be measured by eliciting self-reports from subjects or by direct measurement of physiological indicators of fear (see Sluckin, 1979). In principle, physiological measures of fear are preferable to self-reports because they eliminate many of the problems associated with self-reports and survey methodology in general (e.g., demand effects, errors in recall, reluctance to admit fear, question-wording effects). Physiological measures have their own problems and limitations, however. Because they sidestep cognition, physiological measures of fear cannot reveal the object of fear (i.e., the persons, things, or events to which the subject is reacting), nor can they distinguish fear of crime from other forms of fear. This may present few problems in controlled laboratory experiments (as when subjects are presented with slides of dangerous or innocuous scenes) because the cues or stimuli of interest can be isolated and confounding cues eliminated or controlled. However, the number and variety of cues that appear in natural settings suggest that physiological measures of fear are of limited value in nonexperimental research. Another problem with physiological measures of fear is that the physiological changes commonly associated with fear are not unique to that emotion and may accompany other emotional states as well (Mayes, 1979). Thus, for example, there appears to be no physiological basis for distinguishing

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control between persons who react to a violent threat with anger and those who react with fear. SURVEY RESEARCH ON FEAR Survey research on fear of crime is extensive, but investigators have employed a bewildering variety of questions to measure fear. Indeed, more than 100 distinct questions have been employed in studies of fear during the past two decades (see Ferraro and LaGrange, 1987; DuBow et al., 1979). Much of this diversity stems from variation in the context stipulated in survey questions. Some questions measure fear during the day; others, at night. Some pertain to fear at home, whereas others question respondents about fear in their own neighborhood or in their city. Still others ask respondents about fear when alone or with others. Such sensitivity to context among researchers is admirable but is of little value unless the contextual variables are fully and systematically varied, and their effects assessed within the same, well-defined populations. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, and the variety of survey questions and samples used in measuring fear makes it difficult to assess the prevalence or magnitude of fear in the United States as a whole. Only one measure of fear has been applied routinely to national samples: Is there any area around here—that is, within a mile—where you would be afraid to walk alone at night? The question stipulates a rather narrow, if relatively clear, context. That is, the respondent is alone, it is nighttime, and the location is outside the home but within its general vicinity. The response categories (yes or no) permit only a crude assessment of the magnitude of fear among respondents, meaning that the question is better suited for measuring the prevalence rather than the magnitude of fear. The question has appeared intermittently in both the Gallup survey and the General Social Survey (GSS) since 1965 (Gallup, 1983; National Opinion Research Center, 1988). Figure 1 shows the response distributions (i.e., the percentage answering yes) from 1965 to 1988. Inspection of the plot reveals that fear of criminal victimization is quite prevalent in the general population. From year to year, roughly one-third to one-half of Americans are afraid of their local environment. The most striking feature of the plot, however, is the relative constancy of fear through the 1970s and 1980s. From 1965 to 1972, fear rose moderately, from a low of 31 percent in 1967 to 42 percent in 1972. During the 1970s and

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control FIGURE 1 Percentage of respondents afraid to walk alone at night, 1965-1988, and NCS violent crime rate, 1973-1987. SOURCE: Gallup (1983), National Opinion Research Center (1988), Jamieson and Flanagan (1989). 1980s, however, the range of variation in fear is merely 9 percent, and only 5 percent if 1982 is excluded. If the prevalence of fear is rather high, then, it has also remained quite stable during the past two decades. Data on trends in fear naturally invite comparisons with trends in crime rates. However, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) and from the National Crime Survey (NCS) do not concur closely as to recent trends in crime, and in any event, there are too few observations in the fear series for a rigorous time-series analysis. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the violent crime rate as measured by the NCS has been remarkably constant since 1973 (the first year of the NCS), as the lower plot in Figure 1 demonstrates. If we assume that the crimes that people fear outside the home (as stipulated in the Gallup/GSS question) are offenses against the person, then there appears to be no major disparity between trends in fear and trends in violent crime as measured by the NCS. OFFENSE-SPECIFIC FEAR General measures of fear of the sort used in the GSS and Gallup surveys serve a useful purpose, but they suffer a major limitation. Although such measures tell us how afraid individuals or groups are, they do not tell us what they are afraid of. That is, such measures do not tell us the crime or crimes that individuals have

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control in mind when they report fear. Consequently, two individuals may report identical levels of fear, but that fear may arise in response to quite different crimes. An alternative to such omnibus measures of fear is to ask respondents to report their fear of a variety of specific crimes. Such data permit answers to one of the most critical questions about fear of crime: In any given population, what crimes are feared most, and which least? If the crimes that occur in our society were arranged according to the degree to which they are feared, which offenses would head the list, and how would the remaining crimes be arranged? The answer to that question has important policy implications (see below), but the question was unfortunately ignored for years because the answer seemed self-evident. That is, investigators largely assumed that crimes are feared in direct proportion to their seriousness, implying that violent crimes are feared more than property crimes. Although seemingly plausible, this argument is far less compelling than it first appears. As a general rule, the incidence and the seriousness of crimes are inversely related; the more serious an offense, the less frequently it occurs (cf. Erickson and Gibbs, 1979). Hence, if the seriousness of crimes were the only determinant of fear, individuals would fear most exactly those offenses that are least likely to happen to them. To use an analogy, this is a little like fearing injury from lightning strikes more than rush hour traffic. The seriousness of crimes, then, is not likely to be the sole determinant of fear. Drawing on this observation, Warr and Stafford (1983) proposed a model stipulating the degree to which different crimes are feared. According to this model, the degree to which a crime is feared depends on two factors—the perceived seriousness of the offense and the perceived risk of the offense (i.e., the subjective probability that it will occur). Neither of these factors, however, is itself a sufficient condition for fear. A serious crime will not be highly feared if it is viewed as unlikely, nor will a seemingly inevitable offense be highly feared if it is not serious. To provoke high fear, an offense must be viewed as both serious and likely, meaning that fear is a multiplicative function of perceived risk and perceived seriousness, that is, , WHERE is the mean fear of the jth offense, and , and , are the mean perceived risk and seriousness, respectively, of the jth offense. The multiplicative model of fear was tested by asking a sample of Seattle residents to report their everyday fear of becoming victims of different crimes, as well as the perceived risk and perceived

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control seriousness of each crime. Table 1 shows the mean fear scores (on a scale from 0 to 10) of the 16 offenses from the Warr and Stafford (1983) study, along with the mean perceived risk and perceived seriousness of the offenses (also rated on scales of 0 to 10). The most striking feature of these data is the order in which the offenses are feared. As the multiplicative model implies, there is no strong direct correlation between fear of the offenses and either perceived seriousness (R2 = .31) or perceived risk (R2 = .03). For example, murder, although perceived to be the most serious offense, ranked 10 among the 16 offenses on fear because of the very low perceived risk attached to murder. Indeed, respondents were more afraid of having juveniles disturb the peace than of being murdered. On the other hand, "having someone break into your home while you are away" was the offense most feared by Seattle residents, even though it carries no risk of personal injury. The high fear attached to residential burglary stemmed from the fact that it was viewed as both moderately serious and relatively likely to occur. The multiplicative model of fear proved to be a very accurate predictor of fear for these data, with R2 = .93. In addition, the standardized coefficients for perceived risk (1.02) and seriousness (1.05) were each quite close to 1.0, meaning that risk and seriousness carry essentially identical weight in producing fear. Other offense-specific data suggest that the hierarchy of offenses found in the Warr and Stafford study is not unique to Seattle. Data from a 1987 survey of Dallas residents show a close match with the Seattle data in the order in which offenses are feared (Warr, 1988), as do data from a recent national Gallup survey (Warr, 1993). Although the order in which crimes are feared is intrinsically interesting, it also has direct implications for public policy, particularly police policy. Suppose, for example, that to counteract public fear of crime, the police in a particular metropolitan area are given additional resources (e.g., manpower, hardware, salary) for the purpose of reducing crime and thereby (presumably) reducing fear. Where should these resources go? Public officials often seem to assume that the general public is most afraid of violent crime. Yet if the police decided to invest in the prevention of homicide, for example, their efforts would be largely wasted because homicide is not highly feared. A much more productive strategy would be to invest the money in reducing residential burglary. Reducing fear is not the only purpose of crime reduction, however, and that goal must be balanced against other goals or values (reducing

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control TABLE 1 Mean Fear, Perceived Risk, and Perceived Seriousness of 16 Offenses Among Seattle Respondents   Fear Perceived Risk Perceived Seriousness Expected Fear   Description of Offense Mean Rank Mean Rank Mean Rank (PR = 5)a Rank 1. Having someone break into your home while you are away 5.86 1 4.50 2 7.20 8 7.26 8 2. Being rapedb 5.62 2 2.51 11 9.33 2 9.86 2 3. Being hit by a drunk driver while driving your car 5.11 3 3.57 6 7.66 5 7.81 5 4. Having someone break into your home while you are home 4.49 4 2.72 8 7.72 4 7.88 4 5. Having something taken from you by force 4.05 5 2.61 9 7.48 7 7.59 7 6. Having strangers loiter near your home late at night 4.02 6 3.83 5 4.35 13 4.01 13 7. Being threatened with a knife, club, or gun 4.00 7 2.57 10 8.25 3 8.52 3 8. Having a group of juveniles disturb the peace near your home 3.80 8 4.25 3 4.30 14 3.95 14 9. Being beaten up by a stranger 3.59 9 2.12 14 7.63 6 7.77 6 10. Being murdered 3.39 10 1.29 15 9.66 1 10.27 1 11. Having your car stolen 3.35 11 2.72 8 5.77 10 5.59 10 12. Being cheated or conned out of your money 2.50 12 2.16 13 5.55 11 5.34 11 13. Being approached by people begging for money 2.19 13 6.73 1 2.15 16 1.74 16 14. Receiving an obscene phone call 2.07 14 3.87 4 3.18 15 2.77 15 15. Being sold contaminated food 1.96 15 2.24 12 5.53 12 5.32 12 16. Being beaten up by someone you know 1.04 16 0.83 16 6.17 9 6.05 9 a PR = perceived risk. b Female respondents only. SOURCE: Warr and Stafford (1983).

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control personal injury, enforcing community moral standards) that generally give priority to violent offenses. Moreover, although it is true that violent crimes are not uniformly feared more than other offenses, it would be a serious mistake to ignore such crimes because of the enormous fear they are capable of producing. The last column in Table 1 shows the expected fear score for each of the offenses under the multiplicative model, with perceived risk set to an arbitrary constant (i.e., 5). If all crimes were perceived to be equally likely, as in this example, violent crimes would clearly outweigh all other forms of crime in the fear they evoke. That is an unlikely scenario, to be sure, but the point is that even moderate increases in the perceived risk of violent victimization have the potential to increase fear enormously. SOCIAL DISTRIBUTION OF FEAR One of the most distinctive features of fear of victimization is that fear, like victimization itself, is not randomly distributed in the population. Evidence accumulated over the past two decades consistently indicates that fear is particularly pronounced in two groups: females and older individuals (Hindelang et al., 1978; Warr, 1984; Skogan and Maxfield, 1981; Baumer, 1978; Clemente and Kleiman, 1977; DuBow et al., 1979). In their three-city survey, for example, Skogan and Maxfield (1981) found that the proportion of respondents who felt "very unsafe" walking alone in their neighborhood at night rose from 7 percent among those aged 18-20 to 41 percent among those over 60, and although 6 percent of males reported such fear, the figure increased to 23 percent among females. Hindelang et al. (1978) report much the same results, but they also note that the association between fear and age is much stronger among males than among females. These patterns are quite evident in the GSS data. The sex difference in responses to the fear item is very large, with 22 percent of males and 60 percent of females responding yes in the cumulative (1972-1987) file. Among females, this proportion is rather constant across age groups, varying no more than 6 percent. Among males, however, the age gradient is much more marked, increasing from 14 percent among those under 20 to 32 percent among those over 60. How can such large sex and age differentials in fear be explained? One possible explanation is that females and the elderly are more afraid than others because they face the greatest objective risk of victimization. In fact, however, exactly the opposite

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control curtailing normal forms of social intercourse (shopping, pedestrian traffic), might not such reputations cause or prolong the problems they imply? Although the focus of this paper has been on fear of victimization among the general public, it would be of interest to examine fear within special populations, such as prison populations; those in mental institutions; or active, violent offenders in the free world. Such data are generally unavailable, with one notable exception. In a multistate survey of imprisoned felons, Wright and Rossi (1986:138) found that the reasons given by felons for purchasing and carrying firearms had less to do with committing crimes than with protecting themselves from the dangerous persons who inhabit their everyday world. All the evidence we have assembled, therefore, points to the same conclusion, namely, that gun criminals carried guns at least as much to protect themselves against the uncertainties of their environment as to prey upon the larger population. That these men inhabit a violent and hostile world is easy to demonstrate. Over 70% of them had been involved in assaults; over 50% had gotten into bar fights; about 40% had been stabbed with a knife; 52% reported having been shot at with a gun. … Even when it came to committing crimes, felons reported that a principal purpose of using a firearm was to protect themselves from injury by victims. Judging from Wright and Rossi's work, then, fear of victimization is not limited to the law-abiding segment of the population and, in a strangely ironic twist, may actually be more common or intense among those who employ violence as an occupational tool. As noted at the outset of this paper, one form of fear that merits special attention is fear for others, or what might be called altruistic (as opposed to egoistic, or personal) fear. Perhaps no aspect of fear deserves more immediate attention than altruistic fear. One reason is that many of the behaviors that investigators commonly construe to be self-protective may in fact be primarily intended to protect others. Home security precautions are an obvious example (as is participation in neighborhood programs), but virtually any avoidance or precautionary behavior may have the intent or effect of protecting significant others. Another reason, noted earlier, is that the consequences of altruistic fear may be quite distinct from those of egoistic fear. The latter, after all, encompasses but a single individual, whereas altruistic fear may extend to a substantial number of persons and, consequently, may provoke more determined and perhaps more extreme safety precautions.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Furthermore, although we may surmise that many adults feel some confidence in their ability to protect their own security, it is probably true that they feel considerably less capable of protecting the safety of others, particularly those, such as children, who cannot readily protect themselves. Also, if one social consequence of fear is a loss of confidence in social institutions, then it is entirely possible that concern about the safety of loved ones may do more to erode such confidence than fear for oneself. Finally, there is a compelling need for routine, nationwide measurements of fear in the United States. Such measurements should be obtained by using survey questions that (1) measure offense-specific fear; (2) capture the magnitude or intensity as well as the prevalence of fear; (3) cover the full range of contexts (e.g., home, work, commuting, shopping) in which fear is experienced; (4) contain both current and retrospective measures of fear; and (5) measure both personal fear and altruistic fear (i.e., by asking respondents to identify the persons—spouse, children—for whom they are afraid and the intensity of fear that they feel for each individual). Such data could be collected on an annual basis in the United States through a supplement to the National Crime Survey. Because fear is not a rare phenomenon (like some forms of victimization), the full NCS sample is not needed; the supplement could be administered to a small subset (perhaps 5%) of the NCS sample each year. OTHER ISSUES As we have seen in this paper, Americans are routinely exposed to numerous communications about violence, both through the mass media and through social networks. At present, however, little is known about how these two sources of information differ in their content, frequency, credibility, and consequences. Although it seems likely that people commonly receive information through both channels, investigators have typically focused on one source while ignoring the other. Consequently, there is a need for research that examines all of the messages that individuals receive about violence, as well as the ways in which such messages supplement, contradict, or override one another. In addition to media and interpersonal messages about violence, such research must also consider the environmental cues to danger that people encounter in their everyday lives. Exploratory work by the author points to a rather large variety of cues that evoke fear (e.g., liquor stores, litter and garbage, graffiti, abandoned buildings),

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control but beyond merely identifying such cues, several questions about them need to be answered. Is there a general social consensus on the meaning of such cues, or does their meaning vary from one subgroup of the population (e.g., urban residents, victims, males) to the next? Are some cues to danger offense-specific (suggesting a particular offense such as rape or robbery), whereas others are general (nonspecific) signs of danger? How is exposure to such cues distributed in the general population, and can individuals become habituated to such cues? Another topic that merits more attention is the perceived seriousness of offenses. Perhaps the most striking deficiency in seriousness research is the absence of longitudinal data on judgments of seriousness. In recent years a number of social movements or public campaigns have arisen for the purpose of altering public opinion about certain offenses, including child abuse, drunk driving, rape, spouse abuse, white-collar crime, and drug use (e.g., Rose, 1977; Pfohl, 1977; Ferraro, 1989). For example, one of the principal goals of the women's movement during the past two decades has been to clearly establish rape as a violent crime, and groups such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) have sought to increase the perceived seriousness of driving while intoxicated. Yet it is impossible to assess the effects of such movements on public opinion without longitudinal data on the perceived seriousness of crimes. To date, the only longitudinal study is that of Cullen et al. (1982), who found evidence of substantial increases in the seriousness ranking of white-collar crimes during the 1970s. A second question concerning seriousness is more fundamental. That is, what is the perceived seriousness of offenses? When individuals rate the seriousness of an act, what property or attribute of the act are they in fact evaluating? Some investigators equate judgments of seriousness with normative (i.e., moral) evaluations of acts (Rossi et al., 1974), whereas others take them to be factual assessments of the harm or damage suffered by the victim (Wolfgang et al., 1985). Recent evidence indicates that the general public distinguishes between the wrongfulness and the harmfulness of offenses, and that certain classes of crime (e.g., property crime) are perceived to be more wrong than harmful, whereas others (e.g., public order offenses) are perceived to be more harmful than wrong (Warr, 1989). The distinction between wrongfulness and harmfulness may be critical in answering certain questions about the seriousness of crimes. To illustrate, does the general public consider mens rea (criminal intent) in evaluating the seriousness of a crime? It is reasonable to suppose that criminal

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control intent has little effect on the perceived harmfulness of an offense (an accidental homicide, for example, is still a homicide), but a good deal to do with moral evaluations of crimes. Similarly, the distinction between wrongfulness and harmfulness may prove critical in assessing the effect of such variables as victim vulnerability and victim/offender relations. Although there is a good deal of research on both public preferences with regard to criminal penalties and public evaluations of the criminal justice system, there is no comparable body of research on public knowledge of the criminal justice system. What little research exists suggests that the American public is largely ignorant of the statutory punishments for crimes and has a limited understanding of the legal elements that constitute or differentiate criminal acts (Gibbs and Erickson, 1979; Williams et al., 1980). Further research in this area is sorely needed, for at least two reasons. First, to the extent that legal punishments serve the purpose of general deterrence, their deterrent effects cannot be realized if the general public is unaware or misinformed about such punishments. A legislature that imposes a five-year minimum mandatory sentence for armed robbery, for example, can scarcely hope for a deterrent effect if the public is unaware of this change. Second, public evaluations of the criminal justice system must be interpreted in light of public knowledge of that system. Public demand for longer prisons sentences, for example, is far more compelling if the public is aware of the costs of imprisonment and is not seriously misinformed about current sentencing practices. NOTE 1.   Some of the research reported in this paper was prepared exclusively for the panel and has not been previously published. The data come from surveys of Seattle and Dallas conducted by the author and described in Warr (1984, 1989, 1990) and related papers. REFERENCES Baumer, T.L. 1978 Research on fear of crime in the United States. Victimology 3 (3-4):254-264. Bennett, S.F., and P.J. Lavrakas 1989 Community-based crime prevention: An assessment of the

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Eisenhower Foundation's neighborhood program. Crime and Delinquency 35:345-364. Biderman, A., L. Johnson, J. McIntyre, and A. Weir 1967 Report on a Pilot Study in the District of Columbia on Victimization and Attitudes Toward Law Enforcement. Field Surveys I of the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Blumstein, A., and J. Cohen 1980 Sentencing convicted offenders: An analysis of the public's view. Law and Society Review 14:223-261. Brown, R.M. 1979 The American vigilante tradition. Pp. 153-185 in H.D. Graham and T.R. Gurr, eds., Violence in America: Historical and Comparative Perspectives. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. Clemente, F., and M. Kleiman 1977 Fear of crime in the United States: A multivariate analysis. Social Forces 56:519-531. Cohen, M.A. 1988 Some new evidence on the seriousness of crime. Criminology 26:343-352. Conklin, J.E. 1975 The Impact of Crime. New York: Macmillan. Cullen, F.T., B.G. Link, and C.W. Polanzi 1982 The seriousness of crime revisited: Have attitudes toward white-collar crime changed? Criminology 20:83-102. Dominick, J.R. 1973 Crime and law enforcement on prime time television. Public Opinion Quarterly 37:241-250. 1978 Crime and law enforcement in the mass media. Pp. 105-128 in C. Winick, ed., Deviance and Mass Media. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. DuBow, F., E. McCabe, and G. Kaplan. 1979 Reactions to Crime: A Critical Review of the Literature. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Durkheim, E. 1933 The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by G. Simpson. New York: Free Press. Elias, R. 1986 The Politics of Victimization: Victims, Victimology, and Human Rights. New York: Oxford University Press. Erickson, M.L., and J.P. Gibbs 1979 Community tolerance and measures of delinquency. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 17:55-79. Erickson, M.L., J.P. Gibbs, and G.F. Jensen 1977 The deterrence doctrine and the perceived certainty of legal punishments. American Sociological Review 42:305-317.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Ericson, R.V., P.M. Baranek, and J.B.L. Chan 1987 Visualizing Deviance: A Study of News Organization. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Federal Bureau of Investigation 1993 Uniform Crime Reports—1992. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Ferraro, K.J. 1989 Policing woman battering. Social Problems 36:61-74. Ferraro, K.F., and R. LaGrange 1987 The measurement of fear of crime. Sociological Inquiry 57:70-101. Fishman, M. 1978 Crime waves as ideology. Social Problems 25:531-543. 1981 Police news: Constructing an image of crime. Urban Life 9:371-394. Flanagan, T.J., and K.M. Jamieson 1988 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics—1987. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Fletcher, G.P. 1988 A Crime of Self-Defense: Bernhard Goetz and the Law on Trial. New York: Free Press. Gallup, G. 1983 The Gallup Report, Report No. 210. Princeton, N.J.: The Gallup Poll. 1985 The Gallup Report, Report No. 239. Princeton, N.J.: The Gallup Poll. Garofalo, J. 1977 Public Opinion About Crime: The Attitudes of Victims and Nonvictims in Selected Cities. Law Enforcement Assistance Administration. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Garofalo, J., and M. McLeod 1989 The structure and operation of neighborhood watch programs in the United States. Crime and Delinquency 35:326-344. Gibbs, J.P., and M.L. Erickson. 1979 Conceptions of criminal and delinquent acts. Deviant Behavior 1:71-100. Godbey, G., A. Patterson, and L. Brown 1979 The Relationship of Crime and Fear of Crime Among the Aged to Leisure Behavior and Use of Public Leisure Services. Washington, D.C.: Andrus Foundation. Gordon, M., and L. Heath. 1981 The news business, crime, and fear. Pp. 227-250 in D.A. Lewis, ed., Reactions to Crime. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. Gottfredson, S.D., K.L. Young, and W.S. Laufer 1980 Additivity and interactions in offense seriousness scales. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 17:26-41.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Graber, D.A. 1980 Crime News and the Public. New York: Praeger. Gubrium, J.F. 1974 Victimization in old age: Available evidence and three hypotheses. Crime and Delinquency 20:245-250. Hamilton, V.L., and S. Rytina 1980 Social consensus on norms of justice: Should the punishment fit the crime? American Journal of Sociology 85:1117-1144. 1981 On philosophical distinctions and observed judgements. American Journal of Sociology 87:435-437. Heath, L. 1984 Impact of newspaper crime reports on fear of crime: A multimethodological investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 47(2):263-276. Hindelang, M.J., M.R. Gottfredson, and J. Garofalo 1978 Victims of Personal Crime: An Empirical Foundation for a Theory of Personal Victimization. Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger. Holahan, C.J 1982 Environmental Psychology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall. Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research 1982 ABC News Poll of Public Opinion on Crime, December 1982. Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, University of Michigan. Jacoby, J.E., and C.S. Dunn 1987 National Survey on Punishment for Criminal Offenses: Executive Summary. Paper prepared for the National Conference on Punishment for Criminal Offenses, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Jamieson, K.M, and T.J. Flanagan 1989 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics—1988. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Klecka, W.R., and G.F. Bishop 1978 Neighborhood Profiles of Senior Citizens in Four American Cities: A Report of Findings to the National Council of Senior Citizens. Washington, D.C.: National Council of Senior Citizens. LeJeune, R., and N. Alex 1973 On being mugged: The event and its aftermath. Urban Life and Culture 2:259-287. Ley, D. 1974 The Black Inner City as Frontier Outpost. Washington, D.C.: Association of American Geographers. Lichter, L.S., and S.R. Lichter. 1983 Prime Time Crime. Washington, D.C.: The Media Institute. Lurigio, A.J., and D.P. Rosenbaum 1986 Evaluation research in community crime prevention: A critical look at the field. Pp. 19-44 in D.P. Rosenbaum, ed., Community

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Crime Prevention: Does It Work? Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. Mayes, A. 1979 The physiology of fear and anxiety. Pp. 24-55 in W. Sluckin, ed., Fear in Animals and Man. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. McDowall, D., and C. Loftin. 1983 Collective security and the demand for legal handguns. American Journal of Sociology 88:1146-1161. McGarrell, E.F, and T.J. Flanagan 1985 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics—1984. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Miethe, T.D., 1982 Public consensus on crime seriousness: Normative structure or methodological artifact? Criminology 20:515-526. National Institute of Education 1978 Violent Schools—Safe Schools: The Safe School Study Report to the Congress, Vol. I. Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Education. National Opinion Research Center 1988 General Social Surveys, 1972-1987: Cumulative Codebook. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center. Pfohl, S.J. 1977 The ''discovery" of child abuse. Social Problems 24:310-323. President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice 1967 The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Pyle, G.F. 1980 Systematic sociospatial variation in perceptions of crime location and severity. Pp. 219-45 in D.E. Georges-Abeyie and K.D. Harris, eds., Crime: A Spatial Perspective. New York: Columbia University Press. Quinney, R. 1970 The Social Reality of Crime. Boston: Little, Brown. Reiss, A.J. 1967 Studies in Crime and Law Enforcement in Major Metropolitan Areas . Field Surveys III, Part 1, of the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Research and Forecasts 1980 The Figgie Report on Fear of Crime, Part 1: The General Public . Willoughby, Ohio: ATO, Inc. Rose, V.M. 1977 Rape as a social problem: A byproduct of the feminist movement. Social Problems 25:75-89. Rosenbaum, D.P. 1986 Community Crime Prevention: Does it Work? Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control 1988 Community crime prevention: A review and synthesis of the literature. Justice Quarterly 5:323-395. Roshier, B. 1973 The selection of crime news by the press. Pp. 28-39 in S. Cohen and J. Young, eds., The Manufacture of News. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. Rossi, P.H., and J.P. Henry 1980 Seriousness: A measure for all purposes? Pp. 489-405 in M. Klein and J. Teilman, eds., Handbook of Criminal Justice Evaluation. Beverly Hills, Calif. : Sage Publications. Rossi, P.H., E. Waite, C.E. Bose, and R.E. Berk 1974 The seriousness of crimes: Normative structure and individual differences. American Sociological Review 39:224-247. Savitz, L.D., M. Lalli, and L. Rosen 1977 City Life and Delinquency—Victimization, Fear of Crime and Gang Membership. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Sheley, J.S., and C.D. Ashkins 1981 Crime, crime news, and crime views. Public Opinion Quarterly 45:492-506. Sherizen, S. 1978 Social creation of crime news: All the news fitted to print. Pp. 203-224 in C. Winick, ed., Deviance and Mass Media. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. Silberman, C.E. 1980 Criminal Violence, Criminal Justice. New York: Vintage Books. Skogan, W.G. 1977 Public policy and fear of crime in large American cities. Pp. 1-18 in J.A. Gardiner, ed., Public Law and Public Policy. New York: Praeger. 1981 On attitudes and behaviors. Pp. 19-45 in D.A. Lewis, ed., Reactions to Crime. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. 1984 Reporting crimes to the police: The status of world research. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 21:113-137. Skogan, W.G., and M.G. Maxfield 1981 Coping with Crime: Individual and Neighborhood Reactions. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications. Sluckin, W. 1979 Fear in Animals and Man. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Smith, C.J., and G.E. Patterson 1980 Cognitive mapping and the subjective geography of crime. Pp. 205-218 in D.E. Georges-Abeyie and K.D. Harris, eds., Crime: A Spatial Perspective. New York: Columbia University Press. Smith, D.A., and C.D. Uchida 1988 The social organization of self-help: A study of defensive weapon ownership. American Sociological Review 53:94-102.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Stafford, M.C., and O.R. Galle 1984 Victimization rates, exposure to risk, and fear of crime. Criminology 22:173-185. Taub, R.P., D.G Taylor, and J.D. Dunham 1984 Paths of Neighborhood Change: Race and Crime in Urban America . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Thomas, C.W., R.J. Cage, and S.C. Foster 1976 Public opinion on criminal law and legal sanctions: An examination of two conceptual models. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 67:110-116. Thomson, R. 1979 The concept of fear. Pp. 1-23 in W. Sluckin, ed., Fear in Animals and Man. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics 1987 National Crime Surveys: Victim Risk Supplement, 1983. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. 1992 Criminal Victimization in the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice. Vidmar, N., and P.C. Ellsworth. 1982 Research on attitudes toward capital punishment. Pp. 68-84 in H.A. Bedau, ed., The Death Penalty in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Walker, S. 1983 The Police in America. New York: McGraw-Hill. Warr, M. 1980 The accuracy of public beliefs about crime. Social Forces 59:456-470. 1981 Which norms of justice? A commentary on Hamilton and Rytina. American Journal of Sociology 85:433-435. 1984 Fear of victimization: Why are women and the elderly more afraid? Social Science Quarterly 65:681-702. 1985 Fear of rape among urban women. Social Problems 32:238-250. 1987 Fear of victimization and sensitivity to risk. Journal of Quantitative Criminology 3:29-46. 1988 The Hierarchy of Fear: A Comparison of Two Cities. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Sociology, University of Texas, Austin. 1989 What is the perceived seriousness of crimes? Criminology 27:795-821. 1990 Dangerous situations: Social context and fear of victimization. Social Forces 68:891-907. 1993 Fear of victimization. The Public Perspective 5(1):25-28. Warr, M., and M.C. Stafford 1983 Fear of victimization: A look at the proximate causes. Social Forces 61:1033-1043. 1984 Public goals of punishment and support for the death penalty. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 21:95-111.

OCR for page 1
Understanding and Preventing Violence: Volume 4 - Consequences and Control Warr, M., J.P. Gibbs, and M.L. Erickson 1982 Contending theories of criminal law: Statutory penalties versus public preferences. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 19:25-46. Warr, M., R.F. Meier, and M.L. Erickson 1983 Norms, theories of punishment, and publicly preferred penalties for crimes. Sociological Quarterly 24:75-91. White, G.F. 1975 Public responses to hypothetical crimes: Effect of offender status and seriousness of the offense on punitive reactions. Social Forces 53:411-419. Williams, K.R., J.P. Gibbs, and M.L. Erickson 1980 Public knowledge of statutory penalties: The extent and basis of accurate perception. Pacific Sociological Review 23:105-128. Wolfgang, M.E., R.M. Figlio, P.E. Tracy, and S.I. Singer 1985 The National Survey of Crime Severity. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Wright, J.D., and P.H. Rossi 1986 Armed and Considered Dangerous. New York: Aldine. Wright, J.D., P.H Rossi, and K. Daly 1983 Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime, and Violence in America. New York: Aldine.