murders. In their words, ''the processes which lead victims' stories to 'get around' seem to accentuate the apparent volume of personal as opposed to property crime" (Skogan and Maxfield, 1981:155).
Earlier we noted that the propensity to talk about crime does not vary significantly among sociodemographic groups. However, if talking about crime is a rather general phenomenon, it does not necessarily follow that knowledge of victims is also distributed equally in the population. Rather dramatic evidence of this fact comes from the 1988 General Social Survey. Whereas 10 percent of respondents reported that they personally knew a victim of homicide during the previous year, blacks were fully three times more likely to know at least one victim of homicide than whites (24 versus 8%). These same data also indicate that the social channels through which crime news passes can be very restrictive indeed. Of the homicide victims known to blacks, fully 98 percent were black. Of those victims known to whites, only 4 percent were black. Social differentials in the propensity to know victims were also detected by Skogan and Maxfield (1981:156), who found that "personal contact with victims increased toward the bottom of the income ladder and among Black." Higher-income respondents, however, were more likely to know victims of burglary, evidently reflecting the wider social distribution of burglary victims.
Does knowing (or knowing about) crime victims increase people's personal fear of victimization? Three studies designed to answer this question (Klecka and Bishop, 1989; Skogan, 1977; Skogan and Maxfield, 1981) all provide affirmative answers. However, Skogan and Maxfield (1981) note that the effect of knowing victims on fear is most pronounced among those who know local victims (e.g., neighbors or family members). Fear is also enhanced, they report, when individuals and the victims they know share similar characteristics (i.e., age and sex). Fear was most strongly associated with knowing victims of robbery, but knowledge of burglary victims was more common and, consequently, affected a larger number of individuals.
Although knowing crime victims appears to increase fear, firm conclusions on this matter are not yet warranted. The reason is that the probability of knowing crime victims in one's neighborhood, block, or city is likely to be affected by the crime rate, which may itself affect fear through mechanisms other than interpersonal diffusion of crime information. Unfortunately, no study has as yet controlled for such confounding effects; hence the unique effect of interpersonal diffusion on fear is yet to be established.