. "Public Perceptions and Reactions to Violent Offending and Victimization." Understanding and Preventing Violence, Volume 4: Consequences and Control. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1994.
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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