Public opinion, Victims and the Fear of Crime (Forensic Psychology)


Today’s psychology blog post is on Forensic Psychology and it focuses on the fear of crime and why people are scared of becoming victims of crime.


Hi everyone, I hope that you’re having a great day.


Personally, I love this area of forensic psychology because I find it very finding.

Below is an extract from my Forensic Psychology book and over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some in-between psychology podcast episodes focusing on helping you during COVID-19.


Victims and fear of crimes:

Public and crime are honestly one of my favourite topics in forensic psychology because I love to learn how flawed the public’s knowledge is and the impacts that has on the Criminal Justice System. Hence, why that will be our focus for this chapter.


Firstly, the path from committing the crime to punishment is very complex and it must be remembered that crime is a social problem as well.


To emphasize the complexity of the process from committing a crime to punishment. Here are the stages of crime. (Ainsworth, 2000)

· Will the victim notice crime?

· Will the victim report crime?

· Will the police record the crime?

· Will the offender caught?

· Will the offender be prosecuted?

· Will the perpetrator be found guilty?

· Will the perpetrator be sentenced?


As you can see, the path to punishment isn’t straight forward as the case can be dropped or no undetected at any point.


Public and crime:

In addition to the crime being a social problem, crime is a public issue. Meaning that public opinion affects the justice system. Therefore, public concern needs to understand as it may affect how justice is delivered.


However, the public’s perception of rates of crime is often inaccurate. (Ainsworth and Moss, 20002) and it's unrealistic to expect the public to have accurate perceptions. (Howitt, 1992, 1986)


The public’s perception of crime is that society is becoming increasingly criminal and risky. (Doherty, 1990)


Whereas in reality, crime rates have been decreasing throughout history, but recently certain types of crime are on the rise.


Meaning that the public’s perception is wrong.

Fear of crime:

Let’s face it, the public fear crime and becoming victims of crime.


As a result of this fear of crime, politicians and others use this fear in political contexts to gain favour and governments may actively try to influence it.


The reason for this influencing and political interest is because if there’s less fear then the government is doing a perceived better job of tackling crime.


In other words, this is another example of politicians telling the public half-truths in an effort to gain favour and stay in power.


Where does the fear of crime come from?

There are many different sources of this fear. Such as Mass media plays a big role as they focus on the most serious of crimes. Meaning that you think that these major crimes are happening more often than they naturally occur.


Another example is direct knowledge of crimes were a crime has affected us directly and we have learned from that experience. For example, a crime in our community, a crime against a family member or even a crime against ourselves.


Finally, there are aspects of our personality and social characteristics that make us more likely to be fearful of crime.


For example, Bazzargan (1994) found that feeling lonely, having a poor education, believing that your neighbours are untrustworthy and having a lack of vigilance increased the likelihood in you becoming fearful of crime.


Fear-victimisation paradox (Clark, 2004)

That fact shows that being fearful of crime is somewhat unneeded as this paradox shows that there are no relationships between rates of crimes and victimisation.


Here’s an example, women are more fearful of crime than men. (Stanko, 1995) but men are actually most at risk of attack by a stranger.


Hence, demonstrating how being fearful of crime doesn’t always mean that you will become a victim of crime.


Crime phobia (Clark, 2004)

Many people who are fearful of crimes say that they have a phobia. I know that this is what some of my older family has said as they can be very fearful at times about crime. Especially, after a terror attack.


However, the research suggests that the fear of crime isn’t like a phobia because the fear of crime isn’t dysfunctional or irrational.


Media bias:

In my opinion, this idea of media bias is one of the most important topics in Forensic Psychology because media bias; as you will see throughout the book; is linked with a lot of public knowledge.


As we use the media to learn about crime and other matters.


For example, if an individual has limited or very little opportunities to interact with a specific stereotyped group, then the individual will rely on the media’s portrayed of that group in order to learn more. (Sanghana & Wilson, 2006)


Furthermore, Media interest regarding crime and in particular sexual offending has grown dramatically (Quinn et al, 2000)


However, reported levels of sexual assault have remained constant over the years.


This is an example of the public believing that sex offending is increasing but in reality, it isn’t and the media is manipulating the public to believe in such ideas.


Finally, the media only likes to report sensational crimes.

Public opinion and Experts:

We will build upon this topic more in our next chapter but ideally, public opinion and experts

need to appreciate each other and co-exist.


However, with the government choosing to do ‘top of the head’ polls instead of deliberation polls for political gain then the government only gets a skewed version of public opinion. That they use for political gain and not the benefit of the people.


I hope that you’ve enjoyed this blog post and for more information on forensic psychology and criminal psychology, please check out my book Forensic Psychology for more information.

Please consider signing up for my newsletter to receive your FREE book.

Have a great day everyone!

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