The Fear of Victimization-Paradox

Disproportional fear of women and the elderly - rational or irrational?

Seminar Paper, 2006

33 Pages, Grade: 17 Punkte (sehr gut)


List of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Description of the Paradox
2.1. Women
2.2. The elderly
2.3. Conclusion

3. Theoretical Explanations
3.1. Generalized Fear Hypothesis
3.1.1. Explaining the fear of women Generalized fear of sexual molestation and hidden violence Altruistic fear
3.1.2. Explaining the fear of the elderly
3.1.3. The role of the media
3.1.4. Indirect victimization
3.2. Vulnerability Hypothesis
3.2.1. Physical vulnerability
3.2.2. Social vulnerability
3.3. Differential Exposure Hypothesis

4. Valuation and personal suggestions

Supplement: Historical Completion
1. Offences against persons: the persecution of the Jews
2. Offences against public authority: the “Bundschuh”
3. Offences against property: the alchemist

Last consideration


1. Introduction

Regarding the fear of victimization, researchers soon found a disproportional high fear among women and elderly people. In this paper I do not only want to describe the different attempts of explanations dealing with these findings. I also want to test if and to what extend the single explanations fit to the fear of victimization among young German law students.

For that reason I developed a questionnaire with 13 questions. During a history of law – lecture I had 15 minutes to hand out my questionnaires among the first semester students. I chose the first semester, because I expected them to be mostly at the age between 18 and 25, so in order to compare women and young men, who – as we will see – differ enormously in their fear of victimization. After sorting out persons over 25, I received 122 questionnaires: 58 by young men and 64 by young women. Neither knowing many older persons nor having that much time for further research during the semester I focussed my own work on this comparison.

Although my questions are well thought-off and some of them even quotations of large surveys, this research cannot lay claim to be representative - and it does not want to be. To generalize my findings, the number of participants is on the one hand too small; on the other hand they all have more or less the same economic and social background. Dividing the students into smaller groups according to how they marked the questionnaire, the single groups left are certainly too small to be generalized. Of course one has to be careful with the results I received: Differences of three, four or five percent are almost inconsiderable. But on the other hand clear and obvious diversities even within this quite small group I asked indicate that differences to some extent indeed do exist. As I already mentioned, my aim was not to do a representative research - there are anyway lots of them – but to find out if and to what extend the attempts of explanations concerning the Fear of Victimization - Paradox fit to young German law students at the University of Tuebingen.

2. Description of the Paradox

First of all, the Fear of Victimization - Paradox is in the literature more commonly known as the Fear of Crime - Paradox.[1] But this is inexact: Speaking about the fear of crime, you have to distinguish between a person’s perception of his own chances of victimization and the individual estimation of the seriousness of criminal activity in society.[2] In this context the fear of crime is viewed just as fear of victimization. This is the cognitive dimension of fear of crime, the perception that one is vulnerable and exposed to victimization, and that victimization has serious consequences for oneself.[3] That’s why I prefer the term “Fear of Victimization – Paradox”.

Such fear is usually measured by the so called standard term. That is – with some formulation variants: “How safe do you feel when you walk alone in your community at night?” This question asks if the person is personally fearful of crime, and less if he or she is concerned about rising crime as a social issue. But the validity of this standard term is not undisputed: One the one hand, it does not contain the victimization as reference point of fear at all[4], on the other hand it is not able to cover public crime inside buildings.[5] Nevertheless it certainly contains aspects of fear of victimization and it enables former investigations to remain comparable to recent ones.[6]

Since the advent of systematic research on fear of victimization in the late 1960s, researchers have continually sought to explain the following finding:

Fear of crime of women and men in Germany ordered by age groups (in%)[7]:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

2.1. Women

Females, indicated in the table by the two lines drawn through, exhibit substantially higher fear of victimization than males – on average three times higher.

The question I used to measure the fear of victimization was the standard term: “How safe do you feel when you walk alone in your community at night?” The possible answers were: “safe”, “quite safe”, “quite unsafe” and “unsafe”:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The result regarding the young law students matches the already mentioned finding: 58 % of the women feel “unsafe” or “quite unsafe” – in contrast to just 10.3 % of the men – whereas almost 90 % of the young men marked “safe” or “quite safe”.

It is of course fair to assume that the high fear of women is founded on a high risk of victimization. The higher the possibility to become a victim, the higher the fear. Surprisingly investigations regarding the fear of victimization among women show the contrary: The fear is inverse proportional to the risk of victimization.[8]

One would then perhaps suppose that the fear of victimization is due to the experience of being victimized. The more often a person was victimized, the higher the fear. Whereas some researchers supposed a positive relation between fear of victimization and being victimized[9], a connection between actual victimization and fear of victimization could empirically not be proofed. Depending on different types of measurement, some authors reported a positive relationship between actual victimization and fear, some reported a weak correlation and some even a non-existent one.[10]

I also asked one question which refers to actual victimization. Because the possibility of having become a victim during the lifespan is higher when you are 25 years old than at the age of 18, I had to limit the time span: “Did you become a victim of a criminal offence (e.g. theft, bodily harm, damage to property, sexual assault etc.) during the last three years?” The possible answers were “yes” and “no”.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

73 % of the women who felt unsafe or quite unsafe and all of the fearful men have never been victimized. On the other hand, 15 % of the women and 18 % of the men of the safe/ quite safe group have already been victimized. A positive correlation of the fear of victimization with the experience of being victimized is not apparent.

2.2. The elderly

Who “the elderly” are, can surely not be decided objectively.[11] Speaking about “the elderly”, most empirical researches deal with persons at the age of more than 60 or 65 years.[12] The mentioned finding is also valid for the elderly[13]:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Empirically gathered data show that the elderly are generally less victimized than other age groups.[14] Corresponding to that, those offences which are supposed to primarily concern the elderly are among the smallest group of officially registered offences in Germany.[15] At the same time, the elderly are enormous fearful of being victimized.[16] As Clemente and Kleiman expressed, it “is reasonable to argue that for the older people fear of crime is even more of a problem than crime itself.”[17]

2.3. Conclusion

These findings lead to the so called “Fear of Victimization - Paradox”: Although women and the elderly are not disproportional often victimized and although their risk of victimization is the lowest, women and the elderly have the highest fear of victimization.

While the paradox is obvious for women and the elderly, it seems not to be valid concerning ethnic descent and income.[18]

In the face of this apparent paradox, investigators have advanced a variety of alternative explanations.

3. Theoretical Explanations

3.1. Generalized Fear Hypothesis

“Is fear of crime simply the fear of crime?”, asked Garofalo and Laub in 1978.[19] What they meant was, that - as researchers soon realized - the fear of becoming a victim is not a concern that can be analyzed in itself without considering the way that persons perceive others and society in general.[20] Convinced, that the fear of victimization is mixed up with a number of other fears and aggravations, both attempted to link the fear of crime with the quality of life. That included economic abundance, various social indicators, e.g. health service, environmental pollution and education as well as subjective indicators like individual happiness, satisfaction and personal well-being. In that way they showed that with the increase of general pessimism and depression the fear of victimization increased as well. Already in 1967 the President’s Commission wrote in its report, that “the tendency of many people to think of crime in terms of increasing moral deterioration is an indication that they are loosing their faith in their society”. The conclusion they drew was that the fear of victimization is just a manifestation of general uneasiness about the world, a metaphor for general anxiety and a substitute for social disorganisation.[21] The inadequate high fear among women and elderly was therefore declared “irrational”[22].

I also wanted to find out if there is a correlation between the fear of victimization and the general worrisome regarding law students. My question was: “How strongly do worries and physical symptoms impair your life, your work, your social activities and your family?” The possible answers were: “not at all”, “moderately”, “strong” and “very strong”.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

A bit less than half of the safe feeling men are “not at all” concerned – twice as much as the unsafe feeling women, whereas the safe feeling women is the second largest group. Furthermore the unsafe feeling women lead the “strong” – and together with the unsafe feeling men – the “moderately” scale. Hence a correlation between general worry and the fear of victimization among the law students cannot be denied.

3.1.1. Explaining the fear of women Generalized fear of sexual molestation and hidden violence

According to this theory, the discrepancy between fear and risk of victimization among women is firstly due to the fear of sexual molestation. Certainly rape occupies a central place in the fears of most women.[23] It is therefore realistic to hypothesize that the high fear of victimization among women is to a large extend strengthened by fear of sexual offences. Especially for younger women, “fear of crime is fear of rape”[24].

The fear of rape itself is strengthened by the warnings about the danger of sexual molestation. Mainly girls often receive the same advices of their parents: avoid strange men! Don’t be alone at night! Take care of you outside, lest “something terrible” should happen. Such fear leads to a generalized fear of the dark and of the loneliness. And this is exactly what is implied in the standard term.

Moreover women are exposed to a wide hidden violence, especially sexual assault behind closed door, which is not reported in official crime surveys.[25] Statistics show that men are about eleven times less likely than woman to experience “being forced to do something sexual” at home.[26] So the women’s higher fear of victimization may also be founded on an intertwining of general fear with fear of hidden sexual assault.


[1] Boers, 1991, p. 57.

[2] Giles-Sims, 1984, p. 223.

[3] Yin, 1985, p. 31.

[4] Ferraro/ La Grange, 1987, p. 77.

[5] Lindesay, 1991, p. 55.

[6] Greve/ Hosser/ Wetzels, 1996, p. 33.

[7] Source: public-opinion poll Heidelberg/Freiburg 1998

[8] For all: Boers, 1991, p. 57.

[9] Smith, 1976, pp. 203-219.

[10] for all: Hale, 1996, p. 104.

[11] „You are as old as you feel“, German proverb.

[12] Boers, 1991, p. 71.

[13] Source: Police Crime Statistics 2006 – Federal Republic of Germany.

[14] Yin, 1980, p. 499.

[15] Polizeiliche Kriminalststistik 2004.

[16] Lindquist/ Duke, 1982, p. 118.

[17] Clementa/ Kleiman, 1976, p. 207.

[18] Boers, 1991, p. 57.

[19] Garofalo/ Laub, 1978, p. 243.

[20] Brillon, 1987, p. 3.

[21] Kury/ Obergfell-Fuchs, 1998, p. 198.

[22] Hale, 1996, p. 100.

[23] Murck, 1980, p. 48.

[24] Warr, 1984, p. 700.

[25] Carcach/ Mukherjee, 1999, p. 2.

[26] Scott, 2003, p. 203.

Excerpt out of 33 pages


The Fear of Victimization-Paradox
Disproportional fear of women and the elderly - rational or irrational?
University of Tubingen  (Institut für Kriminologie)
XII. Post Graduate Course of Victimology, Victim Assistance and Criminal Justice, May 2006, Inter University Centre Dubrovnik, Croatia
17 Punkte (sehr gut)
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ISBN (Book)
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Fear, Victimization-Paradox, Post, Graduate, Course, Victimology, Victim, Assistance, Criminal, Justice, Inter, University, Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia
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Andreas Schaut (Author), 2006, The Fear of Victimization-Paradox, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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