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Fearing Youth and Fearing for Youth

April 10, 2013

Over a decade ago (and so, perhaps significantly(?), before 9/11), Rachel Pain reviewed the literature on “fear of crime as a phenomenon shaping the life of cities” (p.899), focusing on  “debates on race, age, gender and fear in the city, as these are the social identities which have received most attention.” (p.899). In it, she addressed the issue of age, which still makes for really interesting discussion:

“Issues of age have been the most contested area in the literature on social identity, fear of crime and use of public space. There has been a shift from focusing on older people’s fear of crime, to more recent recognition that young people are more at risk from and more [-p.908] affected by victimisation and fear. However, the two groups should not be studied in isolation, either from other social identities (as gender, class, race, sexual orientation and so on, structure differences in fear within each group) or each other. Age relations underlie many issues pertaining to both older and young people’s fear; it is not possible to understand children’s experiences of fear and space without reference to their parents and other carers, and older people’s use of space is influenced by discourses around youth and the behaviour and attitudes of younger people.

One of the most long-standing of these concerns is young people’s use and apparent domination of many urban public spaces. The presence of children and young people ‘hanging around’ in public places such as streets, parks and shopping malls is a widespread and recurrent moral panic in Western societies (Loader et al., 1998). It relates to the common association of youth with crime, and crises over rare but highly publicised incidents where children are involved in very serious violent crimes. But it also reflects deeper concerns about an apparent lack of social control over young people in contemporary society (Brown, 1995).” (pp.907-908)

She continues:

Such concerns feed into older people’s fear of crime, which was ‘discovered’ as a public issue by national crime surveys in Britain and North America. The crime surveys appeared to show that older people were more afraid of crime than younger people, despite being signiŽficantly less at risk. For example, people aged 16–24 are four times more likely to be burgled than people aged over 65, and three times more likely to be victims of vehicle-related theft (Mirrlees-Black et al., 1998). The differences in rates of violence are far greater still. OfŽficial crime statistics for Britain based on incidents recorded by the police show that people over 60 make up just 2 per cent of victims of violence against the person, 1 per cent of victims of rape and indecent assault, and 23 per cent of female victims and 7 per cent of male victims of robbery and theft from the person (Watson, 1996).” (p.908)

More recently, the orthodoxy that older people experience high fear of crime (Clarke and Lewis, 1982; Hough and Mayhew, 1983) has also been challenged. There is now widespread agreement that the issue has been misrepresented and that older people are not in general more fearful than anyone else (Ferraro, 1995; McCoy et al., 1996; Midwinter, 1990). As in other areas of fear of crime research, survey methodologies are partly held to blame for these mixed conclusions (see Farrall et al., 1997)….” (p.908)

As with stereotypes around race and fear, it is interesting to reflect on where the discourse of older people as particularly vulnerable and fearful comes from. Cook and Skogan (1990) have charted the rise and fall of the victimisation of older people as a policy issue in the US in the 1970s, arguing that once empirical evidence began to appear which showed that older people were actually at lower risk of crime than younger people, the idea that they had higher fear of crime and were more likely to be adversely affected by fear took over as a prominent concern in research and in Congressional debates. Others have been more explicit about the basis of the common connection of fear of crime and older people in societal ageism; it reflects wider images of older people as weak, dependent and at the mercy of the young (Midwinter, 1990; Pain, 1995).” (p.908)

“…evidence is growing about the extent of elder abuse, the physical, sexual, psychological and Ž nancial abuse of older people taking place in domestic or institutional contexts (McCreadie, 1996). As is the case for young people and women, older people are statistically more at risk in private rather than in public space, and those who suffer social exclusion because of low income, ill health or area of residence are most at risk of all. For the majority of older people, however, lower fear reflects their lower victimisation, as well as the fact that they are less likely to use the public spaces perceived as risky at the times considered most dangerous.” (p.909)

Young people, on the other hand, not only face higher risks of victimisation but also greater socialisation into fear, having grown up in a era when crime has become a major reason behind parental controls on children’s spatial and social experiences. A number of studies have highlighted high levels of child victimisation, both from adults and other children and young people, most of which is not reported to the police (see, for example, Anderson et al., 1990; Hartless et al., 1995). It has become clear too that the impacts of fear of crime are greater on children and young people.
In childhood, the main way fear impacts on use of space is through parental control. A sizeable body of work has focused on the restrictions which are increasingly placed on children’s access to public space because of parents’ worries about strangers and trafŽfic. Along with the growth in domestic-based popular culture and the erosion of outdoor playspaces for children, this means that children explore the outside world far less and  many do not have freedom to do so at all until a signiŽficantly later age than in the past. A number of implications have been noted (for example, see Hart, 1979; Hillman et al., 1990; Moore, 1986; Valentine and McKendrick, 1997). Children are considered to have less environmental knowledge, competence and confidence as a result.” (p.909)

Their movements are becoming increasingly restricted, with consequences for physical development and health as fewer walk or cycle, and for their social and emotional progress as it is argued that they are losing the chance to develop coping skills, a sense of responsibility for themselves, and to use their minds creatively.
By the time they are allowed autonomous mobility, adolescents have learned powerful lessons about safe places and spaces and safe times to be outside the home. Anderson et al. (1990) found that many of the children in their study had taken on their parents’ ideas about danger and that girls in particular would comply with their parents’ rules after a certain age and begin to regulate their own exposure to the places they had learned were dangerous.” (p.909)

“Ironically, most accidents and most of the violence which children suffer take place in the home, so warnings about danger which revolve around public space are spatially inappropriate.” (p.909)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Pain (2001) Gender, Race, Age and Fear in the City Urban Studies, Vol. 38, Nos 5–6, 899–913

Reference is to: COOK, F. L. and SKOGAN, W. G. (1990) Agenda setting and the rise and fall of policy issues: the case of criminal victimization of the elderly, Environment and Planning C, 8, pp. 395–415.

MIDWINTER, E. (1990) The old order: crime and older people. Centre for Policy on Ageing, London.

PAIN, R. H. (1995) Elderly women and violent crime: the least likely victims?, British Journal of Criminology, 35, pp. 584–598.


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