Urban elderly women and fear of crime, a sociological analysis

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Christian, Cheryl
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As Canadians are exposed to more frightening images of crime, violence and victimization, it is not surprising that fear of crime is believed to be increasing. Stereotypical images of "vulnerable" elderly women who are "paralyzed" with fear and have become "prisoners in their own homes" have contributed to the assumption that this segment of our population is the most fearful. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of fear of crime among a group of elderly women, aged 65 and older, living alone in an urban environment. Using qualitative methodology, this research relied on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 20 women from Manitoba, Canada. Thematically, safety awareness emerged as a more appropriate conceptualization of the concern, worry and fear associated with personal safety and the safety of others. While these levels of safety awareness were not found to be salient problems for the participants, accommodations to safety were extensive. An exploration of the shape of fear revealed the characteristics of fear and identified the signs of alarm frequently associated with fear. Theoretically, the concept of safety awareness was situated within the social disorder perspective and Goffman's (1971) conceptual framework of normal appearances. The limitations associated with traditional fear of crime measures are discussed and recommendations made regarding future research and the need for more appropriate measurement. The implications of this research address the environmental and social factors associated with fear. Practical suggestions are made concerning the way in which elderly women respond to fearful situations.