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"We should leave fear alone as a natural response to crime unless it reaches that chronic or phobic level," Chris Melde says. "That's when you want to intervene." (Credit: patrick wilken/Flickr)


Your fear of crime might keep you safe

A new study challenges the idea that it’s unhealthy to be afraid of crime. Researchers say a little fear may help keep you safe.

Young people who are more fearful of crime are less apt to become victims or offenders of violent acts, says Chris Melde, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University. Fearful youth tend to avoid potentially dangerous people, locations, and activities such as drug-fueled parties.


Instead of trying to reduce this fear, Melde says, law enforcement agencies should focus on direct anti-crime initiatives and providing details on which crimes are most likely to occur and where. This would help citizens become better informed on issues that could affect their routine activities and safety.

“If we’re going to reduce crime and victimization, we should present people with an accurate assessment of crime and delinquency in local areas,” advises Melde. “Policies aimed at fear reduction are not likely to be effective crime-reduction strategies.”

Victims and offenders

Melde studied more than 1,600 youth from across the United States during a one-year period. He found that respondents who reported more fear were less likely to be involved in violent acts such as assaults, robberies and gang fights. The study appears online in the journal Justice Quarterly.

Interestingly, the results held for both victims and offenders. That’s because the two groups often come from the same pool of people, which is called the victim-offender overlap. While there are “pure” victims, Melde notes, disentangling victim from offender could come down to determining who started a street fight.

The findings relate to situations people can avoid, Melde says, and not to the types of victimization that deal with one person’s power over another, such as child abuse and domestic violence.

“We should leave fear alone as a natural response to crime unless it reaches that chronic or phobic level,” Melde says. “That’s when you want to intervene.”

Source: Michigan State University

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