Fear of crime as an issue has gained momentum over the past twenty to thirty years. When this issue first came about, researchers became interested in it as a source of discovering the "dark figure" of crime, that is, the crime that goes unreported. Fear of crime was theorized to be related to experiences of victimization, but this assumption was soon to be disputed. Researchers realized that numerous other factors played a role in the fear of crime, and thus research turned to discovering what these factors were.
Fear, in this paper, is defined as an anticipation of victimization, rather than fear of an actual victimization. This type of fear relates to how vulnerable a person feels. It is an "emotional reaction characterized by a sense of danger and anxiety produced by the threat of physical harm...elicited by perceived cues in the environment that relate to some aspect of crime" (Church Council, 1995, p. 7).
A substantial proportion of the Canadian population can relate to having a fear of crime. The majority of Canadians report feeling "very" or "somewhat" safe when walking alone in their neighbourhoods after dark, but there is a significant percentage of the population who do express some feelings that are the opposite to this. These expressions of insecurity come from a fear of crime and of being victimized. In the 1993 General Social Survey, respondents were asked how safe they feel walking alone in their neighbourhood at night. One in four Canadians 15 years of age or older answered that they did not feel safe. This figure represents four times as many women as men, and twice as many people aged 65 and over as those aged 15 to 24 (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS), March 1995, p. 1). In 1997, Borooah and Carcach found that women in Britain were six times more likely than men to feel unsafe when walking alone at night (p. 645).
The Angus Reid Report, completed in July and August of 1997, reports that fear is slightly more prevalent in today's society than it was in 1990. In 1997 in Canada, 23% of respondents reported no fear, 56% reported a little fear, 16% reported a fair amount of fear, and 5% reported a great deal of fear (p. 52). In 1990, however, 27% of respondents reported no fear, 53% reported a little fear, 13% reported a fair amount, and 6% reported a great deal of fear (p. 52). While fear among Canadians is increasing, the actual crime rate is decreasing. The crime rate has continued to decrease since 1991, and in 1996, the crime rate fell to a rate of 9,620 federal charges per 100,000 population, which is the approximate level it was ten years ago (CCJS, July 1997, p. 15). The levels of fear that are prevalent in today's society surpass what one would expect given decreasing crime rates.