Colette Browne: Perceptions that crime is an escalating problem persist
A DUBLIN pensioner who was scammed out of her life-savings during the week has neatly encapsulated the affect of crime on many elderly victims.
“I’ve been shaking with fear and fright ever since (it happened),” said 83-year-old Kathleen Byrne. A neighbour later revealed that she had visited her doctor because she felt so unwell.
Exacerbating her feelings of shock and trauma was the fact that she blamed herself for being duped.
When men called to her home and offered to clean her roof for €120 she agreed. She then felt bullied into handing over €3,000 when they claimed it was urgently required for significant repairs.
“I’m not with it this weather. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said, in a faltering voice. It’s hard to comprehend the cruelty and callousness of those who would victimise a frail elderly woman.
However, their abuse of her extends to far more than merely stealing her meagre savings.
They have destroyed her peace of mind, harmed her health and made her feel vulnerable and scared in her own home.
Additionally, while the theft of Kathleen’s money will comprise just one statistic in next year’s crime figures, its effects will ripple through her local community and further afield.
Her friend and neighbour, Matt Tierney, broke down when he was speaking on ‘Liveline’ about the theft because he was so upset.
Many elderly listeners, hearing what had happened, will also now be much more fearful about their own security and safety.
While elderly people are statistically less likely to be victims of crime, their fear of crime is much greater than other sections of society.
This is due to many factors: the fact that many live alone, may be in poor health and dependent on others for assistance or feel isolated and alone.
One study, conducted among elderly people living in Galway after a spate of robberies, found that while only 5pc had been victims of crime, 72pc reported feeling anxious and upset.
These were not just fleeting fears of little consequence. They were long-lasting and had a considerable and detrimental impact on their lives.
Of those who reported feeling fearful, 25pc reported an increased distrust of strangers, 23pc had installed some kind of security system and 8pc went out less often.
The study demonstrated that fear of crime affects far more people, and ruins far more lives, than crime itself.
This is why, despite falling crime statistics, people’s perceptions that crime is an escalating problem persist.
Sensationalised media coverage of violent crime can certainly heighten concerns, but it alone cannot explain the prevalence of this problem.
A Department of Justice report, into the phenomenon of fear of crime, found two main factors largely determine people’s reactions.
A prior history of victimisation and feelings of personal vulnerability had serious consequences for people’s quality of life.
Consequently, it found that repeat victims of crime, people who believe crime in their local area has increased, victims of racist attacks and women are up to three times more likely to develop a fear of crime that corrodes their lives.
Ironically, the report also found that individuals living in an area with a higher crime rate were less likely to fear crime, suggesting that people can become inured to crime levels if they are seen as a normal occurrence.
This may explain why young men living in Dublin, who are among the most likely to be victims of crime, fear it the least.
Ultimately, what the research tells us is that not only do people need to be safe, it is important that they feel safe.