Seniors represent a relatively low victimized age group but they often exhibit the greatest fear of crime. Some of that fear arises from a deeper vulnerability to injury, some to physical ailments such as loss of hearing and/or eyesight as well as chronic conditions that can be debilitating and make it difficult to defend themselves. A study that looked at rates of nonfatal violent crime against the elderly found that from 2003 to 2013, nonviolent crime rates increased 27 percent. However, property crime declined 50 percent, nonfatal violent crime declined 41 percent and crime rates for elderly persons were consistently lower than rates for younger age groups. during the same period.
Yet the fear of crime negatively shapes the quality of life in America’s communities. Not only do the numbers have to indicate that seniors are safe, but seniors must feel safe in order to continue to live healthy lives in their current homes. The perception of crime affects where people live, shop and socialize. “Neighborhoods and entire cities have gone into spirals of decline because fear of crime motivated those residents and businesses who could afford to move, to do so,” according to Gary Cordner in a U.S. Department of Justice report called “Reducing Fear of Crime: Strategies for Police” in 2009. Another report found that gender is the most stable predictor of fear of crime. Women, unsurprisingly, fear crime at much higher levels than men despite being less likely to become victims. Since age, health and socioeconomic status (poverty levels are higher among older Americans than amongst middle-aged adults) causes feelings of vulnerability it is probably no surprise that older Americans who are mostly women fear crime at far higher levels than the general population. And, because the fear of crime increases when people live alone, widows are far more likely to experience fear of their neighborhood than those whose partners are still alive.
To defend yourself against becoming a victim of crime and feel more confident about staying in your current home:
- Consider joining a neighborhood watch program
- Learn as much as you can about scams and frauds that specifically target older adults
- Join a senior volunteer program with your local law enforcement agency
- Enroll in a telephone reassurance program
- Learn self defense
- Attend a police academy for seniors
- Have Social Security, pensions and other compensation checks deposited directly in your bank account.
- Avoid keeping valuables and large amounts of cash in your home
- Appraise and photograph valuables that you have in your home
- Consider living with someone such as family or “golden girls” type situation
- Know your neighbors
- Take care of yourself socially, mentally and physically
If you do become a victim of crime:
Report it. If you witness a crime, know who to call, call as soon as it is possible to do so and try to provide as much detailed information about the crime as possible. Thieves and others who prey on seniors count on the fact that seniors don’t make good witnesses since their testimony is spotty at best. Help lower the crime rate in your neighborhood by being a credible witness when you need to be and by doing whatever is necessary to prevent crime in the first place.
Finally, if you really do feel that your neighborhood is unsafe for you, move to a safer neighborhood. People who are afraid to go out in their neighborhoods often feel socially isolated and find it difficult to care for their health by eating right and getting enough exercise. Senior apartments and other communities provide opportunities to get meals, transportation, exercise, activities and social interactions in a safe environment.