Is the ‘shadow of sexual assault’ responsible for women’s higher fear of burglary?
AffiliationUniversity of Sheffield
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AbstractThis article examines the ‘shadow of sexual assault hypothesis’ which posits that women’s higher fear of crime, compared to males, can be attributed to their elevated fear of sexual victimization. We argue that the previous, overwhelmingly supportive, research on this issue is incomplete in three ways: (1) the thesis has not yet been extensively tested outside of North America, (2) competing, possibly overlaying, shadow effects of physical violence have widely been ignored and (3) perceptually contemporaneous offences have always been measured in an indirect manner. Drawing on the example of fear of burglary, this work tackles the afore-mentioned deficiencies. Results from a crime survey conducted in the United Kingdom indicate that, when relying on a rather traditional test strategy, the ‘shadow of sexual assault hypothesis’ is supported. However, the findings are highly contingent on the employed methodology. When utilizing direct measures of perceptually contemporaneous offences, only physical, not sexual, assault turns out to cast a shadow over fear of burglary. The impact of fear of rape would appear to be reduced considerably once fear of broader physical harm is taken into account. We conclude that much of the existing evidence for the shadow thesis can be challenged on the grounds of failing to control for the effects of non-sexual physical assault and drawing on an inadequate operationalization of perceptually contemporaneous offences.
CitationHirtenlehner, H., and Farrall, S. (2014) 'Is the ‘shadow of sexual assault’ responsible for women’s higher fear of burglary?', British Journal of Criminology, 54(6), pp. 1167-1185.
PublisherOxford University Press
JournalBritish Journal of Criminology