Feeling safe again

by David Baker

Property crime in Australia declined by more than half between 2001 and 2011 – affecting 2.9 per cent of households in 2012, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Although the proportion of victims has been falling steadily, recovery from these incidents remains an important policy issue for those unfortunate Australians who fall prey to this sort of crime. The shock that property crime can cause is underestimated by most people – burglary victims, in particular, may experience a psychological trauma in addition to the loss of the property itself.

Until the mid-1980s it had long been accepted that victims of burglary recovered within two or three months following the crime. The consensus was that effects ‘wore off’ within a few weeks or months. More recent studies, however, have found that recovery can take much longer. The current consensus is that the effects are both ‘pervasive and persistent’.

Being the victim of a property crime has a bigger effect on a person’s reported feelings of safety than demographic differences. Neither sex nor age had any notable influence on average reported safety scores. Interestingly, respondents who have not been victims but who perceive that theft and burglary are common in their local neighbourhood experience a similar level of insecurity to that reported by actual victims.

Analysis of safety scores shows that being a victim of a property crime has an effect on people’s feeling of safety over the successive two years. The prolonged recovery experienced by victims suggests that more could be done to support recovery and presents an opportunity for expanding support services.

This paper has found that, after two years, victims of property crime still do not feel as safe as they did before the break-in or theft. Support services need to reflect this new understanding of recovery duration with, for example, long-term contact with victims. Even if initial services have been provided, a subsequent follow up may potentially improve recovery rates.

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