Characteristics exist in people that prompt them to fear. In many cases, the level of fear does not correlate with the risk of victimization. Some of these attributes play a more substantial role than others in determining one's level of fear.
Gender has been found to be the strongest predictor of fear. Women have a much greater fear of crime than men, but are victimized less than men. Womens fear comes mostly from their vulnerability to sexual aggression: women are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted than are men (Crowell & Burgess, 1996). This fear of sexual assault and rape transposes itself onto other types of crimes (Ferraro, 1996). Women do not simply become aware of this fear one day, nor are they born with it; women are socialized into thinking that they are vulnerable to attack if they, for example, go out alone at night. Parents, peers and media emphasize and reenforce this fear, and women are expected to succumb to it.
Other suggestions have been made as to why women are more fearful. These include: irrationality; fewer coping skills in relation to being a victim; a great concern for their children which fuels their fear; and less control over public and private spaces than men (Gilchrist, et al., 1998). There is no one reason why women are more fearful than men; it is likely that numerous reasons exist which play a role.
Age is also a powerful predictor of fear but, unlike gender, with age the fear varies from crime to crime. When it comes to age, it is customary to assume that the elderly are the most afraid, and for many crimes, this assumption holds true, such as in mugging cases and break and enters. When it comes to crimes like rape, sexual assault and stranger attacks, it has been found that younger people tend to be more fearful (Evans, 1995). Elderly people have a high fear level in relation to many crimes because they feel vulnerable. This vulnerability stems from the physical and social limitations that elderly people have which renders them unable to defend themselves or to seek support and help.
When it comes to fear of crime victimization, 18% of those aged 18 to 34, 21% of those 35 to 54, and 26% of those 55 and over express a great or fair amount of fear (Angus Reid, 1997, p. 51). In examining the trends in criminal victimization, the rates of victimization for those over 65 are "too small to be meaningful" (CCJS, December 1994). Elderly people are not the specific targets of most crimes, but their level of fear exceeds their risk of victimization.