Assessing Cross-Cultural Validity of Fear of Crime Measures through Comparisons between Linguistic Communities in Belgium

AuthorLieven Pauwels,Stefaan Pleysier
DOI10.1177/1477370805050863
Published date01 April 2005
Date01 April 2005
Subject MatterArticles
Assessing Cross-Cultural Validity of Fear
of Crime Measures through
Comparisons between Linguistic
Communities in Belgium
Lieven Pauwels
Department of Penal Law and Criminology, University of Ghent,
Belgium
Stefaan Pleysier
Department of Penal Law, Penal Procedure and Criminology, Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
ABSTRACT
In order for cross-cultural comparisons of ‘fear of crime’ to be meaningful, the
instruments used to measure the constructs – both ‘fear of crime’ itself and
other constructs used to explain it – have to exhibit adequate cross-cultural
equivalence. Not only does potential cross-cultural bias invalidate ‘fear of
crime’ comparisons, it also distorts the true relationships between explanatory
variables and ‘fear of crime’ when testing a conceptual model. This paper uses
comparisons between the Flemish- and French-speaking populations of Bel-
gium to explore these problems of cross-cultural equivalence. The data are
provided by the Belgian Safety Monitor 1998, a large-scale national survey
focusing on ‘fear of crime’ and related topics. Cross-cultural equivalence within
a theory-driven contextual model was assessed using structural equation
modelling (LISREL). A theoretically relevant, exploratory model with ‘fear of
crime’ as the dependent variable was tested. Both the dependent and
independent constructs in the model were assessed for their cross-cultural
equivalence. In principle, this allows a model that is free from cultural bias to
be specified. However, in this case there was no evidence of measurement
variance between the two cultural groups.
Volume 2 (2): 139–159: 1477-3708
DOI: 101177/1477370805050863
Copyright © 2005 European Society of
Criminology and SAGE Publications
London, Thousand Oaks CA, and New Delhi
www.sagepublications.com
ARTICLES
KEY WORDS
Cross Cultural Validity / Structural Equation Modelling / Fear of Crime Re-
search.
Introduction
Large-scale surveys of a general population are very popular in the social
sciences. In criminology, increasing interest in survey methodology can be
observed from the 1950s. The reason for a growing body of research in this
tradition can be found in the discovery of bias in official measurement
instruments, more specifically a bias in police statistics. Official statistics
tend to underestimate true rates of victimization in the population, and
were said to be seriously biased with respect to race, gender and social
class. As a consequence, the validity of earlier research concerned with the
causes of crime was called into question. Although etiological research
never totally disappeared from the agenda of criminologists, research
nevertheless tended to focus mainly on the study of criminal justice systems
(Goethals et al., 2002). Since the 1970s, etiological research has attracted
more attention, especially because of a general rise in crime and victim-
ization between the 1950s and 1980s in industrialized countries, which led
to demands from policy makers for solutions. In English-speaking coun-
tries, victim surveys and, to a lesser extent, self-report studies were
periodically repeated on a large scale and were used to describe the
epidemiology of crime and to address theoretical issues. The British Crime
Survey and the (US) National Crime Survey are well-known examples. In
one of the first sweeps of the National Crime Survey, widespread anxiety
about crime was ‘discovered’ and the ‘fear of crime’ was ‘born’ (Ditton and
Farrall, 2000; Hale, 1996).
Although a large body of research concentrates on the subject inter-
nationally, in Belgium this is hardly the case and therefore we prefer to talk
about a research tradition in development (Pleysier et al., 2002). Apart
from local studies in the inner city of Ghent (Hebberecht et al., 1986, 1992,
1998), Li`ege (Janssen et al., 1981; Lemaˆıtre, 1982) and a sample in former
mining communities (Goethals et al., 1999) and a small Dimarso-Gallup
opinion poll in 1984 (UNIOP, 1985), the first general population victim
survey at the federal level was not conducted until 1997. This federal victim
survey is generally referred to as the ‘Safety Monitor’ (General Police
Support Service, Department of Police Policy). Apart from the Safety
Monitor, two other surveys have addressed ‘fear of crime’ in the Flemish
part of Belgium: the APS survey (Administration Planning and Statistics)
140 European Journal of Criminology 2(2)

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