Fear of crime examined through diversity of crime, social inequalities, and social capital: An empirical evaluation in Peru

Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
Fear of crime examined
through diversity of crime,
social inequalities, and
social capital: An empirical
evaluation in Peru
Wilson Herna
Grupo de Ana
´lisis para el Desarrollo – GRADE, Peru
ıa Dammert
Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Chile
Lilian Kanashiro
Universidad de Lima, Peru
Latin America is a violent region where fear of crime is well spread but still not fully under-
stood. Using multilevel methods for a large and subnational representative household survey
(N ¼271,022), we assess the determinants of fear of crime in Peru, the country with the
highest fear of crime and crime victimization in the region. Our results show that body-aimed
victimization (physical or sexual abuse from a member of their household, and sexual
offenses) is the strongest driver of fear of crime, even higher than armed victimization.
Moreover, safety measures based on social capital are negatively related to fear of crime,
suggesting that they are palliatives rather than real protections. Finally, our study shows that
people in a higher socioeconomic status are more likely to fear more because they have
more (resources) to lose. Policy implications address Latin America as a whole and punitive
policies against crime are common in the region, while evidence-based decisions are scarce.
Fear of crime, insecurity, Latin America, social capital, victimization
Date received: 21 April 2020; accepted: 5 August 2020
Corresponding author:
Wilson Herna
´ndez, Grupo de Ana
´lisis para el Desarrollo – GRADE, Av. Grau 915. Barranco, Lima 4, Peru.
Email: whernandez@grade.org.pe
Australian & New Zealand Journal of
2020, Vol. 53(4) 515–535
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0004865820954466
Insecurity in Latin America has reached critical proportions. The homicide rate per 100
inhabitants in this region triples the world average and is five times larger than in
European countries (UNODC, 2018). Robbery rates are also much higher in Latin
American countries when compared to developed ones; only Southern African countries
are in a worse position (Heiskanen, 2010) than Latin American ones. Especially since
the 1990s, these forms of crime among others have become regular issues in Latin
American everyday life, as has happened with their consequences in the public
agenda and citizen concerns (Dammert, 2019).
Fear of crime (FOC), once considered mainly as a product of criminality, is now
conceived as a multidimensional concept that comprises fears specific to crime (Ferraro,
1995) but also fears to social representations of crime and expressions of social inequal-
ities (Hummelsheim et al., 2011; Vieno et al., 2013; Visser et al., 2013) that are linked to
individual factors as well as historical and social contexts (Collins, 2016). Furthermore,
FOC impacts on economic, social, and political issues, including an accelerated process
of privatization of security, abandonment of public spaces, increasing urban segrega-
tion, and a general sense of distrust of public institutions (especially those linked to the
criminal justice system) (Hummelsheim et al., 2011; M. Lee & Ellis, 2017; Mythen &
Lee, 2017).
Considering this, we focus on Peru in order to study the associations that FOC
maintains with three social processes: diversity of crime (violent, body-aimed, and indi-
rect), social capital (organic and non-organic safety measures), and socioeconomic
status. We applied multilevel mixed-effects linear regression (two levels: individuals
and districts) to a subnationally representative household survey (N ¼271,022).
The motivation to study the Peruvian case is highlighted in three facts. First, Peru is
one of the most extreme cases in the Latin American scenario in terms of FOC and
victimization rates (Figure 1). According to the data from the AmericasBarometer,
country maintains this position since 2006. Victimization may be decreasing although it
is still very high and has become the main concern among Peruvians (Dammert, Mujica,
& Zevallos, 2017). Since 2010 (previous reliable data are not available), the percentage
of victims of a crime fell by 14 percentage points (26.4% in 2017). However, there is an
important level of street crime affecting citizens; moreover, FOC is extended and per-
sistent in Peru. Nine out of 10 Peruvians claim to be afraid of being victims of crime in
the next 12 months (Instituto Nacional de Estad
ıstica e Informa
´tica, 2018) and between
2010 and 2017, this rate rose from 85 to 90% at national level.
Second, the gap between high FOC and victimization is relevant. Nineteen out of 100
people have been victims of theft (money, wallet, or cell phone) in the last 12 months,
the most common crime in Peru; nonetheless, 77 think they will be victims of this type of
crime during the next year (Instituto Nacional de Estad
ıstica e Informa
´tica, 2018).
Third, public policies have had a strong budget yet weak effects. The Ministry of
Interior’s budget doubled between 2010 and 2017 (Ministerio de Econom
ıa y
Finanzas, 2018). Nevertheless, the lack of clear and sustained public policies over
time, as well as high levels of impunity fed the citizens’ FOC and sense of impunity.
Police officers are seen as corrupt, slow, inefficient, and even violent by most Peruvians
(Dammert, 2016). According to data from the AmericasBarometer, one out of five
516 Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology 53(4)

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