Crime & Fear of Crime

 Crime & Fear of Crime

Fear of being a victim of crime is one of the greatest concerns seniors have about society. The National Council on Aging's 2000 survey of the aging experience in the United States found that 36 percent of seniors feel that fear of crime is a personal problem for them. Fear of crime equaled fear of not having enough money to live on (36 percent of respondents) and was greater than loneliness (21 percent of respondents).

When seniors are victims of crime, they usually suffer greater physical, mental, and financial injuries than other age groups. According to the Department of Justice (2000), seniors are twice as likely to suffer serious physical injury and to required hospitalization than any other age group. Furthermore, the physiological process of aging brings with it a decreasing ability to heal after injury - both physically and mentally. Thus, seniors may never fully recover from the trauma of their victimization.

Seniors who are victims of crime often know the perpetrator of the crime. In 2001, for example, 44 percent of the time that seniors were victims of violent crimes they knew the perpetrator (Vierck & Hodges, 2005). This figure is 65 percent for assault, but only 12 percent for robbery. And half of senior women who were victims of rape said they knew the rapist.

Fear of crime can result in isolation from the community. However, the reality is that crime is actually less of a threat for seniors than for younger age groups. Seniors are crime victims less often than younger people, and the rate of violence against this group is decreasing (Vierck & Hodges, 2005). For example:

  • In 2001 the personal crime rate for seniors was 4 per 1,000 persons, compared to a high of more than 59 per 1,000 persons for victims ages 16 to 19. In fact, the rate for seniors was the lowest of all age groups for most major types of crime. The exception was robbery, for which the rate for people ages 50 to 64 was similar to that for the elderly.
  • Following a pattern affecting all age groups, the rate of violent crime against seniors has been decreasing since the early 1990s.
  • Seniors have the lowest rate (6 percent) of all age groups of injury resulting from an assault.
  • In 2001 the rate (66 per 1,000) for property crimes, such as household burglary and motor vehicle theft, for senior households was less than half that for people age 50 to 64 (133 per 1,000) and one-sixth of the rate for victims age 12 to 19 (393 per 1,000).

 Elder Abuse

An all-too-frequent crime against seniors is elder abuse. Elder abuse is a widespread and serious problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of seniors in the United States. According to the best available estimates, between 1 million and 2 million seniors have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection (National Research Council, 2002). For more facts on elder abuse see the sidebar below.

As reported by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), "Because it is still largely hidden under the shroud of family secrecy, elder abuse is grossly under-reported. Some experts estimate that only 1 out of 14 domestic elder abuse incidents (excluding incidents of self-neglect) comes to the attention of authorities" (NCEA, n.d.)

Neglect is the most common form of elder abuse (NCEA, n.d.). Other forms include physical abuse, financial exploitation, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and abandonment. Most elder abuse victims are female, and most perpetrators are males. Adult children are the most frequent abusers of seniors. Other family members and spouses are the second most likely abusers of seniors.

The 1998 National Elder Abuse Incidence Study

  • 551,011 persons, aged 60 and over, experienced abuse, neglect, or self-neglect in a on-year period.
  • Almost four times as many new incidents of abuse, neglect, or self-neglect were not reported as those that were reported to and substantiated by adult protective services agencies.
  • Persons ages 80 and older suffered abuse and neglect two to three times their proportion of the older population.
  • Among known perpetrators of abuse and neglect, the perpetrator was a family member in 90 percent of cases.Two-thirds of the perpetrators were adult children or spouses.


Risk factors for elder abuse include:

  • social isolation
  • dementia in the victim
  • mental illness of the abuser
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • depression on the part of the abuser
  • mutual dependence between the abuser and the victim

 Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.

Helen Keller 

The information above is reprinted from Working with Seniors: Health, Financial and Social Issues with permission from Society of Certified Senior Advisors® . Copyright © 2009. All rights reserved.