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Fear of Rape - A Study in Social Control

NCJ Number
S Riger; M T Gordon
Date Published
36 pages
The assertion by feminists that the threat of rape acts as an instrument for the social control of women was tested by means of a survey of residents of Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco.
Feminists argue that the threat of rape keeps women in a state of anxiety and encourages the self-imposition of behavioral restrictions in a quest for safety. The present study used a sample of 299 women and 68 men. The sample was drawn from a telephone survey of 1,620 adults, including 540 in each city, selected through random-digit-dialing. In-person interviews were conducted with the smaller sample about their fear of crimes, including sexual assault. The smaller sample was similar to the original sample in terms of race and area of residence, but was younger, better educated, and wealthier. Women's fear scores were significantly higher than men's, and women engaged in more precautionary behaviors than did men. However, these fears and behaviors were not randomly distributed among women. The elderly, ethnic minorities, and those with low incomes were the most fearful. Psychosocial and environmental factors associated with high-fear levels among women included perceptions of high risk of one's own victimization from violent crime, a sense of physical powerlessness, and weak feelings of attachment to the neighborhood. Fear levels strongly predicted the use of either of two types of safety strategies: (1) isolation from danger through limits on movements in time and space and (2) risk management by using 'street savvy' tactics. Reliance on isolation was associated with women's beliefs about their own physical competence, while use of 'street savvy' tactics was related to their attitudes about the extent of danger in their neighborhoods. Findings supported the belief that fear of crime constrains women's freedom and pointed to the need for additional research on numerous subjects. Tables, reference notes, and a list of 56 references are provided. (Author abstract modified)