By: Natalia Sobrino-Saeb

In the Netherlands, 69 percent of women reported feeling safe when walking alone at night, compared to the much higher proportion of 91 percent for men (Crabtree and Nsubuga 2012). This example illustrates an important dynamic, namely that women generally experience higher rates of fear in the street than men.

Why is this the case? Some consider gendered behavioral patterns as the main factor. Men for example, do not seem to regard the streets as a place where increased caution is of the essence. Instead, they often engage in more risky behavior compared to women, such as alcohol use in the streets (WHO 2002).

Do the Rates reflect the Facts?

Although men generally seem to exercise less caution in the streets than women, studies show that in actuality men are more likely to be victims of violence in the Netherlands than women (CBS 2019). This is called the ‘fear of crime paradox’, where women – despite being less prone to falling victim to crime than men – actually report more fear of violence (Vera-Gray and Kelly 2020).

So, how can we explain women’s higher reports of fear? Here, there are many attempts at explanations. Societal gender roles may make it easier for women to open up about their fears than men for example. Furthermore, “women are more likely to overestimate the probability of danger, […] to expect harm, and to anticipate [having] poor coping ability,” all of which are factors that can make women more fearful (McLean and Anderson 2009, 500).

On the other hand, some suggest that women’s fear is a result of the interactions between men and women both inside and outside the home (Stanko 1995). For instance, while men’s attackers are usually strangers, women’s assailants are more likely to be people they know. In the Netherlands in 2019 alone, for three quarters of killed women, the suspect was her partner or ex (NL Times 2019). For men on the other hand, only one third of murders was committed by a perpetrator they knew (NL Times 2019). As a consequence, women extrapolate this subliminal fear of violence onto the streets as well.

Finally, other theories suggest that women’s more caring and tending nature can make them more prone to worrying. This can influence how they respond to threats (McLean and Anderson 2009). In the face of risk for example, women lean towards a ‘tend-and-befriend’ behavior, where they look to others for support, leading to less self-reliance (McLean and Anderson 2009).

How do Men become a Source of Fear?

Some have described crime as something that men use as a way to be a man; a way to check the boxes of what masculinity means to them (Miller 2002). Both their behavior and their physical presence are a means towards this goal. When it comes to committing crime for example, men can effectively carry out robberies by themselves, while female criminals need additional resources such as being in pairs or having a man beside them to be able to intimidate victims. To put it differently, men – just by being men and looking like men – are perceived as more of a threat, enough so to be able to make victims of crime comply with their orders (Brookman et al. 2007). This illustrates how men may use their physical presence to enhance or perform their gender, and how even just their characteristics can be enough to seem threatening.

Stereotyping as the Emphasis of Fear

There is a stereotype which portrays women as the victims and men as the ever-present perpetrator. Since the 1990s, women have continuously been advised to stay home at night and to not walk alone (Stanko 1995). This only works to separate women as the potential victims of violence who should be careful in the street, and men as predators who hunt this space. In turn, this places the responsibility to avoid violence on women, instilling a natural fear in them.


Brookman, F., C. Mullins, T. Bennett and R. Wright (2007). “Gender, motivation and the accomplishment of street robbery in the United Kingdom.” British Journal of Criminology 47(6), 861-884.

CBS (2019). “Fewer women than men fall victim to violence.” Statistics Netherlands. At

Crabtree, S. and F. Nsubuga (2012). “Women feel less safe than men in many developed countries.” Gallup. At

McLean, C. P. and E. R. Anderson (2009). “Brave men and timid women? A review of the gender differences in fear and anxiety.” Clinical psychology review 29(6), 496-505.

Miller, J. (2002). “The strengths and limits of ‘doing gender’ for understanding street crime.” Theoretical Criminology 6(4), 433-460.

NL Times (2019). “Murders in Netherlands down by a quarter.” NL Times. At

Stanko, E. A. (1995). “Women, crime, and fear.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 539(1), 46-58.

Vera-Gray, F. (2016). “Men’s stranger intrusions: Rethinking street harassment.” Women’s Studies International Forum 58, 9-17.

Vera-Gray, F., & Kelly, L. (2020). “Contested gendered space: Public sexual harassment and women’s safety work.” International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 44(4), 265-275.

WHO (2002). “Gender and road traffic injuries.” World Health Organization. At

What is the ‘Fear of Crime Paradox’?

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