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Feelings of personal safety and security in the local community are affected by a wide range of factors, including the actual prevalence of crime, subjective perceptions of crime, and whether or not one has been a victim of crime in the past (Endnote 1). Although few individuals will personally experience or witness crime victimisation in their local community, many will be privy to public displays of social disorder (Endnote 2). Social disorder can be manifested behaviourally through disruptive behaviours that disturb the peace (for example, rowdiness, public drunkenness, and loitering) or physically through visible neighbourhood disrepair (for example, graffiti, abandoned housing, and vandalism).
Although incidents of victimisation in the community are especially traumatic for victims, social disorder is a potentially more potent and widespread source of fear and insecurity in the community. This is due to its strong public visibility that has the ability to evoke a community-wide response (Endnote 3). Whilst not always tantamount to breaches of criminal law, social disorder issues are often the precursors to, and by-products of, criminal activity. As such, their presence can indicate that criminal activity has occurred or is likely to occur within the community.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) included a series of social disorder questions in the annual Crime Victimisation Survey for the first time in 2009-10. These questions asked respondents about their perceptions and opinions of different social disorder issues in their local area (see Appendix). A summary of the social disorder data collected in this survey was published in Crime Victimisation, Australia, 2009-10 (cat. no. 4530.0) (Endnote 4). The aim of this article is to further explore differences in perceptions of social disorder across different demographic groups. This article will also explore the impact that previous experiences of crime victimisation have on individuals’ perceptions of social disorder issues in their local area.