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This article used survey data collected through the ABS’ 2009-10 Crime Victimisation Survey to examine how perceptions and opinions of social disorder issues differ between individuals from different demographic backgrounds, and how experiences of both personal and household crime victimisation influence perceptions and opinions of social disorder.
Analyses of differences in age, gender, and area of usual residence revealed that all of these factors had a significant impact on perceptions of social disorder. Variation was also evident at the individual social disorder issue level, as differences in perceptions of social disorder between different groups varied depending on the specific social disorder issue in question. Finally, persons experiencing personal and household crime victimisation were significantly more likely than persons not experiencing either type of crime victimisation to perceive social disorder in their local area, consider it to be a large problem, and have their opinion influenced by someone known to them.
Whilst the data presented in this article provides an indication of which population groups are more or less likely to perceive certain social disorder issues based on self-report, it cannot represent an objective measure of the incidence of social disorder issues. As a subjective construct, perceptions of social disorder are influenced by social and physical context, including individual and community norms, standards, and expectations, and personal levels of sensitivity and tolerance towards certain behaviours. Thresholds for what constitutes problematic behaviour may vary across different individuals and groups in society. Other factors, such as the individual degree of fear of crime, patterns of day-to-day activities, and frequency of public outings, also have an impact on the salience, visibility and perceived severity of social disorder issues.
Although social disorder problems are not always breaches of criminal law, and are often described as ‘low-level crimes’ when they are, they can contribute to a sense of apprehension and fear in communities. This in turn can create a perception of a high-risk and crime-prone environment that can attract further criminal activity (Endnote 13). As such, tackling social disorder through national initiatives such as the National Community Crime Prevention Programme has been an important and integral part of efforts to prevent and reduce crime and anti-social behaviour at the community level, improve community safety and security, and reduce the fear of crime.