The shock that property crime can cause is underestimated by most people – burglary victims, in particular, may experience a psychological trauma in addition to the loss of the property itself.
Property crime in Australia declined by more than half between 2001 and 2011 – affecting 2.9 per cent of households in 2012, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Although the proportion of victims has been falling steadily, recovery from these incidents remains an important policy issue for those unfortunate Australians who fall prey to this sort of crime. The shock that property crime can cause is underestimated by most people – burglary victims, in particular, may experience a psychological trauma in addition to the loss of the property itself.
Until the mid-1980s it had long been accepted that victims of burglary recovered within two or three months following the crime. The consensus was that effects ‘wore off’ within a few weeks or months. More recent studies, however, have found that recovery can take much longer. The current consensus is that the effects are both ‘pervasive and persistent'.
Being the victim of a property crime has a bigger effect on a person’s reported feelings of safety than demographic differences. Neither sex nor age had any notable influence on average reported safety scores. Interestingly, respondents who have not been victims but who perceive that theft and burglary are common in their local neighbourhood experience a similar level of insecurity to that reported by actual victims.
Analysis of safety scores shows that being a victim of a property crime has an effect on people’s feeling of safety over the successive two years. The prolonged recovery experienced by victims suggests that more could be done to support recovery and presents an opportunity for expanding support services.
This paper has found that, after two years, victims of property crime still do not feel as safe as they did before the break-in or theft. Support services need to reflect this new understanding of recovery duration with, for example, long-term contact with victims. Even if initial services have been provided, a subsequent follow up may potentially improve recovery rates.
The experience of coping with crime has been divided into three responses – emotional, rational and social. Social coping strategies have been found to be 12 times more effective than the other responses. Despite this, many victims tend towards social isolation following a crime event. Women are more likely to call on social support than men, whereas men are more likely to elect for a rational response, which has been found to be the least effective means of recovery. This paper found a small difference between men and women who had experienced property crime and their reported ability to find someone to help them when they needed to.
The importance of social support to recovery underlines the importance of providing services to victims, especially men, that facilitate the process of identifying and calling upon friends and family, peers or colleagues for support. While the burglary rate in Australia may be steadily declining, the need to improve the delivery of support services remains. Research findings from this paper point to two key means of improving victims’ circumstances:
1. Facilitating access to social support
2. Delivering further support a year after the event.