Fear of crime in Thailand

Fear of crime in Thailand


The need to study fear of crime in Thailand has at times been downplayed by criminal justice practitioners. However, the United Nations, in calling for the collection of data on the fear of crime as an indicator of implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 16, on peace and justice, had noted that such fear is ‘an obstacle to development’.[1] Conventional crime prevention efforts may fail to be effective in dispelling fear of crime, because this fear is usually independent of the prevalence of crime or even of personal experience with crime.

In 2018, the Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) conducted a survey of 8,445 people, selected to be representative of households in ten provinces across the country. The respondents were asked whether they felt safe or unsafe when walking alone in the neighbourhood, and when staying alone in their house both in daytime and at night. They were also asked to quantify, on the Likert scale,[2] the level of fear of crime in each situation. The questionnaire further asked about the perceived risk of crime, victimization experiences during the preceding year, and whether or not the crime was reported.

On the basis of the 8,179 completed responses, the majority of respondents (78.4%) felt safe or very safe walking in their neighbourhood at night. There were areas where respondents reported a high prevalence of victimization but nonetheless felt quite safe in general, because what they experienced were mostly petty property crimes. On the other hand, there were some other areas with relatively lower levels of victimization where the respondents reported a high level of fear of crime because of deteriorating physical conditions of the neighbourhood, suspicious activities, and the presence of ‘outsiders’ in the community.

It was interesting to note that the majority of respondents experienced walking alone in their neighbourhood during daytime as safer than staying alone at home during daytime. The interviewers documented that the demographic characteristics of community members and the physical condition of the neighbourhood were among the reasons people cited to explain their fear of crime.



From the mid 1960s on, with the emergence of a new body of knowledge in crime victimization survey, fear of crime has become an important concept in criminology and a pressing issue in many cities.[3] Researchers have tried to understand aspects of fear and factors that induce fear, because it appears to vary with the social setting and evolves over time. Past studies on the fear of crime were linked to perceived risks, but later on there was a shift of focus to the emotional response, since exposure to the same risk could have different effects on different individuals. The newest trend in the study of the fear of crime centres on the influence of social media and new technology such as ‘crime tracking’ or ‘crime alert apps’ that could create unnecessary concern.

Fear of crime can be triggered by many factors. The most prominent example is in the United States where even though violent crimes have steeply and quite uninterruptedly declined in the past two decades,[4] more than half of Americans continued to believe there were more crimes in the U.S. in comparison to the previous year. Similarly, the number of those afraid to walk alone at night in the area they lived was only slightly lower than in the early 90s.[5] This shows how fear of crime can be independent of the actual crime rate, and not responsive to crime prevention efforts. Nevertheless, the fear of crime should not be disregarded simply on the grounds that it has a ‘non-factual basis’. Even though fear of crime seems to be induced largely by irrational factors, it can have profound effects on people and on society. One agreed indicator of progress in implementing Goal 16 of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, in respect of the reduction of all forms of violence, is the fear of crime. The explanation provided for this is that “the ‘fear of Crime’ is an important indicator in itself, as a high level of fear can negatively influence well-being and  lead to reduced contacts  with the public, reduced trust and activities and thus an obstacle to development.”[6] It is recommended that data should be collected using the questionnaire tool provided in the UNODC-UNECE Manual on Victimization Surveys.[7]



In keeping with the need for data, the survey on fear of crime in Thailand was conducted in order to measure the feeling of fear in the respondents’ neighbourhood. Detailed background data on factors that may induce fear was collected, with the objectives outlined below:

  • To understand the levels of fear of crime among the Thai population.
  • To establish baseline data about fear of crime and set standards for future periodic surveys.
  • To promote understanding and build cooperation with relevant agencies on the use of data about fear of crime.

The results will also be made available to the general population in an easily accessible format.



Sampling methods

The survey used five-stage random sampling in which primarily cluster sampling and probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling methods were applied. The sample population was selected to represent the five geographical areas in Thailand.

In the first stage, five clusters were identified in line with the four-region grouping system of Thailand, according to the National Statistics Office,[8] plus the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. From each of these regions, two provinces were selected, making up a total of ten sample provinces.

In the second stage, since there are two types of administrative districts in most provinces, one district from each group was selected, including the Mueang district and a representative of other ‘non-Mueang’ districts.[9] As for Bangkok, which is a special administrative area with no Mueang district, four districts were selected. The total number of sample districts across the country was thus twenty-two.

The third and fourth stage sampling resulted in 36 sub-districts and then 79 Moo[10]. The fifth stage used area sampling and representative sampling methods, resulting in a total sample size of 8,314 households.

Sample population

The respondents to this survey were Thai citizens who were at least 18 years of age and residing in the sample households at the time of the survey. Each one was selected by convenience to represent their household.


Two set of questionnaires were used in the survey. The first one was the general population questionnaire which consisted of three main parts, the respondent’s information, the feeling of fear of crime and the feeling of safety, and the perceived risk of victimization. This first set were administered to all respondents, with the last question asking whether the respondent had experienced crime victimization during the preceding calendar year and whether they agreed to be interviewed about such an incident.

The second questionnaire was the crime incident report which was administered only to respondents who reported being victimized during the preceding year and who agreed to be interviewed. It consisted of three main parts, including the respondent’s information, the details of the incidents, and the reporting of crimes. This crime incident report was intended to collect details of crime characteristics, including the context and information about the victims and the perpetrators in order to understand crimes in each specific locale.

Content validation was assessed by a group of researchers, academics, statisticians, criminal justice practitioners, and experts from the field of law enforcement. The questionnaires were pre-tested with 190 households in two districts from an excluded province. Internal consistency, tested by Cronbach’s alpha, was 0.86.

Data collection

The survey was administered using paper-based face-to-face interviews in which the interviewers were field staff recruited and trained specifically for this project. Technology was used to record the GPS coordinates of the respondents’ households in order to be able to accurately analyse data against its geographical context. The collection period lasted forty days, from 9 March to 1 May 2018. The reference period was one calendar year, from 1 January to 31 December 2017. The interview time was approximately 10 minutes for the general population questionnaire and at least 15 minutes for the crime incident report.

A total of 8,445 general population questionnaire sets were collected, but only 8,179 sets were included in the analysis. Of those sets, 64.15% were from female respondents, 35.45% were from male respondents, and 0.4% were from respondents who chose not to identify their gender.



Feeling of safety

The survey revealed that 78.40% of the population felt safe walking alone at night in the area in which they live. This was calculated by summing up the number of respondents who felt “very safe” and “fairly safe” and dividing that by the total number of respondents. The average score of safety was 7.76 on a scale of 10.

As for daytime, 96.48% felt safe walking alone in their neighbourhood, and the average score of safety they gave was 9.32.

For comparison, the survey also asked how the respondent felt when alone in their house. A total of 86.98% respondents reported feeling safe when alone in the house at night, with an average score of 8.42, while for daytime, 92.85% reported feeling safe, with an average score of 9.02.

It should be noted that both the proportion and the score of safety indicate that respondents felt safer walking alone in the neighbourhood in the daytime compared to staying alone in their own house during the day. This is counterintuitive to say the least and should be explored further.



Also related to this part of the questionnaire, 56.82% of the respondents said that they went out every day, 59.38% always went out at the same hours, 79.21% usually went out in daytime, and 45% used a motorcycle to get around in the neighbourhood.

When asked to list existing problems in the neighbourhood that affected their fear of crime, on top of the list was the drug problem, followed by a lack of street lighting, the presence of street gangs, and the flow of outsiders or foreigners into their community.

As other factors that could induce fear, 85.10% of respondents said that they learned about crime incidents from the mainstream media. Other news sources mentioned were social media and acquaintances.

Perceived risk of victimization

When asked whether they saw a risk of being victimized by certain types of crime, 13.83% of the respondents believed themselves to be at risk of a crime against life or person, 20.40% at risk of violent property crimes, and 33.51% of simple property crimes. Only 8% reported believing that they could be at risk of sexual crimes. Looking at the gender distribution of the respondents, it seems that a more or less similar proportion of male and female believed they were at risk of every type of crime except for sexual crimes.


Experience of victimization

Of the total 8,179 respondents, 336 reported having been victimized during the 2017 calendar year. The majority of these (259 cases) were victims of simple property crimes, which corresponds to 3.16% of the total population. Thirty-eight cases involved bodily harm, 20 cases were sexual-related crimes, and 19 cases were violent property crimes.

When looking at gender disaggregation, women accounted for 71.43% of simple property crime victims, 73.68% of violent property crime victims, and 80% of sexual-related crime victims. Men were the majority of the victims of bodily harm, at 57.89%. However, it is important to note that the sample size of the two genders was not proportionately distributed. Furthermore, since the methodology was designed with the priority on collecting fear of crime data, the victimization rate should be used with caution.


Result by area

Fear of crime appears to differ considerably from one district to another. The districts that had the lowest proportion of respondents feeling safe walking alone at night in their neighbourhood was Khon Kaen[11] Mueang District at 59.70%, which was well below the average. The sample area of this district was full of rented houses and apartments for students attending higher education institutes and surrounded by nightlife with a high concentration of youngsters, causing a lacking of sense of community.

It is also interesting to compare different provinces. The three provinces in which people felt the most unsafe were Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani[12], and Phitsanulok[13], but at the same time these three were among the provinces that had quite a low number of victims per respondent. On the other hand, people in Bangkok, Nakhon Si Thammarat[14], and Phuket[15] felt safe although respondents in Nakhon Si Thammarat experienced the second highest rate of victimization of the ten sample provinces, and Phuket the third. This finding confirmed that there does not appear to be a relationship between actual victimization numbers and fear of crime.



General characteristics

To turn to factors that influence fear of crime, the data was analysed using the average of people feeling safe or unsafe in all situations (in and outside the house, daytime and night-time) in order to understand the bigger picture. First of all, it has been shown in many literature on the fear of crime that women consistently report higher levels of fear, and this survey was no exception. More female respondents felt unsafe in general when compared to their male counterparts. And considering the low response in respect of the perceived risk of sexual crime, it can be assumed that fear of rape is not driving this feeling of vulnerability.

Career stability is also a significant contributing factor. Government pensioners, government officials, and private employees with a guaranteed salary felt significantly safer than others. Income stability seemed to have a similar effect, since those who reported not having “enough” income were more likely to feel unsafe.

Community characteristics

Respondents in commercial areas reported feeling significantly safer than in other areas, while those in industrial areas felt less safe. This could be because factories usually attract non-local workers and foreign workers into the surrounding communities.

The type of housing had little to no effect on the fear of crime. However, a difference in ownership status highlighted some dissimilarities. Those who identified themselves as an occupant and not the head of the household reported feeling less safe.

Perception about crime problems

Respondents who were aware of existing problems in the community were more likely to feel unsafe than those who reported no problems. In addition, respondents who acknowledged that fear of crime could affect the quality of life felt more unsafe than those who said that there was no effect.

Although 85.10% of the respondents listed mainstream media as one of their primary sources of crime news, the information received did not lead to fear. Only those who heard of crimes that had happened to or had been told by acquaintances and community members, tend to feel unsafe.

Perception of risks and victimization experiences

Although the actual crime victimization rate in the area had no relation to the collective feeling of safety, the result was different at the individual level. Respondents who experienced victimization in the preceding year as well as those who perceived that they were at risk of being victimized expressed a feeling that they were more unsafe. This is true for all type of crimes except for sexual crime which shows a causal relationship in the same direction but is not statistically significant.


Reducing the fear of crime

One of the objectives of this survey was to make people and practitioners understand fear of crime as an emotional response toward the perceptions of crime, and its effect on society. Thus, it is important to keep in mind that people’s emotions are usually not based on facts, and that prevention-based policy targeting actual crimes may, or may not, reduce fear of crime.

The result shows that the collective fear of crime in a community is independent of the crime victimization rate, and it is not enough that just law enforcement and the conventional criminal justice system try to tackle the problem. On a personal level, economic factors such as career, income, and home ownership have effects on people’s feelings. On a larger scale, environmental design and community networks should be in the focus.

The results also suggest that the level of fear and the factors that induce fear differ largely in each community, neighbourhood, and even each street. It is recommended that a survey should be conducted on a local level by local organizations to truly understand the situation. Having routine public contact can be very useful for local government in order for it to learn about the concerns and worries of the residents. In this regard, analysis is needed to tailor responses that are specific to the nature and causes of fear of crime. Policies to reduce fear must be designed to fit into the local context rather than to the national level. With that in mind, TIJ introduced the survey and assisted Nongprue[16] Town Municipality to test the fear of crime survey in its community in 2019. The officers reported that the survey is ‘doable’ and yielded some useful information that they can work on to improve the community. However, without support from TIJ, they will not be able to administer the survey periodically due to the budget regulations which specify that such a topic is not the municipality’s direct responsibility but that of the police.

This led to the most important issue concerning the study of fear of crime in Thailand. Although fear of crime is a common subject of debate in many other countries, it is seriously understated in Thailand. The police usually dismiss fear of crime as irrational emotions of people who do not understand the real situation, and as a waste of time since they are already overwhelmed by the tasks at hand. It is one objective of this survey to make the study of the fear of crime known outside the field of criminology.

Government, policymakers and criminal justice practitioners should understand that while fear of crime is “just” a feeling, it is at the same time real and has concrete implications for the well-being of people and the development of society. It is an important factor that people consider when choosing where to live, shop, and socialize, where to send children to school, or where to start a business. Only by realizing that making people ‘feel’ safe is equally important as making them actually safe, can fear of crime be properly addressed.

Topic of interest for further study

Although the survey aims to provide data for the SDG indicators asking how safe people feel walking alone at night in their neighbourhood, the survey also asked about other similar contexts and revealed interesting figures that led to further research.

Looking at both the proportion and the score of safety, the data indicates that respondents felt safer walking alone in the neighbourhood in the daytime compared to staying alone in their own house during the day. This is counterintuitive, because people usually would think that it is safe to be in one’s own home. According to the data from this survey, people feel more comfortable being around familiar faces. This may be specific to Thai society, especially for women who are the majority of respondents in the survey.

To try to understand this, TIJ conducted follow-up research on the relationship between trust amongst individuals in the community and fear of crime, and what constitutes that kind of trust, hoping to provide insights for local policy makers to lessen fear of crime.

The research applied mixed methods by developing a set of interview questions in line with the preceding survey and conducting a group discussion with representatives of each community. Due to budget limitations, the sample areas were selected based on convenience to include Phra Kanong[17] sub-district in Bangkok and Bang Kachao[18] sub-district in Samut Prakarn province which are situated just across the river from each other but are very distinctive in nature.

The research sought to measure the level of trust by asking questions such as (a) whether the respondents believed their neighbours are decent, kind, dependable, (b) whether they felt that the community is united, and (c) whether the local government was good and helpful. The average level of trust towards their community was 1.859, with a sample population in the urbanized area of Phra kanong reporting a significantly lower level of trust at 1.5245 compared to 2.1825 in Bang Kachao. The level of trust does not correlate with the level of fear. However, there is a significant correlation between ‘social capital’, defined by respondents’ daily interaction with the neighbours and participation in community activities, and the fear of crime, with a coefficient of -0.91, R2 =0.358 (P< 0.001). This research concluded that communities play a vital role in the level of fear. However, since it was conducted on a small scale, further work is needed to confirm the linkage between the community and the people that influence the fear of crime in other locales.


[1] Indicator 16.1.4: Proportion of population that feel safe walking alone around the area they live. SDG Indicators Metadata repository, available at https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/metadata/files/Metadata-16-01-04.pdf


[2]  The Likert scale is a rating scale used in survey questions to measure a respondent's attitudes or opinions towards a given subject or statement.


[3] Lee, M., & Mythen, G. (Eds.). (2018). The Routledge international handbook on fear of crime. London: Routledge.

[4] Data from Bureau of Justice Statistics: Criminal Victimization 2018 Bulletin, available at https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf and Federal Bureau of Investigation: Uniform Crime Report 2018, available at https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2018/crime-in-the-u.s.-2018/topic-pages/tables/table-1 

[5] Gallup: Social and Policy issues, Crime, available at https://news.gallup.com/poll/1603/crime.aspx 

[6] Indicator 16.1.4: Proportion of population that feel safe walking alone around the area they live. SDG Indicators Metadata repository, available at https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/metadata/files/Metadata-16-01-04.pdf. 

[7] UNODC-UNECE Manual on Victimization Surveys 2009, available at https://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/Crime-statistics/Manual_on_Victimization_surveys_2009_web.pdf 

[8] The 2010 Population and Housing census report, National Statistical Office of Thailand, available at http://www.nso.go.th/sites/2014en/Pages/popeng/2010/report.aspx 

[9] Mueang refers to the capital district of a province in which the administrative offices are situated. In most cases the Mueang is the most populous district of the province. 

[10] Moo is the smallest division in local administration and comprises around 100-200 houses. Usually originating from a village, it is officially classified by numbers, for example Moo 12 Ban Nong Moang, Sila Sub-district, Mueang district, Khon Kaen, in which Ban Nong Moang is the name of the original village. 

[11] Khon Kaen is a major province in the northeast. Its Mueang District is densely populated partly because it has Khon Kaen University which is widely recognized as the hub of education in the region. 

[12] Ubon Ratchathani is the country's easternmost province situated in the northeastern region, bordering Lao PDR. 

[13] Phitsanulok is a province in the lower North. It has a rich history as a part of an early city-state of Thailand. 

[14] Nakhon Si Thammarat is a big southern province on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand. It used to be the administrative center of southern Thailand in the past. 

[15] Phuket is a southern province on the west coast of Thailand on the Andaman Sea. It consists of the island of Phuket, the famous tourist destination and the country's largest island, and several islets off its coast. 

[16] Nongprue Town Municipality is the administrative office of Nongprue sub-district of Pattaya city, the famous tourist destination which is governed by a special autonomous system similar to Bangkok. 

[17] Phra Kanong is one of the sub-districts of Kloy Toei district in central Bangkok. It is bordered by the Chao Phraya River and contains port facilities. It used to be known for having the largest slum in Bangkok. 

[18] Bang Kachao is one of the sub-districts of Phra Pradaeng District, Samut Prakarn Province. It is situated on the south right across the Chao Phraya River from Bangkok. The land which has been traditionally agricultural with a small population is preserved as an urban oasis, known as ‘the green lung’ of the city.