Americans are the safest they’ve been in decades. National crime statistics show a 48 percent decline in the violent crime rate since it peaked in the early 1990s, according to the FBI. But Americans don’t believe it. Year after year, surveys show that 6 out of every 10 Americans say there was more crime in the United States compared with the year before, according to the Pew Research Center. “Most of the people that I knew who were afraid of crime seemed like very smart people, and so I wanted to understand why there was a disconnect between fear and actual crime,” says Nicole Rader, an associate dean at Mississippi State University who studies gender and crime. Much of that disconnect, she says, results from how people perceive their surroundings. For example, many crime and safety education campaigns focus on women, even though men are statistically more likely to be the target of crime. And if women do become victims, it’s usually not because they were walking outside at night. “What we know when we look at crime statistics,” Ms. Rader says, “is women are much more likely to be hurt by someone they know.”
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