Zut alors! France is running scared – but actually, things are getting better

Almost a quarter of French live in fear. Almost half of Parisians regularly see scenes of drunkenness, drug taking, drug dealing or prostitution on their streets. Terrorism is France’s greatest fear. These are the some of the findings of a major new report issued this week, a survey of 16,000 people living in France. However, while most indicators show that the real threat from delinquency burglary and violent crime is dropping – perceptions of insecurity seem to be growing.

Since 2007, an annual study, the «Cadre de vie et sécurité», has been carried out to determine the latest trends on property crime, personal injury and perceptions of security matters. While the majority of the survey is dedicated to documenting physical attacks on individuals and their first hand experience of theft, attacks and abuse, a part of the questionnaire is dedicated to assessing feelings of insecurity and societal concerns. It provides an opportunity to determine what is preoccupying and affecting the French and to track trends.

This year’s survey carried out by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (l’Insee) and the French National Observatory of Crime and Criminal Justice (ONDRP), reveals that 21% of individuals feel insecure in the area where they live and 43% of those are to fearful to go out alone. Broken down, the survey finds a marked difference between the sexes. One in three women feel insecure in the heart of their community compared to just 16% of men.

Conversely trends show that both violent and non-violent crime, including car theft, has decreased by 21%. Even at home 16% of respondents, a staggering 8.2 million French people, declared that they have found themselves feeling insecure. Again, these figures are heavily gender specific with one in five women compared to one in ten men saying they feel unsafe at home.

As crime on the streets is decreasing surprisingly the statistics show that French people are in fact more insecure than they have been for some years. Why is this? One answer is that the source of threats and what makes people feel insecure has shifted. Since 2010, the number of people who have become victims of online bank fraud has increased from half a million to 2.5 million in 2016 for example. Another reason is that in the wake of France’s terror attacks a state of emergency was in place from November 2015 for two years. While the site of soldiers patrolling the streets might have helped deter ordinary criminals by contrast they could been a factor in increasing general anxiety.

Terrorism itself, which worried 3% of people in 2014 is now France’s number one concern. This year’s study was done in the wake of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan Jihadi attacks, the most spectacular of the 26 terror attacks on French soil in recent years. Until 2016 unemployment was the top concern of the French but the terror attacks have completely changed the picture. In 2013 a full 50% of respondents said that unemployment was the thing that worried them most. In 2016 that figure had dropped to 23% while terrorism worried almost one in three or 16.4 million people.

None of this is a surprise to Joshua Haymann, a web designer in Paris, aged 32.

“Terrorism is always in the back of my mind to some extent, and if I’m in a densely populated area like a mall of cinema or Christmas market, then I’ll think about it and be more cautious,” he said, but he is cautious of the need to read between the lines of such large scale reports.

“This survey is such a generalisation to such an intimate feeling that is different to everyone.”

For the full report, click here.

Cover Image: Bianca Dagheti – ‘Prague prays for Paris’ / Flickr