Perceptions of crime and safety in The Bahamas
Draft: May 2019
William J. Fielding
Official statistics indicate that crime in The Bahamas has been declining since 2011. This study was
undertaken to determine if the perception of fear of crime and residents’ feelings of safety were
influenced by the decline in reported crime. An Internet based survey which obtained responses from
1,913 residents, indicated that relatively few people felt that crime has decreased and relatively few had
their feelings of safety influenced by the crime statistics. Victims of crime, and those who knew a victim
of crime, in the previous 12 months, had lower perceptions of safety than those who were not victims of
crime. This suggests that the perceptions of safety may remain static until residents not only suffer less
victimization, but also hear less about it from associates who are victims. While residents continue to fail
to report all the crimes from which they suffer, they contribute to the under-reporting of crime, and so to
the fear of the unknown associated with not knowing the accurate occurrence of crime.
The occurrence of crime generates fear which extends beyond the victim. Learning that someone has been
a victim of crime can generate concerns which may be out of proportion in the likelihood of the event
being experienced. An example of this is humans being attacked and killed by dogs. These rare events,
which attract considerable attention in the news media can create a fear which is based more on emotion
than actual risk of harm. The example of dog attacks in The Bahamas illustrates this (Fielding Mather &
Isaacs, 2005) and is not dissimilar to reports in other communities (Delise, 2002). The common use of
social media to receive information (Fielding, 2019) can allow fear generating reports to be widely
reported, even if the incident itself may, in fact, not be verifiable or correct. For example; the
unsubstantiated fear of a gasoline shortage was spread by social media after hurricane Matthew hit New
Providence in 2016 (Pinder, 2016). Similarly, social media content can fuel the fear of crime (Intravia,
Wolff, Paez & Gibbs, 2017). Based upon research in the US State of Florida, it was found that the media
influenced the fear of crime; the constant preoccupation of the Bahamian media with crime may have a
similar impact (Chiricos, Padgett, Gertz, 2000). Further, travel warnings issued by foreign countries are
reported in the media and reinforce the perception that Bahamian society is dangerous (Turnquest, 2018).
Although in recent years The Bahamas has suffered from one of the higher crime rates in the Caribbean
(Sutton, 2016), the numbers of crimes reported by the police have been decreasing, Figure 1. The value
of these figures has been contested, in particular as it relates to sexual offences (“PLP MP says crime stats
should be standardized”, February 12, 2014) and Aranha (2016). It has also been suggested in the
Bahamian media that fear of crime and crime statistics are disconnected (Strachan, 2018). The
“barometer” of crime used by the media and politicians to assess crime has been the number of
homicides. Homicide figures have been used for political purposes (Fielding, 2016) and this seems to
have resulted in some losing faith in the statistics, (email comment responding to Wells, 2019). However,
it should be noted that the Royal Bahamas Police Force has made efforts to not only reduce criminal acts,
but also reduce the fear of crime (Royal Bahamas Police Force (2013). This has included getting the
community involved through “Neighbourhood watch” groups (Ministry of National Security, n.d.).
Figure 1: Number of reported crimes in The Bahamas, 2010-2018. Source: Royal Bahamas Police Force
The gap that can occur between the reality of crime and its perception (Addington, 2009) has resulted in
many studies worldwide, for example, in South Africa, (The Conversation, 2018). These have identified
that many factors can influence an individual’s fear of crime, such as age, sex and social status (John
Howard Society of Alberta, 1999). The Caribbean, which suffers from relatively high crime rates, has
been the subject of several studies focused on the fear on crime, including Sutton and Ruprah (2017).
Consequences of the fear of crime can be far reaching and even contribute to migration, according to
research focused on Central America (Raderstorf, Wilson, Zechmeister & Camilleri, 2017).
Research in the United State has indicated that the type of crime (violent verses property crime) is linked
to perceptions of safety (Hipp, 2013). Given the concerns arising from crime, which typically means
violent crime (Boers, 2003), it is not surprising that homicide has become the most researched crime in
The Bahamas, resulting in several studies on homicide, including Hanna (2017). While overall crime has
been trending downwards, including sexual offences and homicides, it is the homicide count upon which
newspapers still focus, a crime which represented 1.8% of the 4,954 crimes reported by the police in
2018. Although The Bahamas has a relatively high occurrence of rape (Sutton, 2016) (and in the USA it
is reported that 1 in 6 women are victims of sexual assault (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network,
2019)), rape has received less attention in The Bahamas, which may be due to the difficulties associated
with getting the crime reported. This is despite a recent “Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based
Violence” being published by the National Task Force for Gender-based violence (2015).
Studies indicate that females are more fearful of crime than males (for example in South Africa, Plus 94
Research 2015) and that younger people and older people are more fearful of crime (for example: John
Howard Society of Alberta, 1999). These differences are typically explained by females being brought up
to be more watchful of their safety than males, while younger people are at greater risk of being victims
of violent crime (Hanna, 2017), and older people feeingl less able to defend themselves should be they
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Number of crimes
While studies in other communities have identified a disconnection between crime statistics and fear of
crime (for example Sheperdson, 2014), the primary focus of this survey was to obtain information as
whether adult residents (those aged 18 or over and usually resident in the country) in The Bahamas are
still fearful of crime, given the continued downward trend in the official crime statistics.
An Internet base survey was devised by students in a social science research class, supplemented by
questions from the Latin American Public Opinion Project of 2014 (Vanderbilt University, 2014), and the
HITS index (Sherin, Sinacore, Li, Zitter & Shakil, 1998 ). The information collected included data on
victimization of study participants, as well as basic demographics. Participants were asked to indicate
their feelings of safety on a scale from 1 to 100 (100=completely safe) in four spaces, their home
neighbourhood, their work/study neighbourhood, the typical journey to work/study place and typical
visits to the shops. This resulted in a total safety score of 400.
A snow-ball sampling technique was used whereby students invited those in their contacts list on social
media to participate and these contacts were in turn asked to forward the survey link to their contacts.
The anticipated sample size was 1,300. The study was approved by the IRB of the University of The
Bahamas. The data were collected in March 2019.
A total of 2,071 persons entered the survey. After cleaning the data 1,913 responses remained. Not all the
surveys were completed, so this represents the maximum sample size. Overall, 68.8% (of 1,899
responses) were from females, the modal age group was 18-24 (47.8% of 1,912 responses) and the modal
household income was $20,001-$40,000 (30.4% of 1,204 responses). The majority of the respondents
(87.1% of 1,894) came from New Providence, with 9.0% from Grand Bahama and 3.9% from the
Sixteen participants had been victims of crime, in the previous 12 months, which occurred outside of The
Bahamas. These participants were retained in the dataset as the long-term effects of these crimes might
be expected to influence their perceptions of safety.
Change in the perception safety in relation to crime in 2018
Overall, 52.5% (of 1,660 respondents) thought that crime had increased since 2017, 30.0% thought that it
had remained about the same and the remainder thought that crime had decreased. Even when
respondents were told that crime had been decreasing since 2011, 29.5% (of 1,662 respondents) indicated
that they were still more fearful of crime that before, another 59.9% that they had same level of fear as
before, and the remainder were less fearful. However, these overall figures hide the fact that female
respondents were more likely than male respondents to think that crime had increased, and they were less
likely to feel less fearful even after being told that crime was down. As indicated in Table 1, both male
and female respondents were reluctant to abandon their private views as to whether or not crime was
changing, even after being told what the official statistics indicated.
Table 1: Alignment of respondents’ perceptions of crime with official statistics on crime
Do you personally think that since 2017 the
number of crimes has:
Officially, the number of crimes has been
decreasing since 2011. Do you now feel:
Less fearful of crime, than before
About the same level of fear, as before
More fearful of crime than before
Less fearful of crime, than before
About the same level of fear, as before
More fearful of crime than before
Perceptions of safety
In each of the four spaces considered, there were marked differences in the responses of male and female
respondents. While the majority did not feel that they felt any change in their perception of safety, the
level of safety deteriorated as the space became more public, Table 2.
Table 2: Perceptions of changes in safety of males and females.
Thinking of the sort of crimes which are reported to
About the same
Do you consider your immediate neighbourhood
where your home is located to be safer than it was
one year ago?
21.4% 15.3% 67.3% 71.7% 11.3% 13.0% 0.006
Do you consider the immediate neighbourhood
where you work/study to be safer than it was one
23.6% 13.1% 65.9% 69.9% 10.5% 17.0% <.001
Do you consider the typical journeys which you
make often from your home to where you
work/study to be safer from crime, than they were
one year ago?
18.3% 10.7% 64.9% 64.8% 16.8% 24.6% <.001
Do you consider your typical visits to the shops/mall
safer from crime, than they were one year ago?
17.1% 8.1% 58.2% 53.3% 24.7% 38.6% <.001
There were no differences (p>.05) in the feelings of change of safety across the age groups, however there
were differences between the three groups across the islands, with proportionately more respondents from
New Providence reporting feeling less safe (p<0.005) than respondents from other islands, in all spaces
other than their work/study space (p=0.068).
Merely witnessing a crime reduced the participants’ feeling of safety. Those who witnessed a crime in
The Bahamas had a total safety score of 241.1 (SE=3.39), those who witnessed a crime outside of The
Bahamas, 251.4 (SE=8.13) and those who had never witnessed a crime had a score of 260.0 (SE= 3.28).
Consequently, witnessing crimes in The Bahamas had the greater effect on participants’ perception of
Differences in the changes in perceived safety (Table 2) were reflected in the levels of perceived safety,
A similar pattern of responses was observed, with regard to the perceived level of safety by sex.
Table 3: Perceived level of safety (100 being completely safe) by sex of participant and space.
Level of safety (100= completely safe)
In the area you now live in?
In the area you now work/study in?
Is your journey from your home to where you now work/study?
When you are shopping?
In all four spaces, respondents in the oldest and youngest age groups typically reported the lowest levels
of safety, Table 4. Respondents from New Providence reported the lowest levels of safety in each of the
four spaces, of all the groupings (p<.001).
Table 4: Perceived level of safety (100 being completely safe) by age of participant and space.
How safe do you feel in the area you now live in?
How safe do you feel in the area you now
How safe do you feel is your journey from your
home to where you now work/study?
How safe do you feel when you are shopping?
Participants from richer households tended to reported high levels of safety than those from poorer
households in all the spaces considered (p<.002, Table 5.
Table 5: Perceived level of safety (100 being completely safe) by household income.
Annual household income
How safe do you feel?
In the area you now live in
In the area you now work/study in
Is your journey from your home to where
you now work/study
When you are shopping
In the previous 12 months, 77.8% of male and 80.6% of female respondents were not victims of crime; of
those who were victims of crime, 37.8% of male and 43.9% of female victims had not reported the event
to the police. The three most common crimes of which participants were victims were: having something
stolen from a motor vehicle, theft without threats of harm or force, and having their home broken into
during the day, (9.6%, 5.9%, 5.1% for males and 7.6%, 3.6% and 4.3% for females respectively).
Table 6 indicates the Odds Ratios of males being victims of crimes compared to females. (When the Odds
Ratio is greater than one, males have a greater risk than females of being victims, when the ratio is less
than one the reverse pertains.) It is clear that overall, males were more at risk than females in the
previous 12 months of being a victim of crime. It is also apparent that a driver of safety for females
probably results from the elevated risk of being a victim of sexual crimes. The fact that this Odds Ratio is
not formally significant probably reflects the small numbers reporting being victims. Further, it should be
noted that, the three most commonly occurring crimes effect males and females equally.
Table 6: Odds ratio (OR) of males compared to females being victims of crime in the previous 12 months.
Theft involving the use of a weapon
Motor vehicle was stolen
Theft, without threats of harm or force
Theft without involving the use threats of harm but without the use of a weapon
Attempted theft without involving the use threats of harm but without the use of a
1.6 0.84 2.96
Something stolen from a motor vehicle
House broken into during the day
House broken into during the night
Numbers in bold indicate statistically different risks between males and females, p<.05
When considering victimization, we should recall that crimes can emerge from within the home, and not
only be associated with intruders or outsiders. Attitudes towards women, which can result in violence are
linked with domestic violence (Tables 7 & 8) which suggests how attitudes towards female roles and
commitment to a single partner may be linked to violence against a person. Further, 4.0% of females who
were victims of rape or attempted rape lived in homes with domestic violence compared to 1.1% of
female victims living in homes where domestic violence was absent, (Fisher’s exact test, p =.003,
Table 7: Attitudes of male and females towards a wife who neglects household chores by presence of
domestic violence (DV)in the home.
Sex of respondent
Would you approve of a husband hitting his wife if she
neglects the household chores?
Would not approve but understand
Would not approve or understand
Do not know
Table 8: Attitudes of male and females towards a wife who is unfaithful by presence of domestic violence
(DV) in the home.
Sex of respondent
Would you approve of a husband hitting his wife if she is
unfaithful to him?
Would not approve but understand
Would not approve or understand
Do not know
A question relating as to how participants have reacted to being a victim of crime in the last 12 months
provided conflicting responses. Some victims indicated that the crime did not affect them, which may
indicate denial or an accepted normality of victimization, to those who were angry, and others who had
changed their behaviour so as to be more aware of their surroundings. One particular response, “I only
feel safe at wrk [sic] where there is heavy security. Don't want my sons' friends in my yard”, sheds light
on the conflict of ethics and family ties.
The closeness of a person to a crime, being a recent victim, knowing a recent victim, ever being a victim,
on their perception of safety, can be appreciated in Table 9. This spatial/temporal aspect of safety
suggests why perceptions of safety lag behind changes in crime statistics. Not only do the perceptions of
safely increase with time from the crime event, but the differences in the feeling of safety between victims
and non-victims narrows.
Table 9: Perceived level of safety (400 = completely safe) by spatial/temporal aspect of the crime.
Victim of crime in last 12 months
Know a victim of crime in last 12 months
Ever a victim of crime
It should be remembered that this sample arose from an Internet based study using a snowball sample, so
the results should not be interpreted as necessarily reflecting views which the wider population of
residents may have. Many of the questions posed in this study reflected the concerns of university aged
students, and so resulted in some questions which do not necessarily reflect the attempts to harmonize
fear of crime measures in other studies (Government Statistical Service, 2019). However, despite these
limitations, the results confirm much that is established in the literature, females feeling less safe than
males and age related different associated with safety. The results are also in general agreement with the
findings from the 2014 LAPOP study on The Bahamas, which have been reported by Sutton & Ruprah
(2017) and Fielding (2015).
A key point for the debate in 2019, is that the data demonstrate the disconnection between the
official statistics and the perception of crime. Respondents were unwilling to abandon their
perception that crime is increasing or about the same, even though the official statistics indicate
otherwise. The negative experiences which respondents have had arising from victimization,
directly or indirectly, are not erased by official statistics. The fact that respondents indicated that
they did not report all the crimes which they experienced, may add to their perceptions that the
crime figures do not tell the “true” picture, and so crime is more common than reported. One
estimate suggests that crime may be approaching twice as much as reported (Fielding, 2013).
The fact that participants knew that not all crimes are not reported (victims admitted that they did
not report all the crimes they had suffered), adds to their overall distrust of the reported crime
statistics, as they know they are under reports, and so may fear the “true” picture of crime, which
their own actions obscure. This also makes it more difficult for the police to catch criminals as
they can need the help of residents to locate possible offenders. This may be particularly
important in the case of sexual offences, which are recognized being “vastly” under-reported
(Sutton, 2016, p 36). However, provided the under-reporting is consistent year-on-year, the
decreasing trend in crime should be correct, so maybe there is a need to better inform the public
about the downward trend in crime.
The ethical dilemma which one respondent raised, about her son mixing with criminal types, yet
obviously not reporting anything to the police, indicates the complexity of getting statistics
which better reflect reality, and so could be influential in shaping residents’ perception of safety.
It also indicates issues which the law enforcement agencies may face when criminals are
sheltered by members of society.
The data highlight that residents tend to live in “fortresses”. They feel safer at home and at
work/school and less safe in public areas. This is consistent with the findings of Bethel and
Fielding (2014) who found that school children felt least safe on their journey between home and
school, and safer at home and at school. The need to protect one’s home from victimsation has
resulted in residents employing a variety of means to protect their homes (Fielding & Plumridge,
2004), with varying degrees of success. The feeling of safety, at least relatively so, at home, is
undermined by violence in the home, such as domestic violence, and the violence and violent
attitudes associated with domestic violence. In addition, the lack of legal protection which
women have from martial rape (Benjamin & LeGrand, 2012) may add to their feeling of
insecurity, which seems to be based upon sexual abuse, and can still occur within marriage
within the “safety” of their homes. Clearly violence which arises from within homes, is harder to
be acted upon by the authorities, due to the unwillingness of victims to report crimes such as
sexual abuse (Aranha, 2016). Given that women are typically victims of domestic violence; this
may contribute to their lower overall perception of safety compared to male respondents.
While males have higher feelings of safety than females, they are more likely to be victims of
crime than females. The only crime which reversed this trend was rape/attempted rape.
Although the numbers in the study were too small to detect a statistically significant difference
between male and female rape, the different was in the expected direction. The silence about
rape offences, may contribute to the fear of women inasmuch that arising from their own private
experiences, they may fear that it is more common than reported. While rape remains an under
researched area in the country, the fear of the unknown may or may not justify the feelings of
lack of safety which women reported. Consequently, it is a topic which requires further
While crimes against the person appear mostly frequently in the country’s news reports, crimes
against property are the most common crimes. Thefts, in various forms were the three most
common crimes experienced by participants in the previous 12 months, as well as representing
the largest percentage of rimes reported to the police. Thefts are also part of school life for many
students, and so theft may be a behaviour which is learned at an early age (Johnson, 2016). These
observations suggest that policing and prevention may need to be focused on property crimes if
there is to be a widespread reduction in the overall level of victimization. This may be an
important means which may gradually lead to an increase in perceived safety. What is clear, is
that success in reducing the level of victimization today, even with inclusion of a greater
percentage of the crimes committed, is unlikely to have much impact on the level of safety
perceived by residents.
The author is grateful for the assistance of the Social Science Research class SSCI 200 of Spring 2019 in
their participation in this research project.
Addington, L. A. (2009). Fear of crime and perceived risk. New York: Oxford University Press.
Aranha, S. (2016). Sexual Abuse: The secret needing to be told. In W. J. Fielding, V. C. F. Ballance &
I. G. Strachan (Eds), Violence in The Bahamas. University of The Bahamas: Nassau, 87-92.
Benjamin, L., & LeGrand, C. (2012). Sound and fury: Newspaper coverage of the marital rape debate
in New Providence. The International Journal of Bahamian Studies, 18, 16-35. Retrieved from
Bethel, N. & Fielding, W. J. (2014). Where do high school students feel safest? Research Edge Forum.
The College of The Bahamas, September 19.
Boers K. (2003) Fear of Violent Crime. In: Heitmeyer W., Hagan J. (eds) International Handbook of
Violence Research. Springer, Dordrecht.
Chiricos, T.; Padgett, K.; Gertz, M. (2000). Fear, TV news, and the reality of crime. Criminology 38(3),
Department of Statistics (2015). Population projections 2010-2040. Nassau, Ministry of Finance.
Delise, K. (2002). Fatal dog attacks: The stories behind the statistics. Manorville, NY: Anubis Press.
Fielding, W. J. (2013). Filling the void in the crime statistics.
Fielding, W. J. (2015). Where the sexes differ; crime, violence but not the economy.
Fielding, W. J. & Plumridge, S. J. (2004) Preliminary observations of the role of dogs in household
security in New Providence, The Bahamas, Anthrozoös, 17:2, 167-178, DOI:
Fielding, W. J., Mather, J., & Isaacs, M. (2005). Potcakes: Dog ownership in New Providence, the
Bahamas. West Lafayette, Ind: Purdue University Press.
Government Statistical Service (2019) Crime and fear of crime. https://gss.civilservice.gov.uk/wp-
John Howard Society of Alberta (1999). Fear of Crime. https://johnhoward.ab.ca/wp-
Hanna, C., A. (2017). Solutions to the murder problem. National Anti-drug Secretariat: Nassau.
Hipp, J. R. (2013). Assessing Crime as a Problem: The Relationship Between Residents’ Perception of
Crime and Official Crime Rates Over 25 Years. Crime & Delinquency, 59(4), 616–648.
Intravia, J., Wolff, K. T., Paez, R. & Gibbs, B. R. (2017). Investigating the relationship between social
media consumption and fear of crime: A partial analysis of mostly young adults. Computers in
Human Behavior,77, 158-168.
Latin American Public Opinion Project and the Inter-American Dialogue (2017). The Violence How
Insecurity Shapes Daily Life and Emigration in Central America. A Report of the Rule of Law
Working Paper October.
Ministry of National Security (n.d.). National Neighbourhood Watch Council. Strategy Document.
National Task Force for Gender-based violence (2015). Strategic Plan to Address Gender-Based
Violence. The Commonwealth of The Bahamas. Ministry of Social Services and Community
Pinder, J. C. (2016) Gas station hysteria. Bahamas Local, October 14,
“PLP MP says crime stats should be standardized” (February 12, 2014). The Nassau Guardian.
Plus 94 Research (2015). Afro Barometer. Let the people have a say. Summary of Results. Afrobarometer
Round 6 Survey in South Africa, 2015.
Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (2019). Scope of the Problem: Statistics Sexual Violence has
Fallen by More than Half Since 1993. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/scope-problem
Royal Bahamas Police Force (2013). Tackling crime and allaying the fear of crime (Priority one)
Shepherdson, P. (2014). Perceptions of safety & fear of crime. Research Report. Auburn City Council.
Sherin, K. M., Sinacore, J. M., Li, X., Zitter, R. E., & Shakil, A. (1998). HITS: A short domestic violence
screening tool for use in a family practice setting. Family Medicine, 30(7), 508-512. Retrieved
from http://www.stfm.org/fmhub/FULLPDF/JULY AUG98/cram1.pdf
Strachan, M. (2018). Insight: Feeling safer? I’m amazed Minnis could say that with a straight face.
December 10, The Tribune. http://www.tribune242.com/news/2018/dec/10/insight-feeling-safer-
Sutton, H. (2016). Crime and violence in the Bahamas. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development
Sutton, H. & Ruprah, I. (Eds.) (2017). Restoring paradise in the Caribbean: Combatting violence with
numbers. Washington DC: Inter-American Development Bank.
The Conversation (October 2, 2018). Victim surveys show that crime in South Africa may be dropping, yet
fear is rising. https://theconversation.com/victim-surveys-show-that-crime-in-south-africa-may-
Turnquest, A. (2018). Fish Fry ‘No Go’ zone in US alert. The Tribune, January 11.
University (2014). Lain American Public Opinion Project: The Bahamas.
Wells, R. (2019). D’Aguilar dismay at US crime warning. The Tribune, February 27.