What is doorstep crime? While the expression “doorstep crime” sounds more like British English (I might have been more familiar with the word “scam”) and perhaps was the source of my misunderstanding, but even still I wasn’t sure I truly knew what doorstep crime was. What I learned, and begins to make perfect sense, is that doorstep crime relies on a face-to-face interaction between a burglar and (in this discussion) an older adult. For example, a burglar may gain access to a home by distracting or tricking his way in, while a rogue trader (again a British expression) might take advantage of a person by offering help and representing him/herself as a handyman, or a person in authority and pressuring the older adult into an exploitative financial decision. As the journal article points out, the perpetrator is relying on a set of stereotypes about older adults: including that the older adult likely lives alone, is not apt to remember any missing stolen items, is less likely to make a good identification as a witness and is less likely to report an incident. The article stresses the point that when fear is generated about doorstep crime, that in fact may be disproportionate to the actual number of incidents that occur, crime prevention strategies may be more detrimental to quality of life than the real likelihood that a crime will be committed. Creating more fear than necessary, the authors argue, may contribute to a “fortress mentality” thus isolating older adults even more so in their homes.
Two issues arose in the discussion that were not fully addressed and seemed at first tangential to the immediate topic, though relevant. One of the participants at the Round Table questioned the frame of reference, or even bias of the authors. She felt that certain neighborhood or cultural norms were not considered in the research. She described the East LA neighborhood where she grew up and where everyone has bars and locked doors on their homes, yet she doesn’t feel that her 83 year old mother, who still lives there, has a “fortress” mentality. Her mother continues to live comfortably in her neighborhood, people are out on the streets with whom she visits, and doesn’t feel overly threatened by the possibility of a burglary happening.
The second issue was a research finding that that was cited suggesting that after a burglary, an elderly victim was more likely to be in a long-term-care facility. We wondered if it wasn’t the trauma of a doorstep crime that initiated the move to a LTC setting, but rather one’s children used the incident as the trigger for placement claiming that the elder is no longer safe at home. Might this be indicative of the adult child’s fears more than the elder’s? Are adult children overprotective?
From a psychological point of view we wondered if an older adult may have lost the filters to question people’s honesty? And interestingly, how does an older person respond to being offered help, such as much needed lawn care or household repairs; the immediate response might be “Yes, please,” because that is the primary need, without first using good or better judgment in considering who the person is who is offering the assistance
The journal article seemed to raise more questions than answers. What is our responsibility to our elders? Can we protect too much? How do you create awareness without fear? On the one hand older adults may in fact be more vulnerable, yet on the other hand do we not want to honor their ability to make independent choices by providing information and allowing them to assess their own risks rather than frighten them with worst case scenarios? Can we be too hyper-vigilant engendering more harm than good? Are crime prevention strategies inherently ageist? Are we, or the authors, being age-ist by saying that elders can’t handle difficult information?
The Round Table Discussion Group meets monthly for an interdisciplinary conversation with experienced professionals in the field of aging. Each conversation uses one or two journal articles as reference points. The article read for this discussion was:
A Systematic Literature Review of Doorstep Crime: Are the Crime-Prevention Strategies More Harmful than the Crime?, Caroline Gorden and Julian Buchanan, The Howard Journal, Vol 52 No 5, December 2013, pp 498-515.