Moral panic and perceptions of community fear: A local community study examining drug use

Rivver Baumgaertner, Emma Colvin, Philip Birch

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Through a small-scale exploratory study, this paper presents findings from research that examined perceptions of the prevalence of drugs, both illicit and licit, and associated fear of crime. Through qualitative focus groups with members of a regional town in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, the study sought to examine perceptions of drug use based on personal knowledge and again, after official data of actual detected drug use was presented to compare the impact official data had on participants’ perceptions. The study also sought to gauge the fear of crime experienced by participants’ pre and post the presentation of official data on drug use, thus supporting an examination between the relationship of moral panic and the fear of crime. Using thematic analysis as the analytical approach, the study found that original perceptions of prevalence were inflated when compared to community perceptions/ understanding post presentation of official drug use data. However, presentation of official data did not alter participants’ levels of fear regarding drug use and related crime. This research provides evidence that fear of crime levels do not necessarily reduce when a more accurate perception and understanding of drug use and associated offending is harvested.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalSalus Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2018


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