Fear is usually presented as a disempowering emotion, but fear of crime can also lead to constructive attempts to control one's own environment. Mixed discourses circulate in the public arena about women's fear of crime. This paper explores the way women themselves talk about their experience of violent crime, and about their behavioural and emotional responses to criminal threat. In a study which used focus groups and structured interviews wide variation was found in women's levels of fear, strategies for self-protection, and balance between feelings of security and freedom. The gendered and non-gendered discourses employed by women in relation to criminal violence were explored in terms of alternative constructions of power as dominance and power as competence. Most women sought empowerment through a discourse of control over their lives rather than engaging with gendered notions of patriarchy and male violence. In this paper we attempt to understand the range of discourses employed by women to frame these issues, and their implications for feminist analysis and practice.