Sunday, May 5, 2019

Bright Lights, Big City: Rural vs Urban Crime

Zoë Sharp

I’ve just spent the last couple of days in Newcastle, partly for Noir @ The Bar at The Town Wall on Thursday evening, and partly to hang out with author friends at Newcastle Noir at the City Library.

It’s a while since I’ve spent time in a city as lively as Newcastle, particularly late in the evening. And the walk from The Town Wall after Noir @ The Bar (organised, as ever, by the vivacious—and blooming—Vic Watson) had ‘Crimewatch reconstruction’ written all over it.

I was staying down near the river. Fabulous views, although getting from there to the city centre involved a climb up the Castle Steps you practically needed a Sherpa to achieve.

Going back to my car in the deserted multi-storey car park meant climbing an echoing stairwell and emerging to find mine was the only vehicle left on that floor. Again, I found I was hyper-aware of my surroundings, of possible ambush points or places anyone might be lurking with unscrupulous intent.

I’m always wary about wandering around a city, alone, late at night. I try always to wear a pair of shoes I can walk in, never mind run. I don’t put my hands in my pockets. I avoid having people walking too closely behind me. And I try to exude confidence—a ‘mess with me and I’ll rip your arms off’ kind of vibe.

So far, that’s been working just fine.

Living in the wilds of the countryside, I often find myself walking from one place to another, alone, late at night, where the dangers are more of encountering a badger emerging from the hedgerow, or a low-swooping owl. Here, I try to make sure I replace my flashlight batteries on a regular basis and confess to pausing every now and again to check if the second set of footsteps I can hear is just the echo of my own or something more.

I wouldn’t generally say I feel safer in the country than I do in the city, although most people would assume that they are. The government crime statistics agree, but only to a certain extent. According to the figures for 2016/2017, violence against the person in the UK was 14.1 per 1000 population in predominantly rural areas, compared with 22.2 in predominantly urban areas.

For sexual offences, it was 1.7/1000 in rural, compared with 2.2/1000 in urban. For other recorded crime, such as robbery, domestic burglary, and vehicle offences, the gap was even wider—3.9/1000 rural to 8.5/1000 urban. And you need to take into account that rural crime includes farm/agricultural related crime, theft of/damage to plant vehicles, equipment or livestock, as well as wildlife-related crime—animal cruelty, poaching, badger baiting, killing or taking wild birds and damage of protected habitats.

On the other hand, perhaps surprisingly, living in the city could be considered safer overall. Risk of death in urban areas is lower than in rural ones, and the risk of death by injury in a rural area is quite a bit higher than in the city. Car crashes are the overall biggest killer. In the States, although gun crime is more prevalent in cities, the ages between country and city change. Adults between 20 and 44 have a lower risk of firearm-related death in the country, but children and the over-45s have a higher risk rate.

And a final statistic for you. Apparently, analysing the data has shown that senior citizens in the city are more likely to have a fall, while children living in the country are more likely to drown.

That little snippet alone has all kinds of potential for me in writing the follow-up to DANCING ON THE GRAVE, which is planned for the end of the year. It’s all grist to the crime writer’s mill.

This week’s Word of the Week is Nyctophobia, meaning fear of darkness. From the Greek nyctus, meaning darkness or night, and phobos, meaning deep fear or hatred.

May 9-12
Friday, May 10, 13:40-14:30 Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live Candy DenmanPaul GitshamCara HunterAmanda RobsonZoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)
Saturday, May 11, 11:20-12:10 Ten Year Stretch: The CrimeFest Short Story Anthology Peter GuttridgeCaro RamsayZoë SharpMichael Stanley (Stan Trollip), Kate Ellis (Participating Moderator)
Sunday, May 12, 09:30-10:20 The Indie Alternative Beate BoekerStephen CollierBarry FaulknerLynn FlorkiewiczZoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)

June 7
Meet the Author—Thornton Library, Victoria Road East, Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire FY5 3SZ
Friday, June 07, 10:30-11:30


  1. Have you ever tried whistling the overture to Rocky while walking alone through dark city streets? It works for me every time. All within earshot flee, including Barbara. Can't wait to see you in Bristol!

    1. Hi Jeff. Not sure I'd know the overture to Rocky, although people who hear me sing have been known to flee with hands over ears, if that helps? Yes, looking forward to seeing you in Bristol!

  2. Zoe, what a fun post! I know that feeling. your description brought it back, Gooseflesh! BYW, It struck me that the word for being afraid of the dark states with NYC. It used to be scary here at night--40 years ago. Nowadays, when I leave the subway at midnight all by myself, the streets around me are well lit and filled with happy, safe people.

    1. Hi Annamaria. My first visit to NYC was in the late 80s', and it was a looking a little worse for wear back then. In fact, on the drive into the city I wondered why there were speed humps on the freeway and then realised it was simply the state of the roads!

      Now, whenever I visit, I stay up in Washington Heights and happily take the subway and then walk to the apartment I borrow, without any more than my usual precautions!

  3. opposed to nickedophobia, the fear of being stolen...

    1. The fear of being robbed or stolen from is kleptophobia, EvKa, while the fear of burglary is scelerophobia. I love these words...

  4. I'm not used to such low figures, Zoë. I'm envious.

    1. I did read somewhere that the crime figures for three years in the UK were equivalent to three months in the States, or three weeks in South Africa, but I'm sure there must be some mistake...

  5. The crime figures in Scotland are tumbling, because 'Those in charge' have changed the way crimes are reported and counted. So that makes life a lot safer ….massaging stats!

    1. I agree, Caro. The biggest theft is that of the number of victims, and that seems to be the worst crime of all.