‘You go to campus with fear and come back with fear’: university students’ experiences of crime





In view of reports in the media on the spate of crimes plaguing South African universities, a qualitative study was conducted regarding the experience of crime by students from one urban-based university. The research formed part of a group project in which fourth-year social work students each conducted five interviews with students who were not their friends. Consistent with routine activity theory, students who were interviewed appeared to be vulnerable targets with a lack of guardianship, who were preyed on by motivated offenders. The most common crimes included theft of laptops and cell phones, and robberies at their places of accommodation. In line with cognitive behavioural theory, the crime encounter had profound psychological, financial and academic consequences for students. Students endeavoured to cope with the trauma of crime by adopting a variety of cognitive and behavioural strategies. Students’ recommendations for enhancing safety included universities increasing security measures through increasing patrols and CCTV surveillance cameras, and students adopting self-protection measures such as walking in groups, being more vigilant, and not walking with headphones on. These recommendations for enhancing guardianship on the part of university protection services and police, coupled with self-protection strategies on the part of students, can potentially reduce the risks of students becoming targets of criminal offenders.


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Author Biographies

Eleanor Ross, Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg

Eleanor Ross is a former Head of Department of Social Work at University of the Witwatersrand and is currently a Visiting Professor of Social Work at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg.

Shahana Rasool, Department of Social Work, University of Johannesburg

Shahana Rasool is a Rhodes Scholar who obtained a Masters and Doctorate from the University of Oxford (UK), Department of Social Policy. She is currently Associate Professor and Head of the Social Work Department at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). She is Vice President of Association for Schools of Social Work in Africa (ASSWA) and the African representative on the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW).






Research articles