Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Gallaher, Courtney M.||Krmenec, Andrew J.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Geographic and Atmospheric Sciences


Geography; Behaviorism (Psychology)


People perceive the world around them uniquely, with their views and experiences influencing the way they operate. To broadly understand concepts of safety, it is important to understand how individuals respond to their environment, and if any commonalties exist in perception. Experience becomes a way to understand how surroundings are viewed, and in turn, provides information on how space is mentally constructed. By developing a better understanding of these processes, construction of more people-oriented spaces can be addressed, where safety can be perceived by a larger, more diverse portion of the population. This dissertation focuses on developing a better understanding of how individual experiences shape the construction of safe and unsafe surroundings through the exploration of differences in perception of safety based on criminal victimization experience. This research is situated in the broader context of behavioral geography, which focuses on individual behavior, as opposed to the aggregate. Here, the phenomena themselves are not explored, but rather the processes that contribute to these phenomena. Beginning with the role of built environmental factors in reducing crime (increasing safety), and how an individual perceives and assigns meaning to their surroundings, this dissertation has a broad and fundamental purpose to develop an understanding of how one type of life experience (criminal victimization) influences the way individuals perceive safety in their surroundings. This dissertation is comprised of three individual manuscripts, with one overarching theme, each addressing a specific part of the larger purpose. Manuscript one (Chapter 3) explores factors associated with safe surroundings, and further explores how these factors vary based on specific types of criminal victimization experience. This manuscript establishes if individuals with victimization experience perceive safety of surroundings differently than those without victimization experience, if those differences are uniform across different types of victimization, and what factors are employed between groupings when assessing the safety of surroundings. Manuscript two (Chapter 4) expands those insights by exploring how experiential differences influence an individual's perception of space, identifying broad themes present in the description of spaces, and determining how criminal victimization experience influences these descriptions. In doing so, findings from manuscript one are reinforced by determining how individuals perceive similar surroundings differently based upon their victimization experience. Finally, manuscript three (Chapter 5) examines how people construct safe and unsafe surroundings in their daily lives, and what the role of personal experience and emotion is in shaping this construction. These manuscripts, in conjunction with one another, provide an understanding of how individuals apply perception and experience in their daily lives. Overall, the results from this dissertation will provide clarity regarding if hypothesized differences in perception of safe surroundings exist based upon the experience of criminal victimization, what built environmental factors are perceived differently and how, and then how those differences in perception influence the construction of safe surroundings in daily lives.


Advisors: Courtney Gallaher; Andrew Krmenec.||Committee members: Kristen Myers; James Wilson.||Includes illustrations and map.||Includes bibliographical references.


173 pages




Northern Illinois University

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