Well, I would say that references are kind of a step up in terms of abstraction from pointers. For example, in C, you can point a pointer at pretty much any arbitrary space in memory; I don't think you can do that with references in Perl. I also don't think you could perform arithmetic on references (not that this is a great idea in C anyways).
In my mind, Perl references are much simpler. They always point to a thing, and you just have to remember to dereference it to use the thing it's pointing to.