A Movement to treat violence as a health problem

Violence is among the most significant health problems not only because of death and injury, but also because of the harm, fear, and trauma caused to families and communities. It leads to a broad range of mental and physical health problems that disproportionately impact children, youth, and communities of color. Furthermore, it is now scientifically clear that violence behaves like a contagious and epidemic disease.

Moreover, 15 years of research and practice show that health and community partnerships employing epidemic control methods provide up to 70% reductions in violence – and sometimes more. Now is the time to mobilize our nation’s healthcare and public health systems and methods to work with communities and other sectors to stop this epidemic.


We are working to fundamentally change the discourse on and approach to violence from the prevailing paradigm that understands violence as moral corruption or human failing that applies punitive strategies to address the issue, to one that includes an understanding and addressing of violence as a health problem – a contagious epidemic. To do so successfully, we are activating voices and resources throughout our comprehensive health system and establishing violence prevention as a health sector responsibility and imperative. A health response to violence prevention offers a solution to the devastating and destructive effects of all forms of violence, stabilizing families and communities in a healthy manner – moving the nation towards equity. Learn more at www.ViolenceEpidemic.org.

Our Charge:

In the United States, violence claims an enormous $450 billion toll and nearly 60,000 lives annually. The epidemic clusters, spreads and transmits in a contagious fashion – leaving not only direct physical wounds for those who survive, but also mental, social and neurological damage to everyone in its path. Even so, violence is still not universally understood as a public health issue. We are a movement that strives to re-envision violence as a barrier to health and ultimately a national priority. In light of this philosophy, we advocate the following: (1) enacting social and behavioral campaigns to reduce violence; (2) using the comprehensive healthcare system as a point of intervention to interrupt the spread of violence; and (3) developing public health and epidemiology tools for community-based violence prevention programs.

Who We Are:

A group of over 400 health experts representing more than 30 of our most violent cities across the nation has gathered under the leadership of:

  • Satcher Health Leadership Institute
  • Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University
  • Dr. Gary Slutkin, Founder/CEO of Cure Violence and Professor of Epidemiology and Global Health at University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health.

What Is a Health Approach to Violence Prevention

The health perspective is important because it is based on a scientific understanding that reveals to us that violence is a behavior developed through exposure and is thereby transmissible, allowing us to see and understand people differently.  Health approaches for preventing violence are those that are based on an understanding of how violent behaviors are formed and of the effects of exposure to violence; that apply a preventative approach; that use evidence-based or evidence-informed approaches; and that are nonjudgmental, have a commitment to do no harm, and approach people through the lens of care.

Health approaches to violence typically fall into four categories, which can be implemented in combination or individually.

  1. Stopping the transmission of violence by detecting situations in the community where the risk of future violence is high and preventing these situations from becoming lethal, thus interrupting the contagion where it is potentially occurring
  2. Identifying and treating those at highest risk for violent behavior
  3. Addressing environmental factors to reduce the community’s susceptibility or increase its resistance to the violence contagion (typically targeting community norms or social determinants of health)
  4. Addressing risk factors (and protective factors) that affect an individual’s susceptibility or resistance to the violence contagion (also includes many social determinants of health)

All of these approaches address violence as a health issue and as a behavior and implement health methods that reduce the likelihood of that behavior occurring.  Multiple approaches should have a cumulative effect, and all approaches should be carefully monitored and adjusted as needed.

For more on the health approach:

  • Statement from the Violence as a Health Issue Collaborative on why violence should be considered a health issue
  • Reducing violence as the next great public health achievement – Dr. Gary Slutkin in Nature Human Behavior

Health System for Drastically Reducing Violence

The health sector can be much more fully utilized to reduce violence than we have seen utilized so far.  What is needed from the health sector was identified 30 years ago by the United States Surgeon General C.
Everett Koop’s Workshop on Violence and Public Health: “education of the public on the causes and effects of violence, education of health professionals as to better care for victims and better approaches to violence prevention, improved reporting and data-gathering, some additional research, and increased cooperation and coordination-networking if you will among health and health-related professions and institutions.” (Cron 1986)  In essence, Dr. Koop saw the need for a health system to respond to violence as a health problem in a much more energized and comprehensive way.

For more on the health system to prevent violence:

How to Get Involved

Find a ViolenceEpidemic.org.

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