As an emergency physician for over a decade, I’ve witnessed consequences of violence firsthand. I’ve also seen what can have an even greater impact on health. How do we move from reacting to abuse, rape, homicide and suicidal behaviors to stopping them before they start?

  • By strengthening families.
  • Fostering healthy relationships.
  • Making neighborhoods and schools safer.

These efforts do more than help people live safely and healthy—they enable communities to thrive.

Challenge and opportunity

"Certain youth violence prevention strategies save more money than they cost by reducing crime and health care costs.”

The toll of violence, across its forms, is staggering. People can experience child maltreatment, youth violence, intimate partner sexual violence, elder abuse and suicide across their lives. In 2011, for example, about half of all children in the U.S. were exposed to at least one form of violence. Violence types can occur simultaneously, under one roof, and in the same neighborhood.

Trauma and injury from violence cause short-term problems and lifelong difficulties. Traumatic experiences in childhood, for example, can increase chronic health problems like heart disease and depression later in life. Violence, however, is not inevitable or accidental. Violence is preventable.

Communities increasingly recognize violence as a public health problem that cannot be solved by law enforcement alone. State and local public health departments can engage community groups and leaders to stop violence before it occurs.

Investing in prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Injury Center is a leader in gathering information on violence trends and circumstances and designing programs to reduce risks. We’re learning about shared causes of violence that we can all work together to address: communities with concentrated poverty, little access to jobs, alcohol abuse, family conflict and social isolation.

Community actions show violence is reduced through teaching non-violent conflict resolution and building safe, stable and nurturing relationships and environments for children and families.

Research shows prevention is a smart investment. Certain youth violence prevention strategies save more money than they cost by reducing crime and health care costs. Prevention can significantly reduce the $17.5 billion in medical care and lost work costs from youth violence alone.

Preventing violence is not just for doctors, academics and government officials. Everyone has a role.

Start with your family and friends, where you live and work. Demonstrate how to solve conflicts non-violently with children and loved ones. Strengthen healthy bonds within families and between spouses or partners. Build connections between community members, schools and organizations. Lives depend on it.