The term community violence brings various images to mind, from gang shootings to street muggings. While these are certainly elements of community violence, the actual definition is broad and encompassing. Community violence can be defined as exposure to acts of interpersonal violence committed by individuals who are not intimately related to the victim. Some of the acts that fall under the community violence umbrella include sexual assault, burglary, use of weapons, muggings, the sounds of bullet shots, as well as social disorder issues such as the presence of teen gangs, drugs, and racial divisions.
Community violence is so pervasive, especially in lower-income urban areas, that according to the results of studies of American children and adolescents, more than 33% reported being the direct victim of violence (Boney-McCoy & Finkelhor, 1995) and over 75% of children reported having been exposed to community violence. (Hill & Jones, 1997) One of the most troubling aspects of this topic is that generally, parents report that their children are exposed to about half of the violence that the children themselves report. (Richters & Martinez, 1993)
Parents are encouraged to talk openly with their children regularly in order to get a clear view of what children may be experiencing. The National Mental Health Association offers some ideas on how to establish communication about community violence with children. For those interested in learning about the rates of violence in their communities, The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides searchable listings of criminal activity by state.
Children living in violent communities can be victims or witnesses of crime. Even small children are at an increased risk for injury, developmental disorders, juvenile crime, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and related anxiety disorders. Please see “Signs and Symptoms”.
Other responses that children may develop when exposed to community
violence include distrust of adults and increased aggressiveness. Children
learn by example, and some children may come to feel that violence is
justified and see violence as a valid way of dealing with interpersonal
conflict. Each child reacts differently to violent situations and some
may be more resilient than others. In any case, parental involvement
and support is one of the key factors in children’s mental and
emotional well being. The American Psychological Association has published
an article on helping
children to resist violence.
Many families living in communities with high rates of violence may feel distress and concern for their children’s safety, but may not be aware of their children’s possible exposures or victimizations. Caregivers of children living in violent communities are encouraged to talk supportively with their children if any changes in behavior are noticed. Help from educators, mental health professionals and faith-based groups can be effective tools for intervention.
Families in violent communities can take action to protect themselves and their children. Many communities have successfully controlled crime and violence using both government funded and private, non-profit support systems.
Boney-McCoy, S., & Finkelhor, D. (1995). Psychosocial sequelae of violent victimization in a national youth sample. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 63(5), 726-736.
Hill, H. M., & Jones, L. P. (1997). Children's and parents' perceptions of children's exposure to violence in urban neighborhoods. Journal of the National Medical Association, 89(4), 270-276.
Richters, J. E., & Martinez, P. (1993). The NIMH Community Violence Project: I. Children as victims of and witnesses to violence. Psychiatry, 56(1), 7-21.
- A comparison of delinquent and non-delinquent youth found that a history of family violence or abuse is the most significant difference between the two groups (Miller, G. "Violence By and Against America's Children," Journal of Juvenile Justice Digest, XVII(12) p.6. 1989)
- In 2001, 5.5 % of youth between the ages of 12 and 15 and 5.6% of youth between the ages of 16 and 19 reported being victims of violent crime during the year. (Violence in the Lives of Children. Cross Currents Issue 1, August 2003. Child Trends DataBank. pdf)
- According to the United States Department of Justice, law enforcement agencies arrested approximately 2.8 million juveniles in 1997. Of that number, 2,500 were arrested for murder and 121,000 for other violent crimes. Juveniles accounted for 19% of all arrests, 14% of murder arrests, and 17% of all violent crime arrests. (OJJDP, Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report, 1999).
- In 2001, the National Center for Health Statistics listed homicide as the fourth leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 4, fourth for youth ages 5 through 14, and second for persons ages 15 through 24. (National Center for Health Statistics. Death and Death Rates by Leading Causes of Death and Age: 2001.)
- The U.S. has the highest rates of childhood homicide, suicide, and firearm-related death among industrialized countries. (CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, February 7, 1997, Vol 46, No. 5, Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Death Among Children in 26 Industrialized Countries.)
- The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children aged 15 years or less was nearly 12 times higher than among children in the other 25 industrialized countries combined. (CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, February 7, 1997, Vol. 46, No. 5, Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Death Among Children in 26 Industrialized Countries)
- 16.5% of persons arrested in 2002 were under the age of 18. (FBI, October 2003 Section IV, Table 38)
- In 1996, handguns were used to murder 2 people in New Zealand , 15 in Japan , 30 in Great Britain , 106 in Canada , 213 in Germany and 9,390 in the United States . (Legal Community Against Violence, 2000)
- Each year an estimated $2.3 billion are spent on medical care for the nation's gunshot victims. Almost half of that sum is paid by U.S. taxpayers. (Legal Community Against Violence, 2000)
- Guns in this country cause the death of approximately 12 young people (those 19 years of age and under) each day. The overall firearm-related death rate among children under the age of 15 is nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries combined. (Legal Community Against Violence, 2000)
In the Literature
- 1998 National youth gang survey: summary. (2000). Washington , DC
: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention. pdf
- Carjackings in the United States, 1992-96. Klaus, Patsy A. 1999. Washington , DC : U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. pdf
- Children of war: violence and America's youth: hearing before the subcommittee on children, family, drugs and alcoholism of the committee on labor and human resources United States senate one hundred second congress second session on July 23, 1992. (1992). Washington , DC : Committee on labor and human resources.
- Comparing the Criminal Behavior of Youth Gangs and At-Risk Youths. Huff, C. Ronald. 1998. Washington D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice. pdf
- Injuries from Violent Crime, 1992-98. Washington , D.C. : U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2001.
- Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report (full report of OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book). 1999. Washington , DC : Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention ; Rockville , MD : Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse.
- Youth Violence Prevention: Descriptions and Baseline Data from 13 Evaluation Projects, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Supplement to Volume 12, Number 5, September/October 1996.
- 50 Ways to a Safer World: Everyday Actions You Can Take to Prevent Violence in Neighborhoods, Schools, and Communities. Occhuizzo Giggans, Patricia. 1997. Seal Press.
- Best Practices of Youth Violence Prevention: A Sourcebook for Community Action. 2002. Thronton, Timothy N., et al (Ed.). Atlanta : Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Children and Trauma: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Monahan, Cynthia. 1997. Jossey-Bass Publishers.
- Children in a violent society. 1997. Osofsky, Joy. (Ed.). New York : Guilford Press.
- Children in Danger: Coping with the Consequences of Community Violence. Garbarino, James, et.al. 1998. San Francisco : Jossey-Bass Publishers.
- Gangs in America (2nd ed.). Huff, C.R. (Ed.). (1996). Thousand Oaks , CA : SAGE Publications, Inc.
- Investing in children, youth, families, and communities: strengths-based research and policy. (2003). Washington , DC : American Psychological Association.
- Latino homicide: immigration, violence and community. Martinez , Ramiro. 2002. New York ; London : Routledge Press.
- Violence against Children in the Family and the Community. Trickett, Penelope and Schellenbach, Cynthia. 1998. Washington , DC : American Psychological Association.
- Within our reach: Breaking the cycle of disadvantage. Schorr, L. B. and Schorr, D. 1989. New York : Doubleday.
- Dulmus, Catherine N; Ely, Gretchen; Wodarski, John S; Dulmus, Catherine N. Children's Psychological Response to Parental Victimization: How Do Girls and Boys Differ? [Peer Reviewed Journal] Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. Vol 7(3-4) 2003, 23-36.
- Ng-Mak, Daisy S; Salzinger, Suzanne; Feldman, Richard S; Stueve, C. Ann. Pathologic Adaptation to Community Violence Among Inner-City Youth. [Peer Reviewed Journal] American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol 74(2) Apr 2004, 196-208.
- Rosario, Margarer; Salzinger, Suzanne; Feldman, Richard S; Ng-Mak, Daisy S. Community Violence Exposure and Delinquent Behaviors Among Youth: The Moderating Role of Coping. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Journal of Community Psychology. Vol 31(5) Sep 2003, 489-512.
- Dulmus, Catherine N. Approaches to Preventing the Psychological Impact of Community Violence Exposure on Children. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Crisis Intervention & Time-Limited Treatment. Vol 6(3) Sep-Oct 2003, 185-201.
- Peacock, M. Jean; McClure, Faith; Agars, Mark D. Predictors of delinquent behaviors among Latino youth. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Urban Review. Vol 35(1) Mar 2003, 59-72.
- Feerick, Margaret M; Prinz, Ronald J. Next steps in research on children exposed to community violence or war/terrorism. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review. Vol 6(4) Dec 2003, 303-305.
- Berkowitz, Steven J. Children exposed to community violence: The rationale for early intervention. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review. Vol 6(4) Dec 2003, 293-302.
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- Stein, Bradley D; Jaycox, Lisa H; Kataoka, Sheryl; Rhodes, Hilary J; Vestal, Katherine D. Prevalence of child and adolescent exposure to community violence. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review. Vol 6(4) Dec 2003, 247-264.
- Trickett, Penelope K; Duran, Lorena; Horn, John L. Community violence as it affects child development: Issues of definition. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review. Vol 6(4) Dec 2003 , 223-236. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands
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- Foster, Jennifer D; Kuperminc, Gabriel P; Price, Ann W. Gender Differences in Posttraumatic Stress and Related Symptoms Among Inner-City Minority Youth Exposed to Community Violence. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Journal of Youth & Adolescence. Vol 33(1) Feb 2004, 59-69.
- Gorman-Smith, Deborah; Tolan, Patrick H. Positive adaptation among youth exposed to community violence. [Chapter] Luthar, Suniya S. (Ed). (2003). Resilience and vulnerability: Adaptation in the context of childhood adversities. (pp. 392-413). New York, NY, US: Cambridge University Press.
- Ceballo, Rosario; Ramirez, Cynthia; Hearn, Kimberly D; Maltese, Kelly L. Community Violence and Children's Psychological Well-Being: Does Parental Monitoring Matter? [Peer Reviewed Journal] Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. Vol 32(4) Dec 2003, 586-592.
- Guerra, Nancy G; Huesmann, L. Rowell; Spindler, Anja. Community Violence Exposure, Social Cognition, and Aggression Among Urban Elementary School Children. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Child Development. Vol 74(5) Sep-Oct 2003, 1561-1576.
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- Wilson, W. Cody; Rosenthal, Beth Spenciner. The relationship between exposure to community violence and psychological distress among adolescents: A meta-analysis. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Violence & Victims. Vol 18(3) Jun 2003, 335-352.
- Guterman, Neil B; Cameron, Mark; Hahm, Hyeouk C. Community violence exposure and associated behavior problems among children and adolescents in residential treatment. [Peer Reviewed Journal] Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. Vol 6(2) 2003, 111-135.
- Overstreet, Stacy; Mazza, James. An ecological-transactional understanding of community violence: Theoretical perspectives. [Journal Article] School Psychology Quarterly. Vol 18(1) Mar 2003, 66-87.
- Boyd, Rhonda C; Cooley, Michele R; Lambert, Sharon F; Ialongo, Nicholas S. First-grade child risk behaviors for community violence exposure in middle school. [Journal Article] Journal of Community Psychology. Vol 31(3) May 2003, 297-314.
- Kataoka, Sheryl H; Stein, Bradley D; Jaycox, Lisa H; Wong, Marleen; Escudero, Pia; Tu, Wenli; Zaragoza, Catalina; Fink, Arlene. A school-based mental health program for traumatized Latino immigrant children. [Journal Article] Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Vol 42(3) Mar 2003, 311-318.
- Fivush, Robyn; Hazzard, Ann; Sales, Jessica McDermott; Sarfati, Deborah; Brown, Trina. Creating coherence out of chaos? Children's narratives of emotionally positive and negative events. [Journal Article] Applied Cognitive Psychology. Vol 17(1) Jan 2003, 1-19. John Wiley & Sons, United Kingdom
- Schwartz, David; Gorman, Andrea Hopmeyer. Community violence exposure and children's academic functioning. [Journal Article] Journal of Educational Psychology. Vol 95(1) Mar 2003, 163-173.
- Rivard, Jeanne C; Bloom, Sandra L; Abramovitz, Robert; Pasquale, Lina E; Duncan, Mariama; McCorkle, David; Gelman, Andrew. Assessing the implementation and effects of a trauma-focused intervention for youths in residential treatment. [Journal Article] Psychiatric Quarterly. Vol 74(2) Sum 2003, 137-154.