Experiencing community violence increases risk of trauma, and is especially harmful for children and adolescents
Washington, DC (July 12, 2017)— “Individuals living in communities where violence is prevalent are at increased risk for a broad range of negative health and behavior outcomes,” according to The Relationship Between Community Violence and Trauma: How Violence Affects Learning, Health, and Behavior, a new report from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles (VPCGLA).
The 23-page report, (available in both English and Spanish), funded by The California Wellness Foundation, is largely intended as a primer for gun violence prevention advocates, policymakers, and the general public. In putting forth the question, “What mark, beyond the physical, do bullets leave?” the study is designed to provide a foundation of key concepts and research related to community trauma in the context of firearms violence in an easily accessible format.
VPC Executive Director Josh Sugarmann states, “The violence prevention community in California--foundations, organizations, policymakers, advocates, practitioners, community leaders, and survivors--has led the nation in recognizing the impacts of trauma that result from experiencing violence. This new resource is intended to promote the understanding of how violence-induced trauma impacts individuals with the goal of aiding effective strategies to prevent and mitigate trauma exposure. A primary goal of this study is to build awareness that the harm inflicted by firearms violence goes far beyond the physical injury that bullets inflict.”
Daniel Healy, associate director of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, states, “As we come to a better understanding of how trauma from community violence impacts our health and well-being, it is even more imperative that we work collaboratively across sectors to prevent violence, support healthy child and youth development, and build resilience in our communities. In Los Angeles County, we have seen a downward trend in violent crime and homicide over the last 10 years largely as a result of coordinated, trauma-informed efforts that are currently underway in highly impacted areas.”
Community violence is defined as public acts of interpersonal violence committed by someone not intimately related to the victim. Examples of community violence are neighborhood or school shootings, gang disputes, bullying, and drug dealing. The report highlights the consequences of community violence on health and well-being, specifically illuminating the cumulative effects of living with the fear of violence.
The report presents research that details how individuals living in communities where violence is prevalent are at increased risk for a broad range of negative health and behavior outcomes. In the context of gun violence prevention, evidence suggests that living in violent communities compromises residents’ ability to break intergenerational cycles of violence. Research has also shown that exposure to the trauma of community violence is uniquely linked to development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially among children and adolescents.
The study details three domains--learning and development, mental health and behavior, and chronic illness--where research has consistently linked exposure to violence with negative later life outcomes:
Impact on Learning and Development
- Disrupts brain development causing lower impulse control and impaired ability to concentrate, make decisions, and follow instructions
- Reduces academic performance, lowers education and career aspirations
Impact on Mental Health and Behavior
- Increases incidence of PTSD, substance abuse, and suicide
- Causes hypersensitivity to threats and desensitization to violence
- Causes aggressive, violent behavior
- Increases acceptance of violence as a legitimate response, leads to perpetuation of cycle of violence
Impact on Chronic Illness
- Increases risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and asthma
- Increases risk for obesity and reduced physical activity
Across California, “trauma informed” interventions offer a pathway for other states to follow in their efforts to reduce community violence and its long-term effects. These efforts have been increasingly covered in mainstream media as the impact of childhood trauma becomes more and more recognized. In its summary, the study states, “Efforts to mediate the effects of community violence in individuals include education around reducing the prevalence of toxic stress and strengthening relationships between youth and their caregivers. Interventions that occur when children are young have shown to be successful in reducing negative outcomes later in life through helping to stabilize both the child and his/her parent or caregiver.”