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WELL-DOCUMENTED RISK FACTORS INCREASE THE ODDS THAT VIOLENCE WILL OCCUR.
Violence and Our Response was the theme of the Fall 1992 issue of PUBLIC WELFARE. In that issue we challenged readers to examine how violence affects us and our society and to consider how we should respond as human service agencies, as practitioners, and as citizens.
Two years later, violence still dominates the news, and it may seem that not much has changed. But we are heartened by the increasing number of efforts to understand violence and to determine how it might be prevented. For those who work in the human services, understanding and preventing violence are of paramount importance, as they confront violence daily--in child abuse and in spouse abuse, to cite just two examples.
To further increase our understanding of violence, we publish here the findings and conclusions of the Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior, which was created by the National Academy of Sciences in 1989 at the request of the National Institute of Justice, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The panel reviewed existing knowledge about the extent and nature of violence in the United States, promising opportunities for prevention, and areas in which further research and better measures are needed, particularly to identify causes and additional opportunities for prevention. This article is adapted from a February 1994 Research in Brief, published by the National Institute of Justice.
Violence is a serious social problem. According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), 23,438 Americans were murdered in 1990--a rate of 9.4 for every 100,000 people. And according to the World Health Organization, the United States has the dubious distinction of having the highest murder rate in the industrialized world.
Violent crime short of murder is also a frequent occurrence in this country. An estimated 2.9 million serious nonfatal violent victimizations--rapes, personal robberies, and aggravated assaults--occurred in 1990, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The rates per 100,000 population for all victims of crimes were among the world's highest. In addition, NCVS reported more than 3.1 million simple assaults--less serious crimes that neither involved a weapon nor injured the victim. National reporting systems do not include many other violent acts, especially those committed in families, between friends and intimates, by caregivers, by law enforcement officers, in prisons, and in schools. And no statistics fully capture the devastating effects of violence on local communities--their economies, neighborhoods, and quality of life.
Violence falls most heavily on ethnic minority males and occurs most often in urban areas. Panel member Colin Loftin of the Violence Research Program, University of Maryland, College Park, and his assistant, Brian Wiersema, have calculated from mortality data from NCHS that the lifetime risk of being murdered is about 42 per 1,000 for black males and 18 per 1,000 for Native American males. By contrast, it is only 6 per 1,000 for white males and 3 per 1,000 for white females.(1) Except for forcible rape, serious violent crime reported through the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) Uniform Crime Reporting Program is highest in our largest cities. The violent crime rate is 2,243 per 100,000 population in cities with populations greater than one million. This is three times the rate for the country as a whole. Since 1980, however, serious violent crime rates in cities with populations between 250,000 and 499,999 people have exceeded those in cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,999.
Patterns and Trends in Violence
Violence in America today is not unprecedented. Nor, despite the statistics above and some news media portrayals, is it limited predominately to young men, common in all areas of large cities, or primarily a matter of attacks by strangers, as the following panel findings attest:
* Murder rates have been as high as they are now twice before in this century--from 1931 to 1934 and again from 1979 to 1981.(2) Because the U.S. population today is higher than ever, however, these per capita rates are producing unprecedented numbers of deaths.
* The 1990 count of serious violent crimes--2.9 million--is about at its 1975 level, following a peak around 1980, a decrease during the early 1980s, and an increase that began in 1986.(3)
* Blacks' murder victimization rates have generally exceeded those of whites throughout this century. The trends for the two races do not always move together over time however. Between 1970 and 1980, for example, the rate at which white males became murder victims rose from 7.3 to 10.9 per 100,000 population, while the rate for black males fell from 82.1 to 71.9.(4)
* The black-white difference in murder victimization rates appears primarily to reflect conditions in low-income neighborhoods and tends to disappear altogether in high-income neighborhoods, according to the available studies of this topic.(5)
* Although teenagers and young adults are more likely than older adults to be murdered in any given year, Loftin and Wiersema's calculations for the panel indicated that about three-fourths of all murder victims are killed after age 24, regardless of ethnicity. Minority murder rates are higher than rates for whites at all ages.(6)
* Not all types of violent crime rates move together over time. The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reports show that after 1973, rates of aggravated assault and rape reported to police increased fairly steadily in cities of all sizes, but murder increases were greatest in large cities; and robbery rose during some periods and fell during others.
* Variations in violent crime rates by neighborhood in large cities are comparable to the variations in rates between large and small cities, and only a small percentage of all street addresses may account for a substantial share of a city's violent crimes.(7)
* In nearly 40 percent of all murders, the …