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The Violence Reduction Unit is taking a public health approach to violence reduction. That means we are drawing on the method that scientists and health professionals use to tackle disease. We focus on understanding the causes of violence, and the reasons why people get drawn into a life of crime. We use data and evidence, but above all we ask the people involved “what has happened to you, to get to this point?”.

This gives us a much stronger understanding of the problem and helps us to identify interventions that have a realistic chance of changing the path a person is on. This could involve offering help and advice to someone who has just been involved in an act of violence, or working with young children who have grown up in violent households to ensure they learn about other ways of resolving problems. Sometimes violence reduction interventions are indirect – designing out crime by changing the physical environment, or encouraging physical activity to improve resilience and mental wellbeing.

It is vital that we understand which interventions are the most effective. This almost always includes rigorous evaluation or academic review. This approach also encourages the people most affected by violence to play an active part in designing the response and in helping assess if it is making a difference.

Believing that violence is preventable presents a powerful opportunity for change.  Grasping this chance to reduce the harm being experienced in our communities requires long term, sustained investment. But failing to act soon enough is far more expensive for the public purse. Violence reduction interventions can improve not only a person’s safety, but their educational outcomes, employment prospects and long-term health.

Acts of violence shock our communities. Tragedies are, and should be, headline news. But the way in which these stories and images are sensationalised and shared online can help to transmit fear or unwittingly promote violent lifestyles. Media and community influencers are key to violence reduction. We need them to promote positive role models and highlight that actions have consequences. We need to stop the spread of negative images that go viral.

To have the most impact, organisations, communities and individuals across the region need to work together to make it more likely that people who are heading towards violent lifestyles are identified early enough in their journey to be diverted onto a different route.  Diversion shouldn’t just take place in the justice system – people working in health care settings, the education system, social care and the wider community all have an important role to play in keeping our communities safe. Preventing violence is everybody’s business.

Risk and Protective Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases the probability that a person will suffer harm. Risk factors may be found at an individual level, family or environment level and can change over time. The table below illustrates a range of risk and protective factors, however these can vary from person to person.

Graphic source: Public Health England

Risk factors can increase the likelihood that a person may offend, but they may not necessarily be a direct cause. Not everybody who is identified as experiencing risk factors will go on to offend.

Protective factors decrease the potentially harmful effect of a risk factor.  Violence reduction interventions usually operate by decreasing the risk factors and strengthening the protective factors at critical points in a person’s life.

The WHO Public Health Approach

The World Health Organisation has set out a four stage process to tackling violence.

  1. To define the problem through the systematic collection of information about the magnitude, scope, characteristics and consequences of violence.
  2. To establish why violence occurs using research to determine the causes and correlates of violence, the factors that increase or decrease the risk for violence, and the factors that could be modified through interventions.
  3. To find out what works to prevent violence by designing, implementing and evaluating interventions.
  4. To implement effective and promising interventions in a wide range of settings. The effects of these interventions on risk factors and the target outcome should be monitored, and their impact and cost-effectiveness should be evaluated
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