Special Communication
August 4, 2015

Violence in the United StatesStatus, Challenges, and Opportunities

Author Affiliations
  • 1Epidemic Intelligence Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 3National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia

Copyright 2015 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA. 2015;314(5):478-488. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.8371

Importance  Interpersonal violence, which includes child abuse and neglect, youth violence, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and elder abuse, affects millions of US residents each year. However, surveillance systems, programs, and policies to address violence often lack broad, cross-sector collaboration, and there is limited awareness of effective strategies to prevent violence.

Objectives  To describe the burden of interpersonal violence in the United States, explore challenges to violence prevention efforts and to identify prevention opportunities.

Data Sources  We reviewed data from health and law enforcement surveillance systems including the National Vital Statistics System, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reports, the US Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey, the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, and the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System—All Injury Program.

Results  Homicide rates have decreased from a peak of 10.7 per 100 000 persons in 1980 to 5.1 per 100 000 in 2013. Aggravated assault rates have decreased from a peak of 442 per 100 000 in 1992 to 242 per 100 000 in 2012. Nevertheless, annually, there are more than 16 000 homicides and 1.6 million nonfatal assault injuries requiring treatment in emergency departments. More than 12 million adults experience intimate partner violence annually and more than 10 million children younger than 18 years experience some form of maltreatment from a caregiver, ranging from neglect to sexual abuse, but only a small percentage of these violent incidents are reported to law enforcement, health care clinicians, or child protective agencies. Moreover, exposure to violence increases vulnerability to a broad range of mental and physical health problems over the life course; for example, meta-analyses indicate that exposure to physical abuse in childhood is associated with a 54% increased odds of depressive disorder, a 78% increased odds of sexually transmitted illness or risky sexual behavior, and a 32% increased odds of obesity. Rates of violence vary by age, geographic location, sex, and race/ethnicity, and significant disparities exist. Homicide is the leading cause of death for non-Hispanic blacks from age 1 through 44 years, whereas it is the fifth most common cause of death among non-Hispanic whites in this age range. Additionally, efforts to understand, prevent, and respond to interpersonal violence have often neglected the degree to which many forms of violence are interconnected at the individual level, across relationships and communities, and even intergenerationally. The most effective violence prevention strategies include parent and family-focused programs, early childhood education, school-based programs, therapeutic or counseling interventions, and public policy. For example, a systematic review of early childhood home visitation programs found a 38.9% reduction in episodes of child maltreatment in intervention participants compared with control participants.

Conclusions and Relevance  Progress has been made in reducing US rates of interpersonal violence even though a significant burden remains. Multiple strategies exist to improve violence prevention efforts, and health care providers are an important part of this solution.