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Community violence is broadly understood to include any violence that takes place in the public arena. Though most definitions of community violence refer to experiencing or witnessing interpersonal violence, such as gang violence, homicides, fighting, robbing, or looting, community violence can also include systematic or institutional violence perpetrated against a group of people or community with public manifestations that can be social, political, or economic. The probability of experiencing or witnessing community violence is greater for people, especially children and adolescents, in low-income communities and communities of color, than for their counterparts in more affluent communities and White communities.
The effects of community violence are myriad and pervasive, taking a toll on the quality of life, psyche, and safety of individuals, families, neighborhoods, and institutions within the given geographic area experiencing the violence. Negative consequences include, but are not limited to, increased levels of aggression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depressive symptoms, and antisocial behavior; a reduced sense of control, efficacy, and school or workplace performance; neighborhood deterioration and weakened social bonds and control; and diminished public will and trust.
One practice model promotes the notion that effective violence prevention addresses the causes of structural violence as well as the causes of interpersonal violence at the community level. In both cases, the model asserts, community residents should be at the forefront of efforts to make their communities safe. While outsiders can stimulate action, the real impetus for change emerges when communities own the identification of problems and solutions that lead to prevention.
This work fits within a broader theoretical frame of collective efficacy (social cohesion and communal engagement needed to act on behalf of the common good) and community organizing and mobilization (intended to rebuild neighborhood cohesion and public will and trust). Both are protective factors against crime and violence, and research has demonstrated that collective efficacy can be mobilized to protect communities and promote better outcomes for children, families, and neighborhoods. The model takes this notion one step further. It posits that the development of collective efficacy is the only route for poor, disadvantaged communities to promote and sustain healthy community and individual outcomes, as it provides a venue for organized efforts to prevent interpersonal violence and collective action against structural violence.
Research indicates that there is a developmental trajectory for building collective efficacy and reducing and preventing community violence. Efficacy builds up over time as communities achieve success in addressing issues and take on more and more complex issues. Many factors are involved in collective efficacy. The extent to which communities possess characteristics associated with efficacy determines the speed with which they can be organized on behalf of a social good. Community organizing and achieving efficacy should be engaged as long-term processes whose aims are to transform the way a community works. Transformation takes the shape of changed laws, policies, and programs as well as changed behavior on the part of community members and those from outside the community whose work takes them there.
- Bowen, L. K., Gwiasda, V., & Brown, M. (2004). Engaging community residents to prevent violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 19(3), 356-367.
- Gibson, C. L., Zhao, J., Lovrich, N. P., & Gaffney, M. J. (2002). Social integration, individual perceptions of collective efficacy, and fear of crime in three cities. Justice Quarterly, 19, 537-565.
- Overstreet, S. (2000). Exposure to community violence: Defining the problem and understanding the consequences. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 9, 7-25.
- Sampson, R. J. (2004). Neighborhood and community: Collective efficacy and community safety. New Economy, 11, 106-113.
- Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earles, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277, 918-925.
- Schieman, S. (2005). Residential stability and the social impact of neighborhood disadvantage: A study of gender and race contingent effects. Social Forces, 83, 1031-1065.
- Smock, K. (2004). Democracy in action: Community organizing and urban change. New York: Columbia University Press.
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