Public health approach may help reduce violence


Kaitlin Hetterscheidt

Public health approach may help reduce violence

By Assistant Metro Editor

Gary Slutkin, founder and executive director of Cure Violence, an organization that is geared toward reducing violence nationwide, spoke at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health on Oct. 23 about strategies to reduce violence.  

Slutkin asserted that violence is a public health issue. He said his evidence-based practice approach originated with Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch scientist who, was enabled by his improved microscopes observed 17th century microorganisms, which led to a more scientific understanding of disease contagion and treatment of formerly incurable diseases.

Slutkin, a physician and epidemiologist, said he attempts to address violence as he would an infectious disease like tuberculosis or influenza. He said violence should be approached similar to the common cold or tuberculosis—by interrupting the process.

“[People] being exposed to colds are more likely to get a cold, [the] flu [or tuberculosis] and as it turns out [the same is true of] violence,” Slutkin said at the event. “[It] means [violence is] capable of being transmitted—it behaves biologically. The more of it, the more likely it gets produced. Just like flu, the more you’re exposed to someone with the flu, the smaller the respiratory area, the more the dose, the more likely you are to show the disease. It’s the exact same thing for violence. It’s dose-dependent.”

Slutkin said having tuberculosis in a housing complex is similar to violence in housing projects. Just like tuberculosis is contagious and transmittable by exposure, violence can manifest in a similar way.

“[Violence] is capable of being transmitted, meaning it causes more of itself,” Slutkin said. “In the infectious disease epidemiology, the difference between [infectious disease] and other epidemiology is simply that it’s a risk factor for itself and violence is causing more of itself.”

Slutkin also discussed the social learning therapy, which says that people learn behaviors by seeing others’ behaviors. He said people do what they learn and that modeling someone’s actions is an

unconscious behavior. 

Slutkin said people are likely shooting each other because their friends are shooting people. He said it is expected of them, and people do not want to be socially isolated from the group they are associated with.

“Community violence not only causes you to do violence in the community, but in other forms, too, including family violence and suicide,” Slutkin said. “Being exposed to violence as a child causes you to cause abuse against your own child.”

Jalon Arthur, program director for CeaseFire, the Illinois branch of Cure Violence, said violence is a serious problem in Chicago and agrees with Slutkin’s approach.

“Many communities in Chicago are currently plagued with violence,” Arthur said. “One of the biggest keys to  being able to rid Chicago of violence is to first understand it as a health issue. We understand it is going to affect the way we address it and treat it. Understanding it as a health approach makes sense because [in] the population that we’re working with, violence is their No. 1 cause of death.”

Amanda Dougherty, a graduate student at the UIC School of Public Health, said she came to the college to study public health and community health science under Slutkin because she agrees that violence can be cured by the disease

model approach.

“Violence needs to be looked at as a contagious disease, because if we haven’t been able to eradicate violence now in 2014 [with] the way that research and interventions have been continuing, there is no way it’s going to be eradicated in the future,” Dougherty said. 

Slutkin said the mission of Cure Violence is all about detecting the problem, then interrupting it. He said they do this by having past gang members or people who committed violent crimes act as interrupters to new violent and gang related crimes. He said this slows down the process of contagion and then buys time to change behavior, which can and will result in a cure. 

“We actually have to change the norms in these communities and ultimately change those behaviors,” Arthur said.