St. Louis Violence: A Public Health Issue

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch (July, 2015) St. Louis police reported 4,434 crimes to the FBI in June.

Statistics released by the St. Louis Police Department show there were 22 homicides in May, up from 15 reported in May and up from six reported in June 2014.

Homicides as of this writing, total 115, up from the first six months of 2014. Homicide numbers don’t always match completely because adjustments are made when people die later of injuries or developments change the category. What often isn’t reported is the public health impact of violence within a community. We in public health refer to such things as violence, employment, housing, and crime, among others, as “social determinants” of health. Meaning, these variables impact heath outcomes for individuals and for the community.

The impact on young people who witness, and in many cases, are victims of violence, go on to develop mental health issues that interfere with their personal growth, and world view of their environments and self-esteem. Community violence includes many events. It might be a stranger using physical threat or direct violence to take something or hurt someone. It can also be violence between family members, close partners, or peers. These events may include cruel acts such as being shot, raped, stabbed, or beaten. Most of the attention from media and research is on community violence that involves adults. However, many children and teens face violence in their neighborhoods and schools. Such violence can have effects on children.

Who is at risk?

Sadly, there is no way to make sure your child does not face community violence. However, we do know some of the factors that add to a child’s risk for coming into contact with community violence:
•Living in poor, inner-city areas.
•Being non-White.
•Being in a gang or using alcohol or drugs.
•Living in a home with domestic (family) violence.
•Males see more community violence than do females and are at more risk for physical attacks.
•Females are at more risk for sexual assault.

What are the effects of community violence?

If hurt by violence, a child may have to cope with physical or medical problems. A child may also have mental health problems, including PTSD. Some people think that young children are not harmed by community violence because they are too young to understand or remember. However, studies have found signs of PTSD in babies and young children.

Violence impacts the entire community. A public health approach is needed when it comes to addressing the impact of violence on individuals and the community.

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