Crime and Violence
High levels of crime within a community can have negative effects on an individual’s physical safety and psychological well-being. They can also deter residents from pursuing healthy behaviors, such as exercising outdoors. This measure generally relates to community perceptions of safety, crime levels of various kinds and bullying which is a form of unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance (1).
In 2016, approximately 5.7 million violent crimes, including physical assault, robbery and rape, were committed in the United States (2). Violence is a major public health issue, with news coverage nearly every day and alarming statistics. Each year, more than 18,000 Americans are victims of homicide. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation points out that “...violence is not randomly distributed. The same social factors that shape health — including education, income and wealth, and related conditions where we live, learn, work and play — also are strongly linked to violence.” That’s why it’s critical to understand the underlying socio-economic conditions that lead to violence so that these factors can be addressed (3).
Violence can occur in many places, such as within families, at schools and workplaces, and within neighborhoods and communities.
• Neighborhood-level violence serves as a predictor of outcomes for neighborhood disadvantage, high school graduation and teenage pregnancy rates.
• Violence within families takes place in two forms — child maltreatment and intimate partner violence — and they frequently occur together, linking to numerous adverse health effects such as childhood trauma, adverse cognitive development, poor mental and physical health outcomes. These can result in increased use and cost of medical care throughout life. Women are the most frequent victims of domestic violence. More than 4 million women in the United States are assaulted by an intimate partner each year, and 1 in 4 women report some form of intimate partner violence during their lifetime.
• Crime and violence in schools and workplaces has been identified as a significant public health issue. Of the 4,000 reported fatal occupation injuries reported in 2009, 18 percent were physical assaults and 12 percent were homicides (3,4).
In Colorado, 23.8 percent of women encounter sexual violence in their lifetime, a number that is higher than the 18.3 percent of women nationally. Women in Colorado also encounter higher rates of sexual violence other than rape at 47.4 percent compared to 44.6 percent nationally. Men in Colorado also encounter higher rates of sexual violence than the national average, at 26.5 percent versus 22.2 percent. According to a 2011 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey Report, 9.9 percent of female students and 4.2 percent of male students reported having been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to (5).
The health effects of these experiences are severe for both youth and adults. The CDC reports that men and women who have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner were more likely to report frequent headaches, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, activity limitations and poor physical health overall than those who did not experience these forms of violence (5). Bullying as a form of youth violence also has significant health effects for the youth who encounter it in school or online through social media, and can result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death (6). As seen in the graph below, in 2015 20.1 percent of Colorado high school students were bullied in the last year. Additionally, a 2015 study by the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network found that most LGBT students in Colorado had been victimized at school (7).
The immediate health effects of physical violence are most evident in injuries, but the exposure to violence can have varied health consequences over time, such as:
• Witnessing or being exposed to violence can affect an individual’s or family’s health-related behaviors. Parents may not let themselves or their children engage in neighborhood physical activity. They may eat nearby fast food instead of traveling for healthier food options. They may also use tobacco or alcohol and misuse drugs or other substances, all of which may serve as coping mechanisms.
• Violence - as it relates to stress - may contribute to poorer health by causing long-lasting stress (known as "chronic stress") and short-term stress (known as "acute stress"). The fear of violence can trigger a stress response that has been linked to the development of chronic diseases. Elevated stress levels also cause wear and tear on the body and accelerate aging.
• The presence of and exposure to violence impacts health through its impact on the social and economic conditions of communities. Within neighborhoods, crime can lead to feelings of fear and anxiety, distrust and social isolation, which deteriorate levels of overall social support and connectedness in these areas as a result. Children who are exposed to violent experiences during their childhood have lifelong impacts on their health, brain development and can also be at risk for future victimization and violence perpetration themselves (8).
Health Disparities and Inequities
There are significant differences in exposure to violence and criminality between groups, which leads to different levels of social disadvantage. Social disadvantage refers to the situation of people in possession of relatively low material prosperity or social participation opportunities and life outcomes compared to the general population, generally it implies a lack of social and economic resources (9, 10). When a group is exposed to violence, their level of social disadvantage rises. Racial and ethnic minorities are exposed to violent crime at disproportionate rates, as seen in the chart below, and experience higher levels of social disadvantage because of it. Additionally, women, youth and LGBT individuals are more likely to be victims of sexual violence (11).
Homicide mortality rates per 100,000 persons, by race/ethnicity and age group, United States (2011)
Implications and Data for Jefferson County
Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings
While crime and violence were not specifically mentioned as major health concerns, some participants voiced concerns about inadequate street lighting. They stated that poor lighting makes it less safe to venture around their neighborhoods after dark. They worried about their children as well, saying that the children needed better lighting when out walking on or riding their bikes. Child safety was a concern in different parts of the county. In addition to the need for better street lighting, the Conifer focus group discussed the need for a recreation center where children can play safely. Click here to learn more about active living. Though it was mentioned less frequently, bullying also emerged as a concern, especially among school-aged children. Participants were especially worried about the bullying of LGBT and Hispanic or Latino students.
Community Health Assessment Key Informant Interview Findings
Some key informants listed domestic violence as a concern. They expressed the need for early interventions to reduce the severe individual health consequences that occur to victims as a result of domestic violence.
Key informants frequently cited community policing and the crisis intervention model, which are currently being used by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office and municipal police departments as positive development interventions aimed at de-escalating law enforcement’s response to individuals with a suspected mental illness. Community policing refers to policing that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the communities. The crisis intervention model involves utilizing officers trained in mental health response or officers co-responding with a trained mental health professional.
Law enforcement key informants reported that overall, violent crime rates have risen, as well as felony filings across Jefferson County. Felony charges of Driving Under the Influence are partly the reason for the increase in felonies. The number of these charges is significantly higher than this time last year.
Informants also raised concern about domestic violence. They noted increases in domestic violence rates and that efforts are underway between Jefferson County Human Services, the District Attorney’s office, police departments and Family Tree to build a family center for domestic violence victims.
A recurring theme with law enforcement informants was that issues of crime, substance misuse and mental illness were often interconnected. Informants reported that individuals often come through the jail exhibiting signs of both addiction and mental illness, and then receive treatment for both. Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Detention Services has partnered with Jefferson Center to divert some of these individuals from the jail into treatment diversion programs. A special veterans’ housing unit was also created based on similarly successful programs in other states, which showed reduced recidivism for veteran offenders who successfully completed these types of programs.
A few law enforcement informants cited concern for human and environmental health issues related to illegal indoor marijuana grow operations. This concern was related mostly to exposure by law enforcement personnel to pesticides and other chemicals used in these operations, and the effects these chemicals may have on the environment.
Bullying in schools, and then continued bullying outside of the classroom on social media, was a concern of some key informants.
Violence Among Youth
Communities That Care Youth Focus Groups
In the Communities That Care youth focus groups, youth discussed the types of violence that youth experience. The most commonly mentioned types of violence were sexual assault, relationship violence, and emotional bullying. While some youth said that physical bullying is fairly common, others said that it is less common than emotional bullying.
What is behind the violence?
The youth identified four main reasons for youth violence. These were:
1. The perpetrators have also been victims and are part of a cycle of violence.
"I think oftentimes, the abusers themselves are also victims, possibly in the past. And it’s from if they hadn’t gone to seek help and healing for that kind of thing, I think oftentimes it can spiral to where they are then, they mimic their abusers in certain aspects."
2. They want to exercise their own power and manipulation.
"I think it’s about power. Like, these people will be abusive towards others ‘cuz they wanna feel powerful because they’re insecure."
3. Social and cultural pressure and ideas around how boys and girls are supposed to behave.
"When you’re younger there’s that whole if he hits you, and teases you, then you are told he likes you, but doesn’t want to say it thing. We as girls grow up with that. Then, we grow up with the mentality of he just like, loves me, when we’re older, of, he’s hitting me because like he loves me or doesn’t want to lose me or I did something wrong."
4. Personal insecurity.
"Insecurity plays a role. When [someone] isn’t confident, they can bring their own negative feelings down on others."
What can stop the violence?
In addition to discussing what is behind the violence, the youth also discussed how to stop it. They identified five strategies to reduce youth violence in their communities. These strategies were:
1. Creating safe places for the victims to talk about their experiences.
"Come at them with open arms. Make them feel loved, like they belong."
2. Creating a culture of calling out perpetrators.
"Calling it out…straight up. . . You need to start calling it out before it gets way out of hand."
3. Teaching better coping and communication skills for both youth and adults who are in a position to help youth.
"Teachers need some kind of psychological training to be aware of how to help students."
4. Believing the victim when they say they have experienced violence.
"[A] girl might date multiple guys. When she says she was sexually assaulted, people think ‘she dates all these guys, she was willing, or she was lying about it.’ Even though it’s possible. Stuff like that does happen."
5. Make sure that perpetrators get the help they need.
"Letting the person know it is not okay, but that they have someplace to go to talk about it, the root of the problem or why they’re acting out that way, or what’s going on."
Community Resources within Jefferson County
1. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2018). Violent Crime. Retrieved from: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/what-and-why-we-rank/health-factors/social-and-economic-factors/community-safety/violent-crime-rate
2. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation: County Health Rankings (2018). Community Safety. Retrieved from: http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/explore-health-rankings/what-and-why-we-rank/health-factors/social-and-economic-factors/community
3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2011). Violence, Social Disadvantage and Health [Issue Brief]. Retrieved from: https://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2011/rwjf70452
4. Harding, D. J. (2009). Collateral Consequences of Violence in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods. Social Forces; a Scientific Medium of Social Study and Interpretation, 88(2), 757–784. http://doi.org/10.1353/sof.0.0281
5. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (2018). Sexual violence prevention statistics. Retrieved from: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/sexual-violence-prevention-statistics
6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Understanding Bullying [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/features/prevent-bullying/index.html
7. GLSEN. (2017). 2015 State Snapshot: School Climate in Colorado [Fact Sheet]. Retrieved from: https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/Colorado%20State%20Snapshot%20-%20NSCS.pdf
8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, April 1). Adverse Childhood Experiences. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html
9. Randolph, B., Holloway, D. (2006, August 20). Social Disadvantage, Tenure and Location: An Analysis of Sydney and Melbourne. Urban Policy and Research, Volume 23 (2). https://doi.org/10.1080/08111470500135136
10. Wikström, P.-O. H., & Treiber, K. (2016). Social Disadvantage and Crime: A Criminological Puzzle. The American Behavioral Scientist, 60(10), 1232–1259. http://doi.org/10.1177/0002764216643134
11. National Sexual Violence Resource Center (2012). Sexual Violence and Individuals Who Identify as LGBTQ [Issue brief]. Retrieved from: http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/Publications_NSVRC_Research-Brief_Sexual-Violence-LGBTQ.pdf
CDPHE Vital Records: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/cohid/Default.aspx
CDC WONDER: https://wonder.cdc.gov/
Colorado Injury Hospitalization Statistics, CDPHE: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/cohid/Default.aspx
HKCS: Healthy Kids Colorado Survey: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/hkcs
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Published on July 17, 2018