Violence as a public health issue


The prevention of crime and the prevention of violence involves complex cooperation among many parts of our society. Many of the known measures which ameliorate violence occur outside the criminal justice system—within families, communities, and by way of health promotion activities.

Interpersonal violence is now widely accepted as a public health problem, rather than being seen entirely, or mainly, a matter for the criminal justice system. Internationally, violence is a focus of the work of World Health Organisation and the United States Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This paper points out the importance of a rigorous focus on the well-being of populations, and public health’s use of population-wide data to aid understanding of the problems and identifying solutions. In this way, public health can make a valuable contribution to violence prevention and cover a much broader spectrum than can the criminal justice system alone.

Seeing interpersonal violence as lying within the injury area of public health, with its focus on population-level risk factors, highlights the importance of concerted, intersectoral approaches to preventing and dealing with interpersonal violence.

In September 1999, the Australian Institute of Criminology ran a roundtable seminar on “Public Health Perspectives on Interpersonal Violence”, an earlier version of this paper shaped much of the discussion on the day.