Community Violence

What is community violence?

  • Community violence is interpersonal violence perpetrated by individuals who are NOT intimately related to the victim [1].
  • Usually occurs without warning and comes as a sudden and terrifying shock [2].
  • Includes sexual assault, burglary, mugging, the sound of gunshots, presence of gangs, drug abuse, racial tension, and other forms of social disorder [4].
  • Children are especially impacted: More than 40% of youths surveyed (N = 2248) report exposure to a shooting or stabbing in the past year, and 74% reported feeling unsafe in one or more common environmental contexts [5].

Risk factors of exposure to violence: [3] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

  • Troubled family life (e.g., broken homes, abuse, neglect, drugs, minimal parental involvement) [3] [10]
  • Urbanization and inner-city living [10]
  • Individual factors (e.g., gender, age, race, ethnicity) [6]

Prolonged effects:

  • Higher levels of externalizing disorders, internalizing disorders, and PTSD among inner city youth in a meta-analysis that assessed outcomes from 114 studies [11].
    • Directly experiencing violence was associated with greater externalizing and internalizing symptoms than witness.
    • PTSD was equally linked with victimization, witnessing, and hearing about violence.
  • In an urban sample of 615 teens, exposure to violence prospectively predicted an increase in all symptoms assessed (i.e., internalizing, externalizing, posttraumatic stress, and dissociative symptoms) [12].
    • Gender makes a difference in outcome: Boys experienced more violence than girls.
    • Compared to boys, girls who experienced violence were more likely to experience dissociation, but not the other symptoms.
  • Other effects include:
    • Depression, dissociation, aggression, substance abuse [6]
    • Poor academic achievement in children [13]

Prevention: [10]

  • Life skills and social development programs to help children and adolescents manage anger, resolve conflict, and develop the necessary social skills to solve problems tend to aid in prevention.

[1] Cooley-Quille, M. R., Turner, S. M., & Beidel, D. C. (1995). Emotional impact of children’s exposure to community violence: A preliminary study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 34(10), 1362-1368.

[2] Hamblen, J. & Goguen, C. (2015). Community violence. Retrieved from

[3] Office of the Surgeon General. (2001). Youth violence: A report of the Surgeon General. Publications and Reports of the Surgeon General.

[4] The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2015). Community violence. Retrieved from

[5] Schwab-Stone, M. E., Ayers, T. S., Kasprow, W., Voyce, C., Barone, C., Shriver, T., & Weissberg, R. P. (1995). No safe haven: A study of violence exposure in an urban community. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 34(10), 1343-1352.

[6] Buka, S. L., Stichick, T. L., Birdthistle, I., & Earls, F. J. (2001). Youth exposure to violence: prevalence, risks, and consequences. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71(3), 298.

[7] Bassuk, E. L., Weinreb, L. F., Buckner, J. C., Browne, A., Salomon, A., & Bassuk, S. S. (1996). The characteristics and needs of sheltered homeless and low-income housed mothers. Jama, 276(8), 640-646.

[8] Browne, A., Salomon, A., & Bassuk, S. S. (1999). The impact of recent partner violence on poor women’s capacity to maintain work. Violence Against Women, 5(4), 393-426.

[9] American Psychological Association. (2009). Effective strategies to support positive parenting in community health centers: Report of the working group on child maltreatment prevention in community health centers.

[10] Krug, E. G., Mercy, J. A., Dahlberg, L. L., & Zwi, A. B. (2002). The world report on violence and health. The Lancet, 360(9339), 1083-1088.

[11] Fowler, P. J., Tompsett, C. J., Braciszewski, J. M., Jacques-Tiura, A. J., & Baltes, B. B. (2009). Community violence: A meta-analysis on the effect of exposure and mental health outcomes of children and adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 21(01), 227-259.

[12] Zona, K., & Milan, S. (2011). Gender differences in the longitudinal impact of exposure to violence on mental health in urban youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(12), 1674-1690.

[13] Schwartz, D., & Gorman, A. H. (2003). Community violence exposure and children’s academic functioning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(1), 163.