Is Violence Contagious?

By: Corine Rosenberg, UM UROP Student

When we think about something being contagious, we usually think about the flu or the common cold—not violence. However a public workshop held by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) this past spring brought in speakers from a wide range of universities and specialties to discuss violence as just that—a contagion.

According to the IOM report, violence can be viewed much like a virus and can indeed be infectious and spread within a community. Witnessing violence or being the victim of violence is the equivalent to being infected. Once infected, a person is then more likely to commit violent acts, either upon others or upon themselves. Violence affects many individuals at all levels of society and is spread not only through interpersonal relationships, but also through neighborhoods, families, cultures, and peer groups.

In Flint, where the crime rate and number of injuries related to violence are high, there are several questions to ask. What makes this community particularly susceptible? Which types of violence are the biggest problems? Where is the contagion spreading from? What can we do to stop the spread and reduce the level of violence?

The six MI-YVPC interventions are designed to reach all levels, from individual to family to community. These interventions are similar to those discussed at the IOM workshop and help to change social norms, break down barriers between groups, and provide positive role models. For example, on an individual level, the Mentoring program provides role models and support for youth who may be exposed to violence. For families, the Fathers and Sons program works to bring families together and teach positive communication and learning skills. Clean and Green helps residents improve the community.  This is just the beginning, and MI-YVPC is only one of many organizations researching violence and working to prevent its spread. Many of MI-YVPC’s partners on the Steering Committee are also working to combat the spread of violence within the community.

Many complex factors contribute to violence, and preventing and ending violence is not a simple task.  By thinking of violence as contagious, and comparing to a biological contagion like a virus, we can start to think about how we can prevent violence at different levels and help stop the spread of violence in the community.