Victims of Violence: Healing Wounds Inside and Out

Law enforcement officials aren’t the only ones working to break the cycle of violence on city streets. Healthcare professionals in emergency departments, who are there at the critical moment after a victim is injured, are uniquely positioned to make a difference, too. That’s the underlying principle behind hospital-based violence intervention programs designed to break the cycle of violence.

Typically, victims of violence seek treatment in the emergency department and are sent back to the street. The process misses an important opportunity to prevent further violence because it fails to recognize that:

  • the victim may be attacked again by the same assailant seeking to “finish the job.”
  • the psychological trauma of being the target of a violent attack may contribute to behavior such as retaliation that increases the victim’s likelihood of reinjury.
  • intervention right after the violence occurs is the best time to prevent violence from leading to more violence.

Critical Timing

In the wake of experiencing trauma, many victims of violence are receptive to ways they can change their lives. Intervening while the victims are in the safe environment of the hospital and open to change can break the cycle of violence and help victims get their lives back on track.

Violence intervention programs can make a difference. They connect victims with specialists who can aid in their recovery—not just physically, but socially and emotionally as well. They work with each patient to formulate a game plan unique to his or her specific needs. In addition to emotional support for the post-traumatic stress they often experience, this may include substance abuse treatment, job training, education, family counseling, housing assistance, and legal services.

In 1998, Dr. Carnell Cooper started the Violence Intervention Program at the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Cooper and his colleagues conducted a three-year research study published in The Journal of Trauma‒Injury, Infection, and Critical Care that tracked the program’s results. They found that patients who did not get the benefit of violence intervention services were three times more likely to be arrested for a violent crime and four times more likely to be convicted of a violent crime than those who did. In addition, the group that did not receive any intervention was six times more likely than the intervention group to be rehospitalized as a result of a violent injury. Studies have shown that victims who participate in a violence intervention program have a lower rate of reinjury and arrest and higher rates of employment than those who are treated and sent on their way.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence

Currently, there are 19 hospital-based violence intervention programs operating in more than a dozen states. One of these, a program called Healing Hurt People (HHP), is an innovative violence intervention approach in Philadelphia. Dr. Theodore Corbin, HHP’s director, oversees Drexel University’s Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice there. The program began operating out of the emergency department of Hahnemann Hospital and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children with support from the Scattergood Foundation and Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health. Founded in 2008, it has helped more than 200 children and young adults by supplying a range of services that includes psychoeducation, case management, and mentorship aimed at changing the life trajectory of victims of violence. 

With the support of violence intervention programs like these, doctors and nurses can play an important role in stemming future violence and stopping the revolving door that brings the same patients back to them time and time again.

For more information about dealing with patients who are victims of violence, check out our newly released online course: ENA: Emergency Nursing Orientation 2.0.

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