/ Attacking Violence: Prevention and Intevervention


Violence increasingly is becoming an issue that affects all families—whether through community violence, violent conflicts in the schools, or abuse among intimates. This issue of the interdisciplinary journal Michigan Family Review presents six articles that address violence facing children, youth, and families. Related reviews of recent books and videos on violence are also included.

Key Words: family, violence, prevention, community, partnerships

    1. Libby Balter Blume, Ph.D., is Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, Michigan, 48219-0900. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to blumelb@udmercy.edu.return to text

    2. Bennie M. Stovall, Ph.D., is Human Services Consultant, P.O. Box 700841, Plymouth, Michigan, 48170-0954 and member of the Advisory Board of the Institute for Children, Youth and Families at Michigan State University. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to bms@pilot.msu.edu.return to text

    Family and community violence are serious problems throughout Michigan. A recent analysis by the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency found that arrests for violent crimes increased by 83% for adults and by 50% for juveniles in the decade between 1983 and 1993 ("House Committee," 1996). Additionally, state police data indicate that two-thirds of all homicides involve family members, friends, or acquaintances of the perpetrator (Michigan State Police, 1993). According to Richard M. Lerner, Director of the Institute for Children, Youth, and Families at Michigan State University, violence is depriving young people of opportunities, destroying the capacities of their caregivers, and creating communities riddled with crime (Lerner, 1995). Many children and youth resort to using guns and violent behaviors as a way to create their own sense of respect ("Hopeless Kids Seek Respect," 1994). Violence seems to have become an accepted part of life today.

    Violence also may cause many individuals and families to become more isolated in response to fear. In a disturbing survey, students from a Detroit community provided information about their experiences and their perceptions of drugs, crime, and violence (United Community Services, 1992). At the elementary, middle, and high school levels, responses were generally the same. Children repeatedly reported fear of the environment in which they live:

    • I am afraid to walk to school, because I may be kidnapped to a vacant house, raped and murdered.
    • It's very dangerous to walk the streets between home and school, even in the daytime.
    • I know three kids who have been kidnapped on this block ... everyone has a gun.
    • We can't use this playground or go places, because that's where the drug dealers are.
    The most pressing issue of childhood has been described as controlling violent crimes (Zinnsmeister, 1990). The pervasiveness of violence in Michigan communities—whether urban, suburban, or rural—calls for a closer examination of the relevant issues for practices, programs, and policies when seeking solutions for the varied and complex problems of family and community violence.

    During a 1995 conference sponsored by the Michigan Council on Family Relations (MCFR) called Attacking Violence: Prevention and Intervention, students, professionals, and concerned citizens met to discuss the effects of violence on families and communities and to identify ways that individuals and institutions can form partnerships to combat violence. The issues and concerns they expressed tended to mirror those of the larger society. Issues that were addressed included law enforcement, human services, the media, and policy decisions. Concerns were expressed about the growth of societal indifference to violence—especially as it relates to families, schools, and the workplace. Within these contexts, the conference participants agreed on the normative nature of violence today. In this issue of MFR—which aptly shares its title with the MCFR conference—we are able to report 12 action recommendations that were developed by the participants:

    1. Professionals should develop and use consistent terms when defining the problem (e.g., violence, aggression, abuse) and efforts should be directed to the re-education of the public and parents towards a consistent definition of violence;
    2. Individuals and professionals should work together to change state and national family policies and laws to more clearly define violence and to reduce violent incidents;
    3. Policy and decision makers should anticipate and understand family and community stressors, their impact and relationship to violence (e.g., unemployment, lack of adequate housing, drugs, early access to weapons);
    4. Parents and professionals should focus on early primary prevention methods with children in the context of parenting and school curricula;
    5. Professionals should make sure all interventions (e.g., family, school, church, police, criminal justice) contain preventive aspects;
    6. Law enforcement and community organizations should become partners in implementing the concept of "community policing" to reinforce the safety of neighborhoods and to discourage crime and violence;
    7. Professionals should implement community collaboration and networking to maximize resources of families, institutions, and organizations;
    8. Parents and educators should consistently convey developmentally appropriate responses and non-violent behavioral expectations;
    9. Parents and the media should create positive role models and eliminate the glamour of violent roles;
    10. Community members should insist on more realistic prosocial media content and programming;
    11. Parents and professionals should provide varied opportunities to debrief children who experience violence; and
    12. Parents and educators should provide more emphasis on learning social skills and on teaching conflict resolution alternatives.

    Recently, many such recommendations have been formulated at the national level. For example, the American Psychological Association Commission on Violence and Youth, chaired by Leonard D. Eron of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, recommended a variety of important efforts including: (a) early childhood interventions directed toward parents, childcare providers, and health care providers; (b) school-based interventions to help schools provide a safe environment; and (c) efforts to strengthen the ability of police and community leaders to prevent violence (APA, 1993). The National Academy of Sciences also convened a national panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior, chaired by Albert Reiss of Yale University, that recommended (a) problem-solving initiatives of pragmatic, focused, methodologically-sound collaborative efforts by policy makers and researchers; (b) improved measurement of violent behavior and the design of violence interventions; and (c) community-level, individual-level, and biological-level research programs (Reiss & Roth, 1993). For example, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Community Violence Project is one such comprehensive effort to study the effects of violence on children and build strategies for community intervention (Reiss, Richters, Radke-Yarrow, & Scharff, 1993).

    The development of community partnerships among individuals, families, businesses, and human service organizations may help individuals view themselves as sytemically connected to other persons. The outcome of such collaborations has been a greater sense of shared community responsibility for parenting, educating, supporting, and caring—not only about one's own family but also about neighbors and the community in general (Lappe & Dubois, 1994). In addition, experts have advocated a multicultural perspective on violence that provides culturally sensitive prevention in partnership with diverse communities (Cervantes & Cervantes, 1993). Such partnerships have emphasized efforts to stop socially condoned forms of violence (e.g., media violence, corporal punishment, verbal or emotional abuse). Local efforts also have been made to increase community policing—where the police, courts, and communities work in partnership (U.S. Department of Justice, 1994).

    But what about families? Attempting to bring together current knowledge about the full range of family violence, the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) published Families & Violence, Abuse, & Neglect, edited by family violence expert Richard J. Gelles of the University of Rhode Island for NCFR's Vision 2010 series (Gelles, 1995). According to Gelles (1995), no unified field of study or practice falls neatly under the term family violence and describes the extent, patterns, and probable causes of violence between intimates, as well as our growing knowledge about the effectiveness of various prevention and intervention programs.

    Therefore, in this issue of the Michigan Family Review, we have adopted a broad contextual definition of violence with respect to families. With a nod to lifespan developmental theory, we have included articles that address not only violence across families (interpersonal conflict, criminal behavior) but also violence within families (domestic abuse, elder abuse). Most importantly, we have attempted to define the effects of violence as a community problem, not a family problem. Attacking Violence: Prevention and Intervention includes papers on violence by authors from diverse perspectives and disciplines—with a practical focus on preventions and interventions that work. The issue attempts to attack our conventional understanding of the sources of violence and reflects the deliberate attempts of family-centered practitioners first to prevent violence, but—when all else fails—to intervene successfully.

    The next two articles in this issue attack our conventional understanding of violence by offering alternative and provocative views of the defining issues. Thomas Blume, from the Department of Counseling at Oakland University, provides an overview of approaches to understanding violence from the perspective that violence is a social phenomenon. Blume, a marriage and family therapist, discusses the contributions and implications of a systems perspective on prevention and intervention. Glenn Weisfeld, from the Wayne State University Department of Psychology, and Donald Aytch, from the University of Detroit Mercy Department of Psychology and a certified forensic examiner at Detroit Recorder's Court, present a challenging—although controversial—argument for understanding the evolutionary basis of aggression in order to more successfully consider the levels of specific preventions and interventions.

    The final three papers in this issue provide recommendations for the primary prevention of violence by family practitioners as well as specific intervention strategies that may assist practitioners to address the aftermath of violence in families. Anne Soderman, from the Department of Family and Child Ecology at Michigan State University, Mona J. Ellard, home economist from Eaton County, and Thomas J. Eveland, judge in the 56th Judicial Circuit Court, describe the evaluation of a community-based prevention program for divorcing parents with dependent children. SMILE: Start Making It Liveable for Everyone was developed by an Oakland County judge and a family law attorney as a court-mandated tool for preventing conflict in divorcing families which has been implemented in 32 counties in Michigan and in 17 other states. Bonnie McClure, clinical nurse specialist in Women's Services at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, describes the role of health care professionals in assessing and intervening in cases of domestic violence to women. McClure presents several mini-cases as illustrations and also provides a listing of Michigan resources. Mary Sengstock, gerontology specialist in the Sociology Department at Wayne State University, describes the varieties of elder abuse in families and recommends methods for identifying elders at risk and for working with abuse victims and their families.

    This issue concludes with reviews by family professionals of recently published books and videos written for educators, practitioners, and family members alike who are interested in the broad topic of violence and families. Two of the books are personal accounts of encounters with violence, while the others are scholarly examinations of the issue of families and violence. The media reviews include two video programs produced for cable television, as well as a resource listing of educational films on violence.

    Editor's Note

    Michigan Family Review is sponsored by the Michigan Council on Family Relations to provide a means of communication about current critical issues facing families in Michigan and across the country. Readers are invited and encouraged to submit reviews or articles for future issues.


    American Psychological Association (1993). Violence & youth: Psychology's response, Volume 1: Summary report of the APA Commission on Violence and Youth. Washington, D. C.: APA Books.

    Cervantes, N. N., & Cervantes, J. M. (1993). A multicultural perspective in the treatment of domestic violence. In M. Hansen & M. Harway (Eds.), Battering and family therapy: A feminist perspective. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

    Gelles, R. J. (1995). Families & violence, abuse & neglect. In S. J. Price (Series Ed.), Vision 2010, Volume 3. Minneapolis, MN: National Council on Family Relations.

    Hopeless kids seek respect in guns, violence. (1994, October 23). The Detroit News, p. 5A.

    House committee addresses juvenile justice reform. (1996, March 18). Focus on Michigan's Children. (Available from Michigan's Children, 2469 Woodlake Circle, Suite 290, Okemos, MI, 48864).

    Lappe, F. M. & DuBois, P. M. (1994). The quickening of America. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

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    Reiss, D., Richters, J. E., Radke-Yarrow, M., & Scharff, D. (Eds.) (1993). Children and violence. New York: Guilford.

    United Community Services (1992). Snapshot of the Northern High School area: Building a community of strong families. (Report available from United Community Services, 1212 Griswold, Detroit, MI, 48226-1899).

    U. S. Department of Justice (1994). Understanding community policing: A framework for action. (Bureau of Justice Assistance Publication No. DD148457). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

    Zinnsmeister, K. (1990, June). Growing up scared. The Atlantic Monthly, 269, 49-66.