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United Against Violence for a safer future

by Colleen Scanlon

You’ve probably read that overall violent crime in the U.S. has decreased significantly in the past 20 years. And the main piece of evidence? Declining murder rates.

While it’s true we are moving in the right direction, statistics do not do justice to the realities, sometimes unreported or undocumented, that many Americans face every day. Human trafficking, domestic abuse, sexual assault, bullying and other forms of violence that aren’t always wrapped up into overall crime statistics continue to have a lasting impact, both on the victims and the communities affected.

This reality means that we need to stay vigilant, and ramp up efforts to more effectively prevent, and respond to ongoing violence. To that end, I couldn’t be prouder of Catholic Health Initiatives’ United Against Violence program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary of helping reduce violence in our communities.

United Against Violence was founded in 2008 with the goal of reducing violence in the communities we serve and in our greater society. In our communities, we establish long-lasting grassroots partnerships rather than fixing one problem and then moving on. Our goal has always been to identify the needs of the community, in partnership, and to help them develop successful, long-term, prevention programs.

This approach is part of what makes CHI’s United Against Violence initiative unique—it’s truly a proactive program, on a national scale. We work with community partners to set and reach goals, and help them come up with a plan to move their organizations forward. Whether it’s assisting victims, educating kids, enabling providers to help, or partnering with local law enforcement, our programs have helped curb violence and laid the foundation for a safer, healthier future for our communities.

One of the best examples of the spirit of this work has come in the past month. We partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital and the American Hospital Association to create new ICD-10 codes to help identify victims of human trafficking.

Contrary to popular belief, human trafficking is not a third-world problem—the Global Slavery Index estimated in 2016 that there are 57,000 people living as modern slaves in the U.S., and we know this number is very low. This crime does not discriminate. It affects U.S. citizens, as well as foreign-born nationals, and it touches every community around the country.

Healthcare providers are in a unique and powerful position when it comes to preventing human trafficking, as up to 87% of human trafficking victims report having received medical attention at some point during their trafficking.

The new ICD-10 codes will allow healthcare providers, local organizations, and law enforcement to identify and assist victims with intervention, proper care and support.

Healthcare providers can, and should, play an important role in reducing violence, and use that role to improve the long-term safety and health of communities. The healthcare industry is already at the epicenter of treating violence, but we must place ourselves at the epicenter of reducing violence if we want a better future.

We believe our United Against Violence initiative serves as a template for other non-profit healthcare systems to get involved. After investing nearly $19.5 million on violence prevention efforts since 2009, we’ve seen that giving to our communities is a direct investment in saving lives.

The statistics are improving. Let’s take a moment to reflect on our collective successes on this 10th anniversary of United Against Violence. Then, let’s get back to work laying the foundation for a better, kinder, and more peaceful future. Together we can make our communities safer and healthier!


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