Nine policies to reduce violence that your country needs right now

Iron fist repression doesn’t work — but creative policy could drastically reduce violence

Children playing together

Gruesome violent crimes might grab headlines, but less spectacular forms of violence pervade all human societies with devastating economic, social and human costs.

But across the world, smart policy is short-circuiting violent norms and creating more peaceful cultures. Here are nine policies that have made a tangible dent in violence — and that more countries could replicate

1) Strengthen data systems

Some forms of violence tend to be well-recorded: murders, for example. But in many countries, the prevalence of sexual violence, intimate partner violence and violence in childhood is largely unknown.

Even in the US, data on gun violence is wholly inadequate for understanding the problem, and police forces across the world are still failing to understand how to use data without breaching citizens’ civil liberties.

Without a sense of the scale of the problem, governments have little reason to act — and without understanding violence fully, any efforts they do make are doomed to fail. The first step in ending violence worldwide? Understanding it. 

2) Ban corporal punishment

Corporal punishment is a catch-all term for various forms of harsh and violent discipline.

A mounting body of evidence suggests that such an approach, even in “minor” forms, makes people more likely to commit violence in later life.

54 countries — among them Sweden, Kenya and Tunisia — have fully banned corporal punishment. Should your country be the next?

3) Positive parenting

Parenting isn’t easy, but no relationship is more important for development in early childhood.

Across the world, evidence is growing that parenting courses can help families immensely — reducing violence against children, and even reducing violence between parents.

Engaging men as caregivers is a vital tool in undoing some toxic forms of masculinity, and parenting programs are one vital way to start the process.

4) Rewrite rape laws

Sweden recently became the 10th European country — others include the UK and Germany — to rewrite its rape laws.

No longer does the country’s definition of rape rely on an outdated notion of violent coercion, but instead on the absence of consent.

Activists hope it will improve conviction rates and change the way people talk about sex.  

5) Healing trauma

Violence causes trauma, but trauma can also cause violence.

Trauma comes in many forms: from parental conflict to school shootings to the pain inflicted by forced displacement. Trauma, particularly in childhood, can cause a range of mental health problems and negative life outcomes.

Addressing this damage — for example through trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy — could help to break the cycle of violence.

6) Fighting sexual violence

Even after decades of research, very few interventions are proven to reduce the rate at which men perpetrate sexual violence against women.

One option, albeit controversial, is feminist self-defence training — and some recent randomised controlled trials have demonstrated dramatic results.

Advocates argue self-defence training should be embedded into school curricula.

7) Prison reform

Too often, prison functions like a revolving door, welcoming ex-inmates back into the carceral system when their reintegration fails.

In the UK, women’s prisons are adopting trauma-informed approaches that seek to address the underlying source of vulnerability and criminality. It’s an ambitious project that could soon be scaled to men’s prisons too.

8) Policing with communities

Policing doesn’t have to be limited to iron-first interventions. Building trust between communities and their police has reaped immense benefits across the world: in Brazil, community-oriented policing contributed to a dramatic crime drop.

9) Designing out violence

Violence isn’t always an unpredictable phenomenon: diverse environmental factors can encourage or discourage violent behaviours.

Across the world, cities are starting to understand the impact urban design can have on a range of behaviours — including violent crime.

Greenery, better street lighting and fortifying vulnerable targets are just some of the ways cities are building crime-free environments

(Picture credit: Pexels/Archie Binamira)

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