Violence is a major public health problem at the national and state levels. The importance of all aspects of violence is reflected in the definition recently adopted by the Minnesota Governor's Task Force on Violence as a Public Health Issue (1996):
"Violence is the threatened or actual use of force against a person or a group that either results or is likely to result in injury, death, emotional damage or coerced behavior.":
Violence is a multi-faceted and complex problem of enormous social consequence. The physical consequences of violence, including homicide, suicide, rape, battering, and child abuse are obvious outcomes. The psychosocial effects of violence are more subtle, yet may ultimately result in overt trauma. For example, emotional abuse arising from inequities in power in interpersonal relationships whether in the family, the workplace, or community, may increase risk of violent injury. Thus, it is important to determine the magnitude and potential risk factors for all aspects of violence.
While there is some evidence about the risk factors for various types of violence, adequate scientific data are limited. Homicide and suicide data represent only the tip of the violence iceberg; non-fatal events are seriously underreported. There is a great need for research on many aspects of the problem. Comprehensive surveillance systems of violence-related events are needed to identify the magnitude of the problem, the persons at greatest risk, and potential risk factors. Analytical efforts including case-control studies, must then be conducted to delineate specific risk factors that can be used as the basis for developing effective prevention and control efforts. Evaluation of such intervention efforts for outcomes and cost is also sorely needed. The efficacies of most interventions have not been tested, and a tension exists between the demand to act now and the absence of proven interventions (Mercy et al., 1993).
Recognizing the potential for public health expertise to contribute to stemming the violence epidemic, faculty at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health identified violence prevention and control as one of the top five priorities for research in the next five years in a strategic planning process (Prism, Inc., 1993). Given the trend of shrinking research budgets, in general, and the underfunded status of violence research in particular (Metzger and Strand, 1993), faculty were challenged to find the most effective use of existing resources.
In response, faculty adopted the guiding principles that were articulated by Mercy et al. (1993), and Moore (1993) regarding the need to collaborate with the community, to understand their needs and perspectives, and to learn from work in progress to enhance future policies and programs. To accomplish this, a statewide needs assessment of violence prevention and control efforts was conducted to serve as a basis for creating a socially relevant research agenda, and assisting in prioritizing limited academic resources.
The specific goal of the current study was to collect comprehensive information on the scope of violence prevention research, interventions, and other programmatic efforts in the state of Minnesota. A clear understanding of current efforts is necessary to accomplish the following long-term goals:
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- develop a strategic plan for future research by identifying existing gaps in our knowledge base;
- improve reporting and record keeping practices by identifying gaps in surveillance efforts;
- promote cooperation among academic, clinical, and community resources in their efforts to understand and prevent violence.