Cure Violence Global (CVG) was founded in 1995 by Dr. Gary Slutkin, MD, former head of the World Health Organization‘s (WHO) Intervention Development Unit. Upon Dr. Slutkin’s return to the U.S., he became concerned about the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. Observing the ways in which gun shootings and homicides clustered and spread in communities, he became convinced that the issue of violence is fundamentally misdiagnosed and developed an epidemiological approach to arrest and prevent it.
This approach is grounded in an understanding that violence follows a contagious process and can therefore be prevented using disease control and behavior change methods. The Cure Violence model focuses on: 1) violence detection and interruption; 2) behavior change among the highest risk; 3) social norm change. This is the usual way that contagious or epidemic diseases are approached.
The first Cure Violence program was launched in West Garfield Park, Chicago in 2000, one of the most violent communities in the U.S., and was quick to produce results, reducing shootings by 67% in its first year. From 2000-2008, Cure Violence focused its activities regionally, expanding to 18 communities in Chicago and an additional 9 cities in the state of Illinois. In 2009, an evaluation of the Chicago program was published finding reductions in shootings and killings of 41% to 73% with 100% reduction in retaliation killings in several communities.
Starting in 2008, Cure Violence Global began working with partners in new regions in the United States to quickly expand to several new cities, including Baltimore, New York City, New Orleans, and Kansas City. Several additional evaluations have been conducted on these replication sites, including in New York City (63% reduction in shootings, norm change), Baltimore (56% reduction in killings and measurable norm change), Philadelphia (30% reduction in shootings), and others. Cure Violence Global also developed a hospital-based component and provides trainings to communities that implement this aspect of the approach as well. Currently, Cure Violence Global is working in close partnership with organizations in more than 60 communities across 16 US cities to implement the approach, with more than 10 additional cities implementing approaches inspired by the Cure Violence model.
Also in 2008, Cure Violence Global began its first international adaptation and replication of the methodology in Basra and Sadr City, Iraq at a time of active war. Since then, international programs have been implemented in Argentina (Rosario, Santa Fe), Canada (Halifax and First Nation Territories in Alberta), Colombia (Cali), El Salvador (San Salvador, San Pedro Mazawal), Guatemala (Guatemala City), Honduras (San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa), Jamaica (St. Catherine North, St. James), Lebanon (training for Syria work), Kenya (election violence, Nairobi, Rift valley), Mexico (Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua City, Culiacan), Morocco (Casablanca), Nigeria (in-country training), South Africa (Hanover Park/Cape Town), Syria (during war in multiple locations, including government controlled, opposition supported, and Kurdish controlled area), Trinidad & Tobago (Port of Spain), United Kingdom (London) and the West Bank.
Throughout these years, Cure Violence has also provided training in violence prevention techniques to representatives of the U.N., international organizations, governments, NGOs, and communities from dozens of other countries. These adaptations have addressed violence not only in other countries and cultures, but also multiple types of violence such as cartel violence, sectarian and tribal violence, and election violence, in settings including conflict zones, prisons, refugee camps, juvenile detention facilities, and schools, demonstrating that violence in most settings can be both seen and successfully treated – and that the epidemiologic approach can be successfully adapted across geographies and types or “syndromes” of the disease of violence. The Cure Violence approach has been implemented in more than 50 cities across more than 15 countries in 5 continents.
The Cure Violence Global model has undergone 11 independent evaluations to date, all of which have reported statistically significant reductions in violence. One of the most recent comprehensive third-party evaluations is the John Jay College of Criminal Justice evaluation of two New York City neighborhoods operating Cure Violence programs from 2014 to 2016, which found steeper declines in acts of gun violence and an increase in the expression of pro-social norms compared with similar neighborhoods not operating Cure Violence programs. The study found reductions across all measures of violence, including a 63% reduction in shootings in one community, a 50% reduction in gunshot wounds in the other, less support for the use of violence, and greater confidence in police. A recent evaluation of the Cure Violence program in Port of Spain, Trinidad found substantial and significant reductions in violence due to the program. The program site in Trinidad had a 45% reduction in violent crime and 23% reduction in calls to police. Evaluations of Cali, Columbia and Juarez, Mexico have been completed and publications is expected this year.
COVID-19: Rapidly Adapting and Responding to the COVID Pandemic
Cure Violence Global’s network of community workers are in communities that rapidly became severely impacted by COVID-19. These workers, deeply embedded in their communities, not only have special access and credibility but are trained in epidemic control and behavior change – and have the already proven ability to effectively reach and be trusted by the highest risk individuals and their families.
Since mid-March (2020), Cure Violence Global has worked with all of its partner sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This effort has included providing specialized COVID-19 training to all partner sites, distributing masks to key populations, and using specially crafted public education campaign materials to be used in these communities to educate individuals and families in these vulnerable communities on COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread. This work has been the focused on CVG’s sites in the U.S. and Latin American, with materials also getting distributed to partners in the Middle East.
Cure Violence Global has also been guiding it’s partners and front-line workers in best practices and innovative techniques to continue mediating conflicts within the limitations of COVID-19 restrictions, using innovative techniques. Many workers have reported being called upon to intervene to cool down tense situations in the homes in addition to the street violence that has traditionally been their focus. Most Cure Violence workers found themselves needing to work both epidemics of violence and COVID-19 simultaneously. Additionally, Dr. Slutkin, as a result of his background and connections with the World Health Organization, got called into several strategy conversations with other epidemiologists, government officials and community groups. Dr. Slutkin has hosted educational seminars and briefing sessions and has guided some mayors and governors in strategy development for reducing the spread of the new disease.
Although Cure Violence Global’s mission to prevent violence remains clear, its work has by necessity been required to be bound to COVID-19 and related violence stressors affecting our society. Violence in many cities and countries has increased substantially. This includes violence in communities, in homes, and international tensions. Additionally, political violence related and unrelated to COVID-19 remains a serious concern. For these reasons, Cure Violence is rapidly adapting and moving into a higher gear of partnerships, leveraging for impact, and intensifying training.
Violence Prevention Priorities and Expansion of Scope of Work
Cure Violence Global became a fully independent NGO in 2019. Prior to that, the work of Cure Violence Global was based out of an NGO at the University of Illinois at Chicago school of Public Health and focused on developing the approach and replicating the model to new cities. With the new NGO, Cure Violence Global is increasingly leveraging partnerships with other organizations to more efficiently and rapidly scale the approach to new types of violence and new geographic locations. Some of the most recently added new adaptations and platforms follow:
1) Ideologically-inspired violence – The recent (January 6, 2021) attack on the US Capitol Building by politically-inspired extremists was a wake-up call for many in the U.S. and around the world, but it was the predicted outcome of long-term trends that have made more people susceptible to contagious hate and violence. Since June 2019, Cure Violence Global has been working with several sets of partners to reduce the risk of hate and targeted violence and ease tensions, including developing and conducting trainings, designing and disseminating public education materials, and working with groups on the ground in areas where violence is most expected. As of this writing, CVG is focusing on Portland, Atlanta, and Washington, DC. Although this work began originally in the summer of 2019 with a focus on preventing anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City, it quickly morphed to addressing politically-inspired targeted violence in the lead up to, during, and after the U.S. presidential election. Additionally, Cure Violence Global is building teams and outreach networks to reduce hate inspired violence around the world, including violence against immigrants (US, EU), antisemitism, islamophobia, violence against other minorities (e.g. Kurds), and gender/sexual orientation-based violence.
2) Potential violence related to protests – With the rise of protests in the United States in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, Cure Violence Global has been working with partners and subject matter experts to develop and deliver new trainings, protocols, and models for multiple audiences, including protesters, police, activists, and media. This is being applied most urgently in the United States, with additional potential applications in East Asia (e.g. Hong Kong), Latin America, and the Middle East.
3) Conflict zones – Working in partnership with the Harvard Negotiation Project, Carter Center, and multiple former and existing diplomats to apply a public health approach to conflict zones, this new adaptation and pilot funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Union works in a conflict simultaneously at two levels: directly in the community and indirectly through emissaries with government and opposition combatants. This approach recognizes stopping violence as the primary goal, with political solutions to be accelerated because of the primary goal of dropping the violence. For example in Syria, Cure Violence Global trained 43 people representing 3 regions under differing “control” at the time, who then trained 600 people in violence interruption. In the first year of this work, there were 111 potential violent events across three geographic areas in the country, of which 93 (83.8%) were mediated successfully. 62% of the conflicts had moderate to high risk of violent retaliation. This included persons living within villages, as well as internally displaced persons (IDPs). This is the first time there has been documented mediations in a serious conflict zone. Beliefs about violence were also shown to change. Work on higher level interruption, including with/between governments themselves, is being piloted with this network of former and current diplomats and and will be applied to other conflict zones.
4) Violence against women and children – Cure Violence Global’s team in partnership with UNICEF has developed a training on methods of protecting women in situations of abuse or abduction. All CVG core training staff has been trained in sexual and gender-based violence, and staff throughout Latin America are being trained with additional trainings planned in 2021 for CVG partner sites in the United States. This problem is escalating, particularly in Latin America with worsening forms of abuse; Cure Violence staff and partners are beginning to be called to prevent and interrupt these events much more commonly. All staff are now trained.
5) Regional level planning – Cure Violence Global is working in partnership with Inter-American Development Bank and others to develop a regional plan to find ways to scale to regional level outcomes more rapidly and efficiently in Latin America and the Caribbean. This region has the highest rates of violence in the world.
6) Movement to reframe Violence as a Health Issue and change the way it’s being managed through new systems – Cure Violence Global is co-leading a coalition of over 700 leaders from the health and other related sectors drawn from over 50 cities and over 150 national organizations committed to changing perceptions, creating comprehensive systems change and promoting policies to support and sustain the work that is saving and improving lives by preventing violence of all forms. The Movement towards Violence as a Health Issue is co-chaired by Dr. Alfred Sommer, Dean Emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. David Satcher, former U. S. Surgeon General and Director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehead School of Medicine, and Dr. Gary Slutkin. Cure Violence Global staff are facilitating its work.
Accelerated training: Cure Violence Global launched an online training platform in 2020 and has begun to build a library of virtual training materials, with plans to move all current and new Cure Violence trainings online and to develop supplemental trainings for Cure Violence sites, partner organizations, and others. This will allow for the approach and model to spread to new communities much more quickly and efficiently. The platform proved to be particularly valuable during the recent and ongoing tensions around the US election, allowing Cure Violence Global to quickly develop and disseminate training for highly focused audiences at the highest risk to prevent violence.
The Economist termed the Cure Violence method “the approach that will come to prominence.” In the past 19 years, the model’s application has expanded from addressing community violence in some of the most dangerous cities and neighborhoods in the United States to addressing multiple types of violence from sectarian and tribal violence to violence in schools, refugee camps, conflict zones, juvenile detention facilities and prisons across many countries, and cultures. In 2012, the Cure Violence approach in Chicago was profiled in an award winning documentary called The Interrupters. The Cure Violence approach is actively promoted in the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Governors’ Association (US), National Institute of Justice (US), and others. Dr. Slutkin is a Global Ashoka Fellow and senior advisor to the WHO.