One of the greatest joys of working on a university campus is being surrounded by young adults full of ambition and promise. One of the greatest heartbreaks is knowing that many of them have been or will be the victims of one of the most serious public health issues of our time—domestic violence.
We see the occasional headlines about a celebrity or sports hero accused of hurting or being hurt by a loved one. But the true scope of this public health epidemic is staggering. According to the CDC, nearly 29 million U.S. women and 16 million U.S. men have experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. And most of these experiences occur before the age of 25.
The evidence is clear that domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, takes a physical and emotional toll on individuals, families and communities. Those exposed, both directly and indirectly, are at a greater risk of mental health disorders, infectious and chronic diseases, and premature death. And the global annual cost in lost productivity, health care, and law enforcement is estimated to be in the trillions.
While substantial resources have been invested in victim support programs and raising public awareness, we still have little understanding of the policies, programs, and actions that can prevent domestic violence before it happens and remove “victim” from our vocabulary.
As a nation that holds dear the values of personal safety and individual promise, we can no longer settle for reactive approaches. We must rigorously and relentlessly pursue pathways to preventing domestic violence before it permanently damages another generation of young lives.
One thing is certain: Solutions will only come when we work across disciplines and sectors, not simply to raise public awareness but to examine and broadly implement evidence-based prevention strategies. The good news is that other areas of public health are already seeing the benefits of such a collaborative approach.
Earlier this year, Harvard Business School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in convening corporate leaders to explore the benefits to society ― and the bottom line ― when corporations invest in programs to address health issues. Numerous CEOs shared the results of their companies’ cross-sector collaborations to create a culture of health.
For example, Intel Corporation partnered with local health care providers in Portland, Oregon, to use its expertise in supply chain management to improve treatment paradigms for conditions such as diabetes and lower back pain. The result was not only improved health in the community, but also reduced health care costs for Intel employees, which ultimately saved the company money
Preventing domestic violence is everyone’s business and creative collaboration to find new solutions is critical. So we at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are hanging out a “Help Wanted” sign, looking to the business, nonprofit, government, faith-based, and philanthropic sectors—along with other academic institutions—to shift the domestic violence conversation from secondary intervention to preventive action. True change will only happen when we are able to reach and influence people where they live, learn, work, play, and pray.
We are inspired by individuals who are working to ensure change in their lifetime, such as L.Y. Marlow, author and founder of domestic violence-focused nonprofit, Saving Promise. Marlow has turned her personal story of five generations and more than 60 years of mothers and daughters who suffered domestic violence into a passionate call for action.
Our commitment is to the young people who arrive on our campus every fall, and to the millions more across the country we will never meet, but who need our help to realize their dreams and full potential.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline .