Irvin Waller calls for governments to meet international standards of victim assistance and invest in preventing victimization.

Invest Now in Effective Prevention to Stop Harm from Personal Violence and Achieve Sustainable Development Goals

We have strong scientific knowledge and reasons to reduce violent crime in cities by 50% or more before 2030.  In the last thirty years, a Sea-Change has occurred in the growth of knowledge on what is effective in preventing crime and victimization.  This knowledge, and how to apply it, is  available in Smarter Crime Control, using government and inter-governmental sources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO). 

We now need a Sea-Change in investment in effective prevention in sectors such as schools, social services, public participation and health as well as problem solving policing and courts. Governments have resolved to prevent violence, and reduce its serious consequences, at WHO, UNODC, UN-Habitat, UNICEF and UN Women, such as in their new roadmap – INSPIRE.

But more is needed to overcome political inertia and false myths as well as foster the positive transformations to reduce personal violence significantly by 2030, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

Sea-Change in Knowledge Available on Effective Prevention

Significant knowledge has accumulated from scientific evaluations of what investments have reduced crime and victimization.  This knowledge comes in part from experiments using random control trials – often in the USA or UK – and from scientific analysis of trends in crime.  It is easily accessible to experts from resources provided in the last ten years by prestigious organizations such as the WHO, US Department of Justice, and others.

But these sources are not easily applied without interpretation from those with skills in the application oINSPIREf evaluation and trend analysis.  Nevertheless, governments have agreed on resolutions at WHO, UNODC and UN-Habitat that call on all orders of government to transform their actions to harness this knowledge to reduce the number of citizens who are victims of crime and violence.

Analysis of trends in crime that are comparative between countries or over time show the importance of poverty, inequity and the social safety net to crime trends.  Violence is reduced by resources in pre-school, education, welfare, job prospects, unemployment insurance, and healthcare.  WHO, UNODC, UNICEF, World Bank and others have supported a road map to achieve both the application of the knowledge and conclusions from crime trends in INSPIRE, which focuses on seven complementary strategies in sectors such as social services, schools and health.

A Sea-Change to Focus on Gender Based Violence (as well as Street Violence)

Today, evaluations of the frequency of gender based violence show disturbingly high rates and confirm significant suffering and long time health consequences for its survivors.  In the past, gender based violence did not get the same focus as street violence and property crime  in administrative data from the police, as much of this violence is never reported to the police.

Both Smarter Crime Control and WHO bring together both proven and promising strategies to significantly reduce violence against women and children.  Some promising strategies are being promoted by CDCP and other international initiatives.

No Sea-Change Yet in Investing in Effective Prevention

Unfortunately, the Sea-Change in knowledge has not yet led to significant investment in what works.  In part, this is because it has not been presented to the decision makers in a way that they can use. Few city decision makers are aware of this knowledge and even fewer have taken intentional steps to harness it.    So few governments are transforming their investments.  

Few governments are providing the support to cities that would enable them to harness it.  Few cities have adequately undertaken the analysis, investment, implementation, monitoring and evaluation that are considered the gold standard for success.  So there are few examples that have scientific support that demonstrate that investing ¨smartly¨ can achieve significant and cost effective reductions in crime and victimization.  The few examples are impressive as crime and violence have been reduced across cities by 50% or more, including Glasgow in Scotland, Bogota in Colombia and Recife in Brazil (see Waller and Martinez, 2016).  In relation to prevention of homicides in Latin America, one assessment provides governments with some help to assess effective programs.

Smarter Crime Control bridges Science to Citizens and Politicians

Smarter Crime Control was written to take that knowledge and present it as a Guide for Citizens, Communities and Politicians.  It brings together the evidence and the examples that show how crime and victimization have been reduced.  It is already in Spanish and will soon be in Chinese. 

It has chapteSmarter Crime Controlrs providing many examples, where crime has been reduced often by 50% or more.  These include: problem oriented policing and focused deterrence; problem solving courts; positive parenting training and reaching out to excluded youth; tackling the pipeline to street gangs; school curricula that teach healthy sexual relations, peaceful conflict resolution and substance use; redirecting response to victims of violence in the health sector; and designing consumer products and helping prevent repeat victimization.  More information on the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of these examples is also available in Smarter Crime Control and on the crime solutions website of the US Department of Justice.

Evaluations of many of these successes have also demonstrated that prevention is not only effective, but the most cost effective way to deal with crime.  Smarter Crime Control presents these results in the form of actions in which politicians can invest in order to stop street and gender based violence, injuries and deaths on the roads, and crime against property.  It then shows the nature of the benefits to citizens whose lives are no longer harmed by crime or violence.  It shows how significant reductions in crime and victimization also free up resources used in reaction to crime, including savings from expenditures in the police and prison sectors, which can then be used for positive investment.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Requires Access to Justice for Victims

Considerable progress has been made since 1985 in care and rights for victims but mostly in affluent democracies.

In the USA, federal legislation such as VOCA (1984), VAWA (1994) and VRA (2004) has advanced funding, including $4 billion annually for States and local government to establish services, compensation and actions for vulnerable victims such as domestic violence survivors.  In the European Union, the ¨Directive¨ was adopted in 2012 that sets standards for  services, restitution, restorative justice, RightsforVictimsCrimeinformation and a limited right to participation across more than 25 countries reaching potentially 500 million people or more than 70 million victims. 

Japan has implemented a model comprehensive program for victims of crime.   Australia and the UK have model  standards with victim commissioners to get action.   The UN has spun off the International Criminal Court that provides extensive rights to information, protection, participation and restitution that could also be adapted for victims of common crime.

Governments are committed to achieving targets in SDG 16 that include access to justice.  Too often governments fail to include access for victims and survivors.  A significant step towards this target would be action by governments to implement a comprehensive model law and funding that provides for support, justice and good governance on victim rights.   This model law was inspired by the Draft convention on Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Requires Successful Violence Prevention

In the era of the targets for reduction of interpersonal violence agreed upon for the Sustainable Development Goals (e.g. SDG 3, 5, 11 and 16), governments are committed to transform their actions so that they achieve significant reductions in violence in their country by 2030.  This requires investment, capacity development and evidence based action now (e.g. SDG 17). INSPIRE is one initiative.  Another important initiative clusters around SDG 16 plus, with some pathfinder countries providing support.


It requires raising awareness with citizens, communities and politicians about the  effective solutions to prevent violence upstream.  A book and key websites are a start, but the new developments in media towards in-depth journalism and social media provide new and powerful ways to get these messages across.  The successful campaigns to change policy through propositions in US States provide impressive examples that have been supported by major foundations such as Bloomberg and Soros.

Motivating Decision Makers

However, awareness and propositions are not enough, we can also motivate decision makers in other ways. 

Negative motivations must be overcome.  Contrary to the myth that the public only wants vengeance, the evidence shows that the majority of the public is in favour of prevention and education rather than paying for more police, lawyers and prisons.  Also, contrary to the myth that we cannot afford prevention, many governments have afforded large increases in reaction without evidence of associated reductions in crime (see Canada, Mexico, USA).  This means that they could also afford equal investment in prevention -in positive actions- while reallocating funds from where it is not working (reactive measures) as crime drops.

Positive motivation can take many forms.  It can take pressure groups such as parents – and particularly the mothers – of potential victims to be organized to get actions that stop violence. It can take survivors who call for better policies to prevent violence to others.   It can take mayors who want better quality of life for their voters.  

It can also take governments concerned about the excessive cost of paying for reaction.  It can take intergovernmental groups such as the World Bank who know how much economic development is lost to violence.  It can take initiatives to bring scientists and policy makers together as in Latin America.  It can take politicians who prefer positive people centred solutions to only heavy handed and punitive enforcement.  


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