No act of violence occurs in a vacuum. The rippling effects of violence extend far beyond any one isolated incident between victim and perpetrator; humanity is afflicted at a societal level.

The many manifestations and consequences of violence—and potential measures to address these pressing issues—were the topic of an Oct. 27 conference titled the Impact of Violence on Health and Education, presented by the Fordham Graduate School of Social Service, the Fordham Institute for Women & Girls, and the International Health Awareness Network. The conference placed special emphasis on gun violence, school violence, and sexual and gender-based violence.

“We’re living in a violent time,” said Sandy Turner, Ph.D., associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service and director of the Institute for Women & Girls. “All we have to do is turn on the news for five minutes and we know that. I think it affects all of us in one way or another just about every day.”

Global perspectives

The event, held at Fordham University School of Law, brought together a roster of experts from a wide array of disciplines—ranging from academic researchers to medical doctors to political leaders—who gave attendees a range of perspectives on how violence impacts societies around the world and what can be done to mitigate the tragic outcomes.

Ambassador Modest Jonathan Mero, the permanent representative of Tanzania to the United Nations, described the Tanzanian government’s efforts to combat domestic violence and promote gender equality. Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side in the New York City Council, described municipal legislators’ efforts to allocate more police resources toward investigating instances of sexual assault.

Protecting human rights at every stage of life

Individuals can suffer lifelong effects from violence suffered before they are even born, said Dr. Melody Behnam, an obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice. Physical or emotional abuse of pregnant women can result in lasting complications for both mother and child, she explained, ranging from maternal depression to deficits in cognitive function for children. Clinicians must be trained to recognize domestic violence and implement early intervention techniques, Behnam said.

“This is not just a women’s question—it’s humanity’s question,” she said. “We have to take responsibility to end it.”

Janna C. Heyman, Ph.D., holder of the Endowed Chair of the Henry C. Ravazzin Center on Aging and Intergenerational Studies at the  Graduate School of Social Service, described how older adults can be susceptible to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse because they often suffer from isolation and have no one to turn to for support.

Living a life of dignity, free of abuse, is a human right that we must ensure is protected throughout an individual’s lifespan, Heyman said, “from pregnancy all the way though to older adults and even in death and dying.”

Finding solutions

The Graduate School of Social Service held a contest for students, who submitted papers presenting policy solutions addressing the impact of violence on health and education. Elaine Congress, D.S.W., a founding member of the Institute for Women & Girls and professor and associate dean for continuing education and extra-mural programs at the Graduate School of Social Service, presented awards to the winners at the conference.

Yingying Zhu, an MSW student, won an award for her proposal on improving safety in schools. Among other policies, Zhu advocated for providing additional training to teachers and staff on conflict resolution and classroom management and hosting educational workshops and support groups for parents.

“I’m so glad that policy courses are part of the MSW curriculum,” she said. “Learning about policy has changed my perception about what we can do to advocate.”

– Michael Garofalo