The Social Work Response to Violence

Article excerpt

"... there's something in the human spirit that yearns for peace. If statesmen and generals can't stop violence, maybe social workers can."

Charles Kuralt, 1997

These optimistic words from broadcaster Charles Kuralt, in response to Challenges of Violence Worldwide: A Curriculum Model, An Educational Resource (NASW Violence and Development Project, 1996), reflects both the prevalence of violence in our world and the social work commitment to minimizing it. The face of violence changes over time and place, and social workers are engaged in an evolving effort to find adequate responses.

The War in Iraq, shootings in schools and work places, genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda--these are only the most salient and recent expressions of violence worldwide. Violence is defined as an act or situation that injures or harms the wellbeing of oneself or others. In Challenges of Violence Worldwide, Jane Crosby and Dorothy Van Soest refined this definition to include threats to personal security and social stability from sources including social and economic systems (through deprivation and lack of access to resources), the state (through repression, torture, police brutality, or inaction), other countries (through colonization and war) and other groups (through ethnic conflict, discrimination, and hate crimes). They connected expressions of violence to economic and social development worldwide:

   Just as technology crosses borders, so do violence
   and related problems of concern to social
   workers, such as poverty and unemployment;
   the use and production of and
   trafficking in illegal drugs; discrimination; and
   the oppression of women and children. Increasingly,
   leaders and citizens are coming to
   understand that these problems can be solved
   not by the United States in isolation but by a
   world community working together. Social
   workers have a key role to play in this evolving
   effort." (Violence & Development, 1996, p. 1)

How can social workers respond to violence? In a world awash in violence, is it naive to suggest that social workers can do anything about it? In fact, a cursory review of social work ideas and involvements historically and currently reveals the deep and meaningful engagement of social workers in the pursuit of peace and social justice. It reveals social workers' commitment to reducing violence and achieving peace through the development of individual dignity and well-being, economic opportunity, equity, human rights, and democracy. It reveals that social workers have long understood that the process of promoting peace and reducing violence requires education to increase understanding and cooperative effort to enhance social and economic development.

Social work's fundamental commitment to promoting human well-being within the global social and economic context drives our pragmatic approach to ameliorating violence and its consequences. Training that emphasizes the assessment of problems at the individual, family, community, organizational, national and international levels provides solid preparation for social workers seeking to reduce violence and promote peace.

Jane Addams, the iconic social worker and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, articulated the social work perspective in 1917 when she stated, "among those who articulated a wider social justice throughout the world, there has developed a conviction that justice ... can be achieved only through understanding and fellowship, and that a finely tempered sense of justice ... cannot be secured in the storm and stress of war." (reprinted in Elshtain, 2001, p. 364)

Sixty years later, contemporary social workers Crosby and Van Soest offered comparable, if more specific responses to current manifestations of violence. …