Research Round-up: Youth Violence Prevention

NICHD works on many fronts to reduce youth violence and improve care for victims

Tuesday, March 15, 2016
Young adult with stop gesture hand sign

Violence is a leading cause of death for people 10 to 24 years old in the United States.1 In addition, nearly a million young people are treated for injuries each year as a result of physical violence, sexual assault, bullying, or self-harm.2 Youth violence also can cause long-term emotional and psychological harm.

NICHD supports research on the causes and effects of youth violence, both domestically and abroad, and works to create new interventions and treatments. In this research round-up, we highlight a few of the many studies NICHD supports on youth violence.

Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Youth Violence

Effects of early sexual abuse on health and well-being throughout life
Since 1987, NICHD has supported a study to learn more about the long-term impacts of sexual abuse in childhood. The study External Web Site Policy found that girls who had been abused were more likely than their peers to have poor physical and mental health as adults.3 Many of the women in the study now have children of their own. A new NICHD grant External Web Site Policy will allow researchers to look at the effects of abuse across generations and understand what makes some women more resilient than others.

The link between youth violence and susceptibility to disease in adulthood
Evidence indicates that children exposed to violent or traumatic events are more likely to have poor health as adults, but why is that the case? An NICHD-funded study is focusing on changes at the genetic level following early stressful events. Researchers will examine genes involved in stress and the immune system to identify a genomic signature of childhood violence.

Advancing Strategies to Prevent Youth Violence

Risky online behavior and sexual exploitation of teens
NICHD-supported researchers previously documented how the Internet can be a gateway for sexual exploitation of teens External Web Site Policy. Girls who previously had been abused were more likely to engage in riskier online behaviors.4 But this and other previous studies relied on self-reporting by teens. A new grant from NICHD External Web Site Policy allows the researchers to get a better picture of risky online behavior by following participants’ Internet footprints directly.

Better screening tools for targeting interventions to children at risk for violence
The best way to reduce youth violence is to prevent it before it starts, but it is difficult to predict which children are more likely to be violent or aggressive later in life. An NICHD grant is helping researchers develop a screening tool that ultimately could help identify children in elementary school at greatest need for intervention.

Environmental factors that increase risk for urban gun violence
Gun violence is the leading cause of death of African-American males between the ages of 10 and 24.1 NICHD-supported researchers identified risk factors for gun violence External Web Site Policy by mapping the steps of gunshot victims on the day of their attack. The study, published earlier this year in Epidemiology, found that there were fewer cases of gunshot assaults in areas with greater neighborhood connectedness—where residents supported projects like neighborhood watches or block parties. The researchers also found that males who were alone, walked through areas with high levels of vacancies or vandalism, or recently purchased a gun, were at higher risk for gun violence.5

Improving Care for Victims of Youth Violence

Efforts to improve health care in the ER for sexually assaulted teens
An NICHD-supported study examined how 38 pediatric emergency rooms (ERs) treated teenage victims of sexual assault. Researcher founds that less than half of the teens were tested for sexually transmitted infections External Web Site Policy, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Only a third of the teens received preventive measures such as antibiotics and emergency contraception. The findings, published last December in the journal Pediatrics, show that ER care may fall short of treatment recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.6

Interventions to improve mental health in war-affected youth
NICHD-supported researchers working in Sierra Leone studied how best to target mental health programs for children affected by war. The researchers found that children with mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, were more likely to have future problems, such as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.7 The researchers concluded that low-cost programs to treat anxiety and depression might hold great promise for resource-scarce countries such as Sierra Leone.

Brain imaging to assess treatment for juvenile offenders
Why are some juvenile offenders rehabilitated by treatment programs while others relapse into violent or criminal behavior? Using magnetic resonance imaging of the brain, NICHD-supported researchers will look at how the brain changes as people in this group undergo a unique treatment program. The research aims to identify brain changes associated with outcomes, such as successful treatment or substance abuse and relapse, which could be used to inform and improve intervention programs.

NICHD remains dedicated to reducing the widespread problem of youth violence and will continue to support research on its causes and effects. The institute also is committed to studying ways to prevent youth violence and how best to treat those affected by it.

More Information from NICHD

Originally Posted: March 15, 2016

All NICHD Spotlights


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). Leading Causes of Death Reports, National and Regional, 1999–2014. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Retrieved from http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/leadcaus10_us.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). Leading Causes of Nonfatal Injury Reports, 2001–2013. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Retrieved from http://webappa.cdc.gov/sasweb/ncipc/nfilead2001.html
  3. Trickett, P. K., Noll, J. G., & Putnam, F. W. (2011). The impact of sexual abuse on female development: Lessons from a multigenerational, longitudinal research study. Developmental Psychopathology, 23(2), 453–476. PMID:23786689
  4. Noll, J. G., Shenk, C. E., Barnes, J. E., & Haralson, K. J. (2013). Association of maltreatment with high-risk Internet behaviors and offline encounters. Pediatrics, 131(2), e510–e117. PMID: 23319522
  5. Wiebe, D. J., Richmond, T. S., Guo, W., Allison, P. D., Hollander, J. E., Nance, M. L., & Branas, C. C. (2016). Mapping activity patterns to quantify risk of violent assault in urban environments. Epidemiology, 27(1), 32–41. PMID: 26414941
  6. Schilling, S., Samuels-Kalow, M., Gerber, J. S., Scribano, P. V., French, B., & Wood, J. N. (2015). Testing and treatment after adolescent sexual assault in pediatric emergency departments. Pediatrics, 136(6), e1495–e1503. PMID 26527754
  7. Betancourt, T. S., Gilman, S. E., Brennan, R. T., Zahn, I., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2015). Identifying priorities for mental health interventions in war-affected youth: A longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 136(2), e344–e350. PMID: 26148954