COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — June 27, 2014

Jessica Iron Joseph
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Jessica Iron Joseph

I’m still angry and in shock over what happened to Marlene Bird in Prince Albert on June 1. The gross acts committed on her are so vile and reprehensible, that I cannot even believe a person could be capable of such cruelty.

My heart breaks for her, and her family members. No one should ever endure that kind of violence. No one deserves that kind of treatment.

News of such horrific acts makes me feel helpless. Not afraid, but helpless. What can be done to prevent a repeat of this crime? Certainly catching the perpetrator(s) will help, but with nearly 1,200 missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, Marlene’s case is not an isolated act of violence. This incident only highlights how desperately a national inquiry into murdered and missing women is needed. But I think more can still be done, even on a local level.

Following the tragedy, many people voiced their anger that justice ought to be brought to the offender(s) in a similar fashion that Marlene experienced. As devastated as I am, I’m not a fan of revenge, and I am skeptical that punishment ever fixes anything. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

A person who commits such an act is sick, and punishment doesn’t cure sickness. How do you prevent sickness from spreading? You treat it.

I came across the very interesting findings of Gary Slutkin, M.D., an epidemiologist (infectious diseases expert), who used a plan to treat infectious diseases in Africa for 10 years. When he returned to America, and saw the rampant violence everywhere, he studied some graphs and charts and noticed a pattern. Violence appeared to behave like a disease. He wondered if it could be treated in the same manner diseases were treated.

So a plan was set in place for one of the worst neighbourhoods in Chicago, where violent shootings claimed the lives of countless people.  Using The Cure Violence Health Model as a guide, the first trial resulted in a 67 per cent drop in shootings. 

More trials showed similar success rates. Slutkin was treating violence exactly as he would an epidemic disease outbreak.

These are the steps he used: 1) Interrupt transmission of the disease, 2) Prevent future spread, 3) Change community norms.

So, to interrupt transmission of the disease they hired Violence Interrupters and Outreach Workers who could identify and interrupt potentially violent conflicts in the neighborhood and then keep an eye on the situation so that the violence didn’t re-escalate.

Next, to prevent future spread, workers would identify key players and intervene with advice and different strategies to help change those behaviours that contributed to violence. They also assisted those who needed to find treatment options.

Lastly, they organized the community, via leaders and organizations, to spread the message that violence was not normal or acceptable, but a behaviour that could be changed.

You can see more of this information on, along with a video where Slutkin explains how The Cure Violence Health Model has worked in America. You can also search for a documentary called The Interrupters to see this model in action on the streets of Chicago.

This model has been highly successful to prevent and ameliorate gang violence and shootings in the states. The violence I’m talking about in Canada is quite different, in that it is often disproportionately directed at females, who are usually aboriginal, in random acts throughout the country. It may not be as easy to mobilize groups for these disparate and widespread occurrences, but this model might still be useful.

I don’t propose to have all the answers. In fact, this model might even be something that is considered within a National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Women in Canada, or maybe it could be something separate, but would be complementary to an inquiry. A Canadian model might have similar components as stated above, but they may take on a whole different direction. I don’t know how it could be used, but the results in the states have been incredibly impressive and I think something to seriously look at here.

I take comfort in looking for solutions. It makes me feel less helpless. If this model has worked for countless infectious diseases and gang shootings in the states, why couldn’t we attempt something similar here?


Jessica Iron Joseph is a Prince Albert freelance writer. Her column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Sharon Thomas, Lori Q. McGavin and Kevin Joseph.

Organizations: Prince Albert, Murdered Women

Geographic location: Canada, America, Chicago Africa

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