By Michele Goodwin
Posted from Amsterdam
I was in India when the tragic news hit; 26 people dead–20 of them children in a massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. In India, NGOs struggle with ending violence against women and children. Acid tossed in the faces of women by scorned boyfriends is not uncommon nor the increasing, random acts of slitting women’s throats on trains. Sensational it may seem to us; but very real for women in Mumbai and Bihar. In fact, the day before learning of the tragedy in Connecticut, Delhi officials announced the hiring of thousands of guards to deploy at 548 elementary schools in South Delhi amid reports of rapes and molestations of little girls who are followed, harassed, and in too many cases harmed on their way home after leaving school. The government’s response comes on the heels of parents threatening to remove their daughters from school.
In that country and others, broad scale violence is understood as more than a national problem; it is a social and public health problem. In cases of sexual violence and the externalities that result, including sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies, the public health component may be more visible to those of us in the West. However, the public health indicators extend physical health problems; violence causes emotional and psychological trauma. The mental health component of public health must be better understood. Americans who live in gang infested communities, where violence seems almost endless and difficult to escape, understand this all too well as their kids experience anxieties closer to post traumatic stress disorder as part of their daily lives.
The Newtown shootings offer a moment for reflection on the lives lost and also our nation’s first principles and commitments. Perhaps this will be a time to consider gun control beyond a very divided constitutional law debate to also understand its public health dimensions. Who benefits from current policies? Who are those harmed? Physical wounds do heal, but the mental health traumas, grief, and anxieties often take a lifetime to manage and overcome.