EDUCATION AND SOCIAL ISSUES

Better Information on Gun Violence

©John Foxx/Stockbyte/ThinkstockTens of thousands of people every year are injured or killed in the U.S. because of a firearm-related incident. Many recent highly publicized, tragic mass shootings have led to public demands for better protection against firearm violence in schools and communities.

In response to an executive order issued by President Obama in January 2013, the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council were asked to recommend a research agenda to improve understanding of the public health aspects of gun violence, including its causes, health burden, and possible interventions. Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence states significant progress can be achieved in three to five years through a research program that addresses five high-priority areas: the characteristics of gun violence, risk and protective factors, prevention and other interventions, gun safety technology, and the influence of video games and other media.

This research agenda could work toward developing effective policies to reduce the occurrence of firearm violence and its impact in the United States. Similar approaches to public health problems have produced successes in lowering tobacco use, accidental poisoning, and motor vehicle fatalities. The committee that wrote the report urged that this agenda be integrated with research conducted from criminal justice and other perspectives to provide a much fuller knowledge base.

The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the CDC Foundation, with the foundation's support originating from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, California Endowment, California Wellness Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and one anonymous donor.

Sex Trafficking of Minors

©Doug Menuez/Photodisc/ThinkstockEvery day, children and adolescents in the U.S. become victims of commercial exploitation and sex trafficking, crimes that cause long-term physical, mental, and emotional harm. Despite laws in every state that make it illegal to have sex with a child under a certain age, children and adolescents who are victims of sex trafficking are themselves often treated as criminals and subject to arrest, detention, or incarceration.

Minors who are prostituted or sexually exploited in other ways should be recognized as victims of abuse and violence and directed toward systems, agencies, and services that are equipped to meet their needs, says Confronting Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States, a report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council.

There is no reliable estimate of the scope or prevalence of these crimes in the U.S., the report says; estimates of the number of prostituted children and adolescents, for example, have ranged from 1,400 to 2.4 million. Like other crimes of a hidden nature, these crimes may go undetected because they occur at the margins of society and behind closed doors, and the young people involved may not recognize themselves as victims of a crime.

Although estimates are imperfect, commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors in the United States clearly are serious problems, the report says. The U.S. departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Education, working with other partners, should support efforts to raise awareness of these crimes that include training for teachers, health care workers, and others who routinely interact with minors. In addition, laws intended to hold exploiters, traffickers, and solicitors accountable for their role should be reviewed and strengthened.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Accurate Data on Rape and Sexual Assault

©Caitlin Cahill/iStock/ThinkstockUnderstanding when and why rape and sexual assault occur is vital for deciding how to direct law enforcement resources and for designing and sustaining programs that support victims. However, the National Crime Victimization Survey, the main federal survey now used for collecting information on how often Americans are criminally victimized, is not well-suited to capturing data on rape and sexual assault and is likely undercounting these crimes, says Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault.

A lack of privacy may be a major reason for underreporting rape and sexual assault in the survey, which relies upon oral interviews conducted in a household by an interviewer. Because most of these attacks are committed by individuals whom the victim knows, respondents may be reluctant to disclose their victimization to an interviewer within earshot of family members. In addition, the survey's criminal context may also inhibit reporting; for example, a victim might think an incident should not be reported on a government crime survey if it was not reported to the police. Moreover, because the survey uses terms such as "rape" and "sexual assault" without defining the specific behaviors involved, a respondent may not realize that what he or she experienced might fit the definition of those acts.

To obtain more accurate data, the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics should establish a separate survey to measure rape and sexual assaults, the report recommends. Questions should be worded to describe specific actions rather than using terms like "rape" and "sexual assault," and they should be framed within a noncriminal, neutral context, as a survey of health and well-being would be, so as not to limit responses. And to protect privacy, the survey should be self-administered by the respondent using a computer and earphones.

The National Research Council study was funded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The Nation's Health Disadvantage

©Devonyu/iStock/ThinkstockAlthough Americans' life expectancy and health have improved over the past century, these gains have lagged behind those of other high-income countries. This health disadvantage prevails even though the United States spends more per person on health care than any other nation.

U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, a report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, examines multiple diseases, injuries, and behaviors across the entire life span, comparing the United States with 16 peer nations -- affluent democracies that include Australia, Canada, Japan, and many western European countries. In this group, the U.S. ranks at or near the bottom in nine key areas of health, including infant mortality and low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections; prevalence of HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and disability.

Although documented flaws in the U.S. health care system may contribute to poorer health, the report says that many factors are responsible for the nation's health disadvantage. For example, Americans are more likely to engage in certain unhealthy activities, from heavy caloric intake to behaviors that increase the risk of fatal injuries, the report says.

In addition, Americans still fare worse than people in other countries even when the analysis is limited to non-Hispanic whites and people with relatively high incomes and health insurance, nonsmokers, or people who are not obese.

The report calls for a comprehensive public outreach campaign to stimulate a national discussion and call attention to Americans' health status. In addition, research is needed to study the factors responsible for the U.S. disadvantage and potential solutions.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Measures of Well-Being

©Purestock/ThinkstockDuring the past decade, interest in measuring subjective well-being -- how people feel about their experiences and how satisfied they are with their lives -- has grown among policymakers, researchers, and the general public. At the request of the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council, a National Research Council panel study considered the extent to which it would be useful to measure people's self-reported or "subjective" well-being for informing policy.

The resulting report, Subjective Well-Being: Measuring Happiness, Suffering, and Other Dimensions of Experience, says that gathering survey data on "experienced" well-being -- the self-reported levels of contentment, joy, stress, frustration, and other feelings people experience throughout the day and while engaged in various activities -- would be valuable for policymakers. In particular, data on specific actions intended to improve the living and working conditions of different population groups, including children or older adults, show promise in developing policies and practices in such areas as end-of-life care, commuting, child custody laws, and city planning, to name a few.

Several government and private surveys -- including the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey and the Gallup World Poll -- already include questions on experienced well-being. The report identifies additional more-specialized government surveys -- such as the American Housing Survey's Neighborhood Social Capital module and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics -- as candidates for inclusion of experienced well-being questions. Questions could also be considered on a pilot basis for broader population surveys fielded by federal statistical agencies, as they have been in the U.K. and elsewhere internationally.

The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging and the U.K. Economic and Social Research Council.

Copyright Policy and the Internet

©iStock/ThinkstockThe rollout of the World Wide Web and expanded use of digital technologies in the mid-1990s marked the beginning of a technological revolution that changed long-established modes of creating, distributing, and using creative works, from literature and news to film and music to scientific publications and computer software. The Internet enables near instantaneous and free distribution to mass audiences, yet content creators and distributors have lost much of their ability to prevent infringement on intellectual property.

Copyright in the Digital Era: Building Evidence for Policy, a report from the National Research Council, says that the debate between those who believe the digital revolution has undermined copyright protection and those who believe enhancements to copyright policy inhibit innovation and free speech has been poorly informed by objective data and independent empirical research.

The report proposes a detailed set of research questions that could inform key aspects of copyright policy, including the scope and duration of copyright protection, safe harbors and fair-use exceptions, effective enforcement strategies, and whether different industries should abide by different rules. In addition, the report calls for the collection, organization, and availability of data associated with the activities of various stakeholders and end-user populations. Because much of this data resides in the private sector, public and private organizations should cooperate in building a copyright data infrastructure accessible to academic and industry investigators.

The study was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Ford Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, National Science Foundation, American Chemical Society, Business Software Alliance, Entertainment Software Association, Google Inc.-Tides Foundation, Intel, Microsoft, Motion Picture Association, and Pamela Samuelson and Robert J. Gulshko.