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What is structural violence?

CHER Chicago Definition of “Structural Violence”

“Structural violence” refers to the multiple ways in which social, economic, and political systems expose particular populations to risks and vulnerabilities leading to increased morbidity and mortality. Those systems include income inequality, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, ableism, and other means of social exclusion leading to vulnerabilities, such as poverty, stress, trauma, crime, incarceration, lack of access to care, healthy food, and physical activity.

Structural violence are social forces that harm certain groups of people, producing and perpetuating inequality in health and well-being. It includes social, economic, and political processes that manifest in both material and symbolic means of social exclusion.

As shown in the model below, structural violence creates health inequalities through a process rooted in systems of racism, social class, and heteronormativity. These systems shape the health of populations via neighborhood contexts and individual actions. That is, the health inequalities we observe are the immediate product of where and how people live – and that is defined by the forces of racism, social class, and heteronormativity.

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