January 11, 2023
Most research on exposure to violence focuses on direct victimization, offending, or witnessed violence, yet many people also experience concerns about potential violence in their environments and social networks. Using a state-representative survey of California adults (n = 2870) administered in July 2020, we estimate the prevalence of anticipatory concerns about violence within respondents' social networks and describe characteristics of the persons at perceived risk of violence, reasons for respondents' concerns, and actions undertaken by respondents to reduce that risk. Approximately 1 in 5 respondents knew at least one person, usually a friend or extended family member, whom they perceived to be at risk of other- or self-directed violence. Among respondents living with the person at perceived risk, about one-quarter reported household firearm ownership. Alcohol and substance misuse and a history of violence were among respondents' top reasons for concern; serious mental illness and firearm access also contributed to concerns. About one-quarter of respondents with such concerns said harm was likely or very likely to occur in the next year. Most respondents reported having taken action to reduce the risk of violence, including providing resources and asking family or friends to help; few acted to reduce access to lethal means. The most common reasons for inaction were the perception that a dangerous situation was unlikely and that it was a personal matter. Our findings can help inform a broader understanding of exposure to violence and interventions that leverage the knowledge of those close to persons at risk to prevent violence.