A pioneer in violence prevention and response, Dr. Mercy has profoundly impacted the public's perception of violence. Once seen as an inevitable aspect of existence, violence, under his guidance, has emerged as a preventable public health concern.
Dr. James A. Mercy, with an impressive career spanning over four decades, stands in the vanguard of pioneers dedicated to violence prevention and response. As he retires from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are honored to have had him as a close Together for Girls partner over the last 14 years, and to spotlight the myriad contributions he has made in our field.
His initial steps in this journey can be traced back to his graduation with a PhD in Sociology from Emory University in 1982. Aiding in the foundational establishment of a Violence Epidemiology Branch in 1983, Jim's early endeavors were instrumental in framing violence not merely as a criminal issue, but as a tangible public health problem.
As his journey advanced, he became a beacon in pioneering research. Authoring more than 250 publications, Dr. Mercy's work has delved deep into various facets of violence, ranging from child maltreatment to intimate partner violence.
The establishment of the Division of Violence Prevention (DVP) at CDC in 1990 saw him take the helm as its inaugural Acting Director. Under his leadership, the division grew into a formidable entity, pushing the boundaries of public health efforts both in the US and globally.
In the global arena, his mark is undeniable. As a co-author of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, he played a pivotal role in globalizing the narrative of violence prevention. The document stands as a testament and a guiding light for global endeavors in the domain of violence prevention.
And as DVP’s Special Advisor for Global Activities, Dr. Mercy crafted strategic frameworks that underpinned CDC's global outreach.
One of his most heralded accomplishments remains the initiation of the Violence Against Children and Youth Survey (VACS) in Eswatini more than 13 years ago. This initiative not only spotlighted the harrowing reality of violence against children, but also birthed the Together for Girls partnership. Today, owing to this effort, data encapsulating multiple forms of violence, including sexual violence, covers over 13% of the world's population of children, adolescents and youth. When examining only low-income countries, that number is now over 30%, an important feat given the dearth of data in these contexts.
The data gathered from the VACS has been pivotal in creating comprehensive National Action Plans tailored to specific countries where the surveys were conducted. This has spurred significant measures to counteract violence against children. A recent independent review of the VACS highlighted their effectiveness, revealing:
Furthermore, when comparing Kenyan VACS data from 2010 with that from 2019, there was a notable reduction in instances of child sexual violence. Due to various interventions following the initial 2010 VACS, 4 million fewer children fell victim to sexual violence within that nine-year span.
In recognition of his unparalleled contributions, Dr. Mercy was conferred with the William C. Watson, Jr’s Medal of Excellence in 2018, a fitting tribute to his dedication and unwavering commitment.
However, numbers and accolades only tell part of the story. Dr. Mercy's legacy is not just etched in his monumental achievements but also in the numerous professionals he has mentored. His trainees have gone on to assume pivotal roles, from City Health Commissioners to global health program directors within the WHO.
Through his visionary leadership, Dr. Mercy has profoundly impacted the public's perception of violence. Once seen as an inevitable aspect of existence, violence, under his guidance, has emerged as a preventable public health concern.
As he concludes his illustrious career at CDC, his indelible mark on the field of violence prevention remains. Dr. Mercy has not just been a researcher or a director; he has been a visionary, a mentor, and above all, an architect of a safer world.