What Is Violence?

One of the most tragic and senseless things that can happen to another human being, is violence. Violence is, unfortunately, part of our every-day culture. We are, sadly, used to hearing stories of people who are attacked, people who are killed, and in the last decade, school and public shootings or workplace violence. These episodes are the result of many many factors, whether it is a broken childhood, desperation, suicidal thoughts, anger, fanaticism...the list goes on.

In a technical sense, violence is defined by acts or intended acts that are used to harm, intimidate, threaten, or kill another being or against yourself. In fact, the World Health Organization defines violence as "intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation."

Because that is quite a handful of a definition, we are going to break down violence so that it is easier to understand. Violence occurs on a global scale. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people die annually, 50 percent due to suicide, 35 percent to homicide, and 12 percent due to war or conflict.

Read more about suicide.

Read more about homicide.

Flatly speaking, that is an enormous amount of people, and that only scratches the surface on the issue of violence. Millions more are the victim of, or impacted by other forms of violence. These impacts can last a lifetime and have life-long impacts upon physical health and well-being, mental health, and social functioning.

While violence is completely preventable, there are many risk factors that make a violent episode more likely. They include:

  • Poverty
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcohol use
  • Social inequality
  • Broken homes
  • Access to weapons

These factors increase the risk of a violent event in that they either lower reasoning and judgment, deny access to basic needs, or exacerbate already challenging situations. While none of these alone guarantee violence, they should be treated with a certain amount of caution.

What Are The Types Of Violence?

There are many different ways in which violence can be expressed, and many types of people that it can impact.

Physical violence is any action such as hitting, kicking, biting, scratching that intends or results in physical harm. This can include actions involving weapons. When this behavior occurs in the context of a relationship it is called domestic violence. When it occurs in the context of work, it is called workplace violence.

Read more about domestic violence.

Read more about workplace bullying.

Sexual violence is violence directed at or engaged with sexual acts. The most common example is rape and sexual assault. Further, sexual violence can include aspects of physical violence.

Read more about rape and sexual assault.

Psychological violence is acts and abuse that result in psychological harm, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.

Read more about abuse.

Read more about PTSD.

Read more about anxiety.

Read more about depression.

Deprivation or neglect describes a situation in which another person is denied access to basic needs such as food, water, and sanitary conditions. This can be intentional in the case of deprivation, or incidental in the case of neglect.

All of these types of violence can be directed at different types of people.

Self-directed violence describes violence and actions that are directed at oneself. This includes self-injury and suicide.

Read more about self-injury.

Interpersonal violence describes violence and actions that occurs between two people. This can be anything from rape, to murder, to assault, to bullying.

Read more about bullying.

Collective violence describes violence and actions that occur between or among groups of people. This can range from large-scale conflict such as war, to smaller-scale conflicts such as hate crimes, gangs, or bullying.

Who Is Affected By Violence?

This is a somewhat complicated question. On a very high level, everyone is impacted by violence. When you hear a news story about a shooting, or of a tragic event, it is most people's inclination to feel sad for those impacted. Violence has a way of touching us on a very personal level, even if we are not immediately associated with it. This has become more and more true as it has become easier to collect and report information.

On a more personal level, there are many people impacted by a violent event. Immediately in the center are those involved in the incident, the aggressor and the victim. Both are impacted by the event in terms of harm done. If the aggressor is sent to prison, he or she will be impacted every day of incarceration, treatment, and possibly the rest of his or her live. The victim similarly is impacted for the long-term. The memory of the incident will never go away, although it may fade. It could result in long-term physical or mental issues that require on-going treatment.

Others who are more peripheral to the incident include the friends, family, and community of those involved. Every aggressor has a parent, every victim a family. Children growing up in a violent household will be forever steered down one path that might have been different. Even on a work-level there is impact in decreased productivity as people watch the news or are disrupted by adjusted work schedules.

A violent episode goes way, way beyond those immediately involved. While many of the potential impacts are negative or detrimental, it should be noted that there are positive impacts as well, such as new legislation and legal protections, stronger communities, outreach, and those inspired to do more. All of those individuals are also impacted on a long-term basis, but channel their efforts in to positive outcomes.

The Aftermath Of Violence:

For those involved or impacted by violence, there are many pieces of the recovery from the event.

You may have a lot of initial emotions, or no emotions at all. Your mind needs time to process the event and make sense of it.

Read about emotional shock.

You may have physical issues related to actual injury or harm, as well as physical expressions of emotional stressors. 

The police or other officials may be involved and request or require your presence for questioning.

You may have difficulty getting to work, going to work, and being productive.

If the violence occurred in your home or place of work, there are logistics regarding your space being restricted for investigation. Afterwards there will be cleanup that must be done.

If the violence resulted in injury, there may be hospital visits, doctor visits, or surgery, and issues relating to your physical recovery.

If the violence resulted in death, there will be funeral and burial arrangements to make, as well as notifications to other friends and family. 

Depending on the nature of the incident, there may be a trial that you will be required to participate in.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Situations can vary to such a degree that it is difficult to list every possible outcome to a violent situation. Rather, be mindful of the fact that there is a lot more to deal with that simply surviving the violence.

What To Do If You Are The Victim Of Violence:

If you are the victim of violence, let me first say, I am so so sorry. Violence takes something away from you that may not ever be recovered. However, there are ways to make it easier.

  • Talk to someone be it friend, family member, religious official, therapist - all of these individuals are available to you. Silence gives the trauma more power and leads to fear and anger. You don't deserve to continue to suffer. Find someone you can connect with and begin to share your story.
  • Find an outlet - much like talking is a release for your mind, outlets can be a release for your emotions. For some that is crying, others could be writing, art, music, getting away, reading, find what works for you. Give the feelings somewhere to go so that you can begin to look at them and process them.
  • Grieve. Grieving is natural. You lost something. You may not get that something back. Allow yourself space for it.
  • Turn the negative into a positive. While a little cliche, it is still true, even in a situation such as a violent event. Find a way to take strength. That can be giving back to the community, drafting legislative changes, starting a charity or organization, or even learning self-defense.

How To Help A Victim Of Violence:

If your family or loved one is the victim of violence, it can be a very difficult time for everyone involved. While you may not have been the direct victim of the incident, you can still grieve and care for your loved one.

  • Stay informed. There are many resources available on the local level regarding the rights of victims to be informed and participate in the legal process. 
  • Filter information. Because it is so much easier to obtain and report information about tragedies, it can turn in to an all-day media marathon. Your loved one does not need to sit in front of the tv watching nonstop coverage. It is too easy to trigger memories or further traumatize yourself. Do your best to filter information, whether it is changing the channel, discarding the newspaper, handling phone calls, and controlling the media.
  • Be supportive. This can mean a little or a lot. Saying something is better than saying nothing, especially as a victim is trying to re-find his or her voice. Let your loved one know you are there for them, that you are willing to listen. Ask what he or she needs. Be receptive and observant.
  • Do research and help your loved one find the resources he or she needs, whether about therapy, basic needs, whatever information is needed to move forward.
  • Attend to the basic needs of your loved one. He or she probably has not slept well or eaten lately. Help create the space for him or her to take a nap, have a meal, get a mental break. That can be cooking, picking up the kids and taking them somewhere, anything that allows the victim to relax.

Guilt And Survivor Guilt:

Guilt is an extremely common reaction to a traumatic event, particularly if you survived while others died. You may have feelings that you could or should have done more, that it was your fault, that you could have impacted the outcome of the situation.

Violence happens for many many reasons, and you are not the cause of them. Every aggressor has a choice to engage in the behavior or not. While there may be a lot of circumstances that led to the ultimate event, it was that person's choice to do so.

Read more about survivor guilt.

Related Resource Pages On Band Back Together:


Adult Bullying


Blood Donation



Domestic Abuse

Emotional Abuse


Five Stages Of Grief






Rape and Sexual Assault


September 11, 2001


Survivor Guilt