2 minute read


Classification, The Causes Of Violence, Prevention And Control Of Violence, Bibliography

The term violence is used to describe animal and human behavior that threatens to cause or causes severe harm to a target. Most animal studies emphasize variations in aggression and use the concept of extreme aggression (rather than violence) to denote the most serious and injurious behavior. In studying human behavior, violence and aggression are frequently used as synonyms, with violence marked by an extra degree of excessiveness. In some cases, the choice of the term "aggression" or "violence" is a matter or preference or convention. For example, aggression is most commonly used to describe young children's behavior while such behavior in adolescents is called youth violence. Violence tends to be the preferred term for describing classes of behavior or phenomenon (e.g., domestic violence, media violence, sports violence) without specific reference to the degree of severity involved.

Different authorities have been extremely variable in their willingness to include a range of actions under the heading of violence. Indeed, there has been much controversy about the term and just what actions should be covered. Some have offered more limited definitions based on constraints such as intentionality, legality, and nature of targets. Each limitation provides a more specific definition with associated advantages and disadvantages. For instance, many definitions of both aggression and violence specify that harm be intentional. Accidentally causing serious injury generally is not considered an act of violence in both common discourse and legal proceedings. However, specifying intentionality poses measurement challenges because violence can no longer be judged by merely observing a behavior; rather, the mental state of the person must be assessed or inferred.

Limiting the definition of violence to "illegal behaviors" that cause harm or injury is consistent with legal guidelines. Such a definition is useful from a policy and control perspective because it covers actions generally considered as violent, including forcible rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault, gang violence, and homicide. A problem with this definition is that the same behavior may be judged illegal or legitimate depending on specific cultural and historical conditions. From this perspective, a behavior would only be considered violent if there were official sanctions against it.

Some definitions of violence include only behavior that is designed to harm others (or animate beings). This focus emphasizes the antisocial and immoral nature of violence as an act against others and society. It is consistent with most contemporary criminal definitions of violence. However, it excludes the self as a target of harm and injury, which is inconsistent with public health definitions of violence that generally include harm to self. Other definitions construe the target even more broadly, extending it to include inanimate objects (e.g., destruction of property).



Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law