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The public health approach to the study and prevention of interpersonal violence was given formal recognition in 1984 when Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated: "Violence is every bit as much a public health issue for me and my successors in this century as smallpox, tuberculosis, and syphilis were for my predecessors in the last century." As the injury and death toll from violent behavior have become increasingly evident, multidisciplinary scholarship in the study of violence has emerged and expanded at an unprecedented pace.

The most widely accepted definition of violencesometimes termed "intentional interpersonal injury"is: "behavior by persons against persons that intentionally threatens, attempts, or actually inflicts physical harm" (Reiss and Roth, 1993). The closely related terms "aggression" and "antisocial behavior" are generally applied to lesser forms of violence and include, but are not limited to, behaviors that are intended to inflict psychological harm as well as physical harm.

The public health approach to the study and prevention of violence entails a four-step process:(1) data collection of violence-related problems, assets, and resources; (2) assessment of the possible causes of violence through risk-factor identification; (3) the establishment and evaluation of violence prevention strategies; and (4) the dissemination and implementation of effective strategies. Public health, then, is inherently a research-driven and prevention-oriented science. This approach complements and overlaps with the narrower focus of criminology, which is primarily concerned with forms of violence that constitute crimes and with policies and practices that deter and punish perpetrators.


Epidemiological data on violence are derived from three primary sources: (1) hospital, emergency medical service, and medical examiner records;(2) police reports and arrest records (and other agency records, such as child protective services for reports of child abuse); and (3) self-report surveys and interviews. In addition, specialized studies that address the particular dynamics and contexts of violence have proven to be important to the understanding and prevention of violence.

The most complete and accurate violencerelated datasets are those on homicide victims. In the United States, the overall homicide victimization rate has fluctuated during the twentieth century from fewer than two homicides per 100,000 in 1900 to a high of nearly eleven homicides per 100,000 in 1980. In 1998, 17,893 individuals were murdered in the United States, which translates into an average daily death toll of forty-nine people. The worldwide 1998 homicide rate was 12.5 per 100,000, significantly higher than the U.S. homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000. Nevertheless, data from the 1980s reveal that among the forty-one most developed countries, the United States has the third highest homicide rate.

Because violence is not evenly distributed throughout the population, these overall homicide rates provide only a partial picture of homicide's toll. Most notably, homicide victimization in the United States is most prevalent among youth. In 1998, homicide was the second leading cause of death among fifteen-to twenty-four-year-olds. Racial disparities in homicide rates are also disturbingly high. During the second half of the twentieth century, African Americans were murdered at five to eleven times the rate of their white counterparts. Gender differences are equally as dramatic, with males murdered at approximately ten times the rate of females. Finally, the risk of homicide is higher in urban than nonurban areas as well as within neighborhoods characterized by concentrated poverty. Neighborhood social disorganization also increases the probability of violence victimization as well as perpetration.

In comparative studies conducted in the 1990s, the homicide victimization rates in the United States, particularly among children and adolescents, were shown to be several times higher than those in any other industrialized country. In fact, the homicide rate for children under sixteen years old in the United States was five times higher than the corresponding homicide rate for the next twenty-five richest countries combined. The reasons for these elevated homicide rates in the United States are not fully understood; however, probable causes include easier access to firearms, more common and severe patterns of income disparities, and higher levels of racial and ethnic diversity in conjunction with racist and xenophobic attitudes and behaviors.

The question of mechanism, or the means by which people are murdered or injured, is another critical piece of information with respect to our understanding and prevention of violence. The examination of mechanism was particularly helpful in understanding the tremendous increase in homicide victimization rates of adolescents in the United States from 1987 to 1993, and the subsequent downturn through 1998. When the data are disaggregated by mechanism, a clear picture emerges: These trends over time can be accounted for by changes in the number and proportion of youth murdered with a firearm (see Figure 1). The changes in gun use during this period are generally attributed to three major factors: the crack epidemicwhich had the effect of destabilizing local drug trafficking markets, rendering them more volatile and violentand the subsequent petering out of this epidemic; changes in economic opportunity; and changes in policing policy for gun violations.

Most assaultive behavior, however, does not result in death. In 1997 more than 1.75 million people in the United States were treated for assaultive injuries in emergency departments, and more than 10 million individuals aged twelve and over reported that they had been victims of violent crimes. These and other data reveal that young people, African Americans, and males are disproportionately victimized by nonlethal forms of violence, though these disparities are less pronounced than for homicide victimization.


The number and characteristics of individuals who commit murder cannot be precisely determined because of limitations in law-enforcement reporting systems and because identifying information about perpetrators are only available for cases in which an arrest is made or the perpetrator is otherwise identified. Still, some reasonably sound information about adolescents who murder is available: About nine in ten are male, more than half are African American, approximately half act alone, most kill individuals who are close in age and of the same ethnic background, and most use a firearm. The peak or modal age among homicide perpetrators occurs in the late teens and early twenties.

Since the rampage shooting at Columbine High School in the spring of 1999, much concern about violence at schools has been aired, and fears that such events could happen anywhere have emerged. Contrary to these perceptions, however, the number and rate of youth-initiated school violenceboth lethal and nonlethalgenerally decreased, or at worst remained relatively stable, during the 1990s. Like the homicide victimization rates, the overall juvenile homicide perpetration rate, as well as the aggregate juvenile offending rate for serious forms of violence, rose precipitously in the late 1980s, peaked during the early to mid-1990s, and then decreased through the beginning of the twenty-first century. School-based homicides constitute only 1 percent or fewer of all homicides committed by young people, and schools remain one of the safest environments for children and adolescents.

Equally important to estimating the scope of violence perpetration among youth are efforts to identify risk factorsthe characteristics that when present increase the probability that a young person will subsequently engage in violent acts. There are five important aspects of risk factors. First, risk factors tend to be additivethe more risk factors that are present, the more elevated the risk of violence. A single risk factor generally has low predictive power. Even among those children and adolescents with multiple risk factors, few will become violent. Second, risk factors occur, and need to be addressed, at multiple levels, including individual, family, peer group, school, and neighborhood or community levels. Third, different risk factors pertain to different points in the lifespan, with family-level factors playing a greater role for younger children, and peer group and neighborhood factors playing a greater role for older children. Fourth, some risk factors are specific to certain types of violent behavior (e.g., risk factors for sexual violence may be quite different than those for robbery). And fifth, the severity of riskfactor exposure is likely to increase or decrease risk proportionately (e.g., extreme and chronic child abuse is likely to have a more profound effect than lesser forms of child maltreatment).

Several literature reviews have been undertaken on risk factors that increase the probability that children and young teens will subsequently engage in violent behavior. These reviews have sorted out risk factors into two categories: risk factors during the childhood years and risk factors

Figure 1

during the early adolescent years. Risk factors during infancy, and even perinatally, have also been identified, (e.g., child abuse and neglect). This entire body of research, however, is relatively new and far from exhaustive. Therefore, some factors that may in reality increase subsequent risk for violence perpetration may not have been identified in the extant literature because they have been inadequately researched or because of their complexitythe potency of a risk factor may be significantly affected by specific contextualized circumstances (e.g., bystander support), neighborhood norms, and personal history. Similarly, one factor may only become a risk factor, or may become a more potent risk factor, when it occurs in tandem with another factor.

During childhood, the two most powerful predictors of subsequent violence perpetration are substance use and delinquency. Additional, less potent risk factors include aggressive behavior; family violence; inconsistent, overly lax, and harsh disciplinary practices; association with antisocial peers; and poor attitudes toward schooling. Media violence has been shown to increase aggression in the short term, but such exposure has not been linked directly to violent adolescent behavior. Conversely, attempts to reduce violence through media advocacy (e.g., the "Squash It" campaign) have not been shown to reduce rates of violence significantly.

During the early adolescent years, three major and interrelated risk factors have been identified: weak associational ties with nondelinquent peers; strong associational ties with antisocial and delinquent peers; and gang membership. Gang membership, in particular, appears to fulfill important psychological needs with regard to peer acceptance and belonging, as well as the need for enhanced social status, particularly for unpopular youth and for those youth who feel socially powerless. Because gangs serve these fundamental needs, efforts to dissuade young people from joining youth gangs is a more efficient strategy than trying to entice them out of the gang after they have joined, particularly since gangs typically promise to provide valued incentives such as money, power and status, excitement, and, for males, promises of sexual "favors." On the other hand, to ignore current gang members, or rely exclusively on punitive law enforcement efforts, is an inefficient and ineffective violence reduction strategy. Community-based outreach efforts in association with community policing operations are required. Such efforts need to address the psychological, interpersonal, and economic needs of gang members; they should be based upon multiple sources of information about local gang activity; and they should include collaborative efforts involving the police, schools, social service agencies, former gang members, and grassroots organizations.

Additional risk factors during the early adolescent years include antisocial behavior, attending a school in which gangs are prevalent, having been a victim of a violent crime, and residing in a high-crime neighborhood and/or in neighborhoods that have high levels of social disorganization.

While quantitative risk factor analyses are important, qualitative studies based on in-depth interviews, focus groups, and intensive field studies of particular groups of youth provide insights into the dynamics underlying risk-factor analyses and point to additional factors, or combinations of factors, that may be fruitful to study. These studies are important given the generally weak overall predictive power yielded from risk-factor analyses. Examples of such studies include James Garbarino's 1999 study of children and adolescents who have committed violent crimes, Elijah Anderson's 1999 study of the impact of street and cultural norms in an impoverished African-American section of Philadelphia, John Devine's extensive 1996 field studies of school violence in New York City, and Felix Padilla's in-depth 1992 study of the dynamics and culture of a Latino gang in Chicago. These richly textured studies, and others like them, capture the complex and tragic nature of acts of violence. They also provide insights about the psychological logic and developmental history of those who commit violent acts, reminding us that even the most vicious forms of violence can ultimately be understood, though not justified, as uniquely human responses to a volatile mix of difficult circumstances and experiences combined with specific personality and character dynamics.


Four major interrelated approaches to the prevention of violence have been articulated: (1) the inculcation or enhancement of protective factors (factors that reduce the probability of violence perpetration among individuals exposed to known risk factors) and/or a corresponding reduction in the number or severity of risk factors, (2) the adoption of self-contained violence prevention programs, (3) the specification of generic strategies (e.g., social skills training) derived by grouping effective and promising programs according to the approach they adopt and the specific program characteristics they utilize, and (4) the elucidation of framing principles that guide the establishment and implementation of programs.

The use of mechanical and electronic surveillance devices (e.g., metal detectors), and the establishment of laws, law enforcement policies, judicial processing, and incarcerative practices remain primarily in the domain of criminology and need to be better integrated with public health approaches. One successful example of this kind of comprehensive and integrated approach was established in Boston. This strategy involved several agencies and programs working together to reduce gun and gang-related violence. The police, probation officers, and courts addressed surveillance, interdiction, and enforcement; legislators passed tougher penalties for gun-related violence; researchers conducted analyses of gun violations; and social workers and religious leaders counseled at-risk youth in the use of nonviolent conflict resolution techniques and offered employment opportunities and program activities. Other approaches to violence prevention, such as changes in public policies,(e.g., foster care policies, school reform, and employment and housing strategies), have received only passing attention within the public health field, with the notable exception of the significant attention paid to firearm policies.

The study of protective factors has been spurred by the long-standing observation that some children who are exposed to several known risk factors do not become violent or otherwise seriously impaired. The task, then, is to identify common characteristics or circumstances that buffer these resilient children from the ill effects of exposure to known risk factors. The scientific study of protective factors, however, is in its infancy and the evidence from this small body of literature is suggestive rather than conclusive.

The most well-documented protective factor is maintaining conventional values, including the rejection of aggressive or violent behavior as an appropriate means to resolve conflict. This characteristic is associated with the peer-level protective factor of associating with peers who hold prosocial values. At the family level, a warm and supportive relationship with one's parents or guardians and engagement in familial bonding activities have been associated with reduced levels of aggression.

As children move into the more high-risk adolescent years, family factors alone do not continue to exert a powerful protective effect. The innoculative effects of protective factors appear to require developmentally appropriate exposures at each stage of development. At the school level, commitment to school has been identified as a protective factor. Finally, because neighborhood and societal change are so difficult to study in controlled studies, and also so challenging to address, protective factors at these levels have not been identified.

The development and implementation of self-contained violence prevention programs has a long-standing history. The introduction of scientific methods to assess the effectiveness of such programs, however, only commenced in the 1980s, with the number and rigor of such evaluations accelerating rapidly during the 1990s. Still, scientific evaluations are very costly and only a small proportion of programs now in use at schools and in communities have been rigorously evaluated.

The programs that have been evaluated are generally highly structured, implemented by professionals, and developed at academic institutions. While this body of research has revealed that some programs do indeed reduce rates of aggression and violence (and that some programs clearly do not work), it is inaccurate to assume that programs that have not been evaluated do not work, or conversely, that they are effective.

It is also inaccurate to conclude that programs that have been shown to be effective will work equally well in all settings and contexts. Very little is known about whether, or how, programs need to be adapted from one setting to another. Some programs may not work equally well for males and females, some may work well in urban but not rural settings, and some programs may work in one cultural context but not another. Some programs are appropriate for all children or youth within a designated age range (universal, or primary, prevention), some are appropriate for children and youth exhibiting or possessing known risk factors (selective, or secondary, prevention), and some programs are appropriate for youth who have already engaged in violence or serious delinquent behavior (indicated, or tertiary, prevention).

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several compendia of effective, promising, and ineffective violence prevention programs were issued. These include reports by the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, the Office of Justice Programs, the National Research Council, the Violence Institute of New Jersey, M. W. Lipsey and D. B. Wilson (1998), and M. B. Greene (1998). The major strategies that have been shown to be effective, along with brief descriptions of illustrative programs, are summarized below; however, readers interested in a full explication of such strategies, along with detailed descriptions of effective and promising programs, are urged to consult sources listed in the bibliography.

The most widely adopted violence prevention strategy emphasizes social skills training to resolve conflict without resorting to aggressive or violent tactics. Social skills training programs generally utilize structured and interactive curricula (e.g., role playing) and are usually classroom based. One example of an effective social skills training programs is Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS. This program is designed for children from kindergarten through fifth grade and focuses on five specific skills: emotional literacy, self-control, social competence, positive peer relations, and interpersonal problem solving. School-based sessions are taught for approximately thirty minutes each, and the program developers recommend that these lessons should be taught three times per week.

A second overall strategy focuses on parent training and family dynamics. This approach is both educational and therapeutic and based on the theory that a caring, supportive, and stable family life will provide the initial grounding to deter children from subsequently engaging in aggressive, delinquent, or violent behavior. Most commonly, programs are designed to work with parents of young children and are focused on parental decision making, communication, monitoring and sanctioning strategies, and on educating parents about child development. Several family-based strategies have been shown to be highly effective in reducing aggressive and/or violent behavior.

Home visitation, in which therapeutic guidance is provided to parents in their residence, has gained much recognition in recent years. One of the most effective home visitation programs is the Nurse Home Visitation Program, in which a trained nurse visits the home setting during the latter stages of pregnancy through the point at which the child reaches age two. Long-term follow-up studies indicate that the adolescent children of program participants had significantly fewer arrests than control-group adolescents. In addition, two family-oriented programs for adolescents who have exhibited violent and delinquent behavior have also been shown to be effective: Functional Family Therapy and Multisystemic Therapy. Both programs provide intensive family and individual therapy, as well as guidance to parents in addressing practical and everyday problems, and both have effected significant reductions in subsequent delinquent and violent behavior.

A defining feature of a third approach to violence prevention is the central role played by young people in the program's operation and implementation. Four principles underlie such programs: (1) young people understand their own peer culture and what kinds of program components are feasible; (2) young people provide a typically untapped human resource; (3) program norms are more readily diffused through the network of involved youth; and (4) the involvement by young people in implementing such programs provides an alternative for antisocial, violent, and delinquent behavior. The most popular of this class of programs is school-based peer mediation, in which a trained student mediates a dispute between two other students with the goal of establishing a mutually agreed-upon peaceful solution. Other types of programs engage young people in community organizing or advocacy activities. While the small number of peer-operated programs that have been rigorously evaluated has not shown significant reductions in violent or delinquent behavior, the theoretical promise of these programs, the fact that many types of youth-led programs have not been evaluated, and the inherent complexity in evaluating such programs suggest that a decision to forgo or eliminate such programs is premature. Nevertheless, sound policy also suggests that programs should be discontinued if they continuously fail to demonstrate their effectiveness.

Another class of programs utilizes psycho-educational strategies to reduce the likelihood of engagement in violent behavior. The most wellknown type of program within this class of programs is mentoring. While not all mentoring programs are effective, the Big Brothers Big Sisters program model has been rigorously evaluated and shown to be an effective violence prevention strategy. Stand-alone individual counseling, however, is considered an ineffective violence prevention strategy.

Another type of program involves counseling and supportive services for youth who have been exposed to violence, either as victims or as witnessesboth of which are risk factors for subsequent perpetration. In one such program, the Child Development Community Policing Project, police officers receive training in child development and the dynamics of psychological trauma and work together with mental health clinicianswho receive training in police practices and culturein identifying and responding to children who have been exposed to violence. This program illustrates the potential value of integrating clinical and law enforcement approaches.

Finally, some programs are hybrids, either combining two or more of the approaches outlined above or not fitting neatly into any of the four approaches. One "hybrid" is Olweus's Bullying Prevention Program. This program has several key features, including skills-based classroom training, parent involvement, policy development, "hot spot" analysis, and counseling. Evaluations of this program suggest that it is effective in reducing levels of bullying and harassment. Indeed, multicomponent programs are generally viewed as preferable, particularly for high-risk youth.

Public health efforts to address gun-related violence also do not fit neatly into any of the approaches outlined above. Strategies to reduce gun violence include the promotion of laws and policies that reduce access to guns (some evidence of effectiveness); the adoption of mechanical and electronic means to make guns safer, such as trigger locks and personalized guns (the consistency and quality of such devises are variable and none has been adequately evaluated); educating children in safe gun practices (ineffective); gun buybacks (ineffective); and public information campaigns (no evaluations have been conducted).

As indicated above, an alternative way to approach violence prevention programming is by establishing a set of framing principles that inform their development. While this cannot be done without examining what is known from evaluation studies and from risk and protective factor analyses, it is too early in the evolution of such studies to simply extract these principles from the programs that have been subject to rigorous evaluation and proven to be effective or promising. Some of the principles listed below, therefore, owe more to findings in other areas of public health than they do to the violence prevention field per se. Some principles have been described in earlier parts of this article (e.g., that no single program or approach works equally in all settings and circumstances). What follows is a brief though not exhaustive list of such principles.

The first principle, known as local ownership, suggests that programs will be most successfully operated if the residents in the targeted neighborhood and the specific group of individuals for whom the program is designed to help are centrally involved in the planning, operation, and administration of the program. A second principle multidisciplinarianism, suggests that insights, methods, and approaches from multiple disciplines are needed in developing and implementing violence prevention programs. A third principle, collaboration, suggests that no single agency or group can successfully operate a program in isolation: Violence prevention programs are inherently neighborhood-based and require the engagement of multiple stakeholders.

A fourth principle suggests that a strength-based focus should be emphasizedfocusing exclusively on deficits without drawing upon the strengths and interests of the individuals the program is designed to help and the resources available in the community will reduce the probability of success. A fifth principle suggests that committed leadership is necessary for the successful planning and implementation of violence prevention programs. Similarly, staff development is also critical: An untrained, unsupported, and unsupervised staff simply will not succeed in program implementation. Staff also need to be temperamentally suited to the populations with which they work.

Program accessibility is also critically important: If a program is sited in an undesirable location (turf issues are very important for young people), is sited in a difficult-to-get-to location, or is physically unwelcoming or uninviting, then the program will simply not attract participants. Specificity is also important: Programs need to set specific and measurable objectives, otherwise they tend to flounder and evaluation is rendered unfeasible. A final principle is local fit; A program's design and objectives should be derived from a thorough and multipronged assessment of the nature and extent of the violence-related problems in the neighborhood in which the program will be implemented. Additionally, new programs need to fit well into the context of existing programs and strategies.

Perhaps it is fitting to end with a quote from Surgeon General David Satcher, taken from his preface to the Surgeon General's report on youth violence: "As a Nation, we possess knowledge and have translated that knowledge into programs that are unequivocally effective in preventing much serious youth violence."

Michael B. Greene

(see also: Abuse; Adolescent Violence; Antisocial Behavior; Crime; Domestic Violence; Gun Control; Homicide; Prevention; Reckless Driving; Safety; Street Violence; Suicide; Terrorism; War )


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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).


Violence is not one behavioral pattern but several. The multifaceted and complex nature of violence has led to a number of proposed guidelines and classification schemes for studying its component parts. Behavioral scientists have worked to develop classifications by grouping together meaningful categories of violence that share common characteristics related to etiology and function. One approach has been to classify violence according to the underlying motivation of the aggressor. A frequently used distinction is between hostile and instrumental motivation. In hostile violence, the major goal is to inflict harm or injury. In other words, hurting is an end in itself. In instrumental violence, actions may cause harm but are not motivated by the desire to cause harm per se. Rather, they are motivated by goals such as taking resources from others. In both cases, this distinction depends on the individual's intent, not on the act itself.

Although not conceptually clean, this distinction has proved useful. Certain types of violence such as armed robbery, murder-for-hire, and terrorism generally are well planned, goal-directed, instrumental actions. Offenders are acting to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs. Many prominent models of criminal behavior emphasize the rational choice component of crime (e.g., Cornish and Clarke). This type of planned behavior is distinguished from more impulsive and hostile violent actions often characterized by loss of control, irrationality, and rage. Such impulsive violent behaviors are frequently labeled emotional violence and are linked with emotions such as anger and fear. Biological models of violence have identified distinct neural patterns that characterize each type of violence. For example, the "low-arousal" aggressor more likely to commit instrumental violence is underreactive and responds sluggishly to stressors. In contrast, the "high-arousal" aggressor who is more prone to hostile violence tends to be hypervigiliant and easily frustrated (Niehoff).

Another distinction between classes of violence that bears some similarity to the hostile/instrumental classification is the difference between defensive and offensive violence. This distinction has been fundamental to animal studies of aggression, with defensive and offensive aggression linked to stimulation of different areas of the brain. In humans, instrumental aggression is roughly analogous to predatory aggression although it is limited to intraspecies behavior. In other words, when humans kill animals for food it is generally not considered offensive violence in the same sense as killing a rival gang member. Similarly, emotional or hostile aggression in humans could be considered the analogue of defensive aggression in response to a threat or perceived threat. Studies of children have found differences in propensity for proactive aggression and reactive aggression, although some children score high on both types of aggression (Dodge and Coie). This work provides some empirical support for distinguishing between offensive violence that is unprovoked and defensive violence that is a reaction to another's provocation.

Clearly, different classification schemes serve different purposes. In everyday usage, violence is often divided into distinct classes based on criteria useful for description, dialogue, and public policy. Violence can be grouped into categories based on variables such as the agents of violence (e.g., gangs, youth, collective groups), the victims of violence (e.g., women, children, minority groups), the relationship between aggressor and victim (e.g., interpersonal, nonrelated), perceived causality (e.g., psychopathological, situational, learned), and type of harm (e.g., physical, psychological, sexual). These criteria are frequently combined to examine particular forms of violence, such as psychological abuse of women in intimate relationships, youth sexual violence, instrumental collective violence, and so on.

Some efforts have focused on developing classification systems that can guide prevention, intervention, and control efforts. Tolan and Guerra describe four types of youth violence: situational, relationship, predatory, and psychopathological. This is not an exclusive classification proposed to cover all types of violence, but rather provides some conceptual organization for structuring efforts to prevent or reduce violence. Each distinct type of violence is associated with different causal mechanisms and warrants a different type of intervention. For example, relationship violence is influenced more by anger and conflict than predatory acts of violence such as armed robbery of a stranger. Consequently, biochemical interventions that block anger arousal or conflict-resolution training programs that teach anger management skills may have some influence on relationship violence but much less influence on predatory violence.

The causes of violence

As historical and cross-cultural records demonstrate, our evolutionary history is laced with examples of violence. Indeed, paleontological data reveal a rather continuous stream of human violence dating back thousands of years. It is clear that violence is not restricted to early historical periods or particular cultural groups. Despite recent concerns in the United States and elsewhere over spiraling violence rates, available data suggest that there is actually less violence now than in ancient times. From an evolutionary perspective, human violence may represent a context-sensitive solution to particular problems of social living that may ebb and flow in accordance with changing conditions. In reviewing these adaptive functions, Buss and Shackelford describe seven problems for which violence may have evolved as a solution: (1) co-opting the resources of others; (2) defending against attack; (3) inflicting costs on same-sex rivals; (4) negotiating status and power hierarchies; (5) deterring rivals from future aggression; (6) deterring males from sexual infidelity; and (7) reducing resources expended on genetically unrelated children.

Against a backdrop of adaptive violence, there are still many other factors that play a role in the ontogeny of violence and help explain variations in violence across individuals and social groups. In most cases, a number of different factors converge to increase the likelihood of violent behavior. These factors can be divided into roughly three groups: (1) innate factors; (2) socialization factors; and (3) situational factors.

Innate factors. Early efforts to unveil differences between violent and nonviolent individuals began with attempts to assign precise neural locations to a range of behaviors including violence. Known as phrenology, this approach assigned high priority to the innate and presumably defective aspects of individual makeup. The idea that behaviors are linked to physical characteristics also drove some of the first criminological efforts to understand the etiology of violence. Perhaps the most well-known work is that of nineteenth-century Italian criminal anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, who popularized the notion that violent individuals possessed distinct physical features indicative of primitive or inferior development, known as atavisms.

A concern over physical features gave way to the far more powerful influence of genetics. Although there was much resistance toward biology-as-destiny approaches, more and more geneticists were taking over the reigns of biology. However, much of the early writing on the genetic underpinnings of violence failed to pinpoint the precise causal mechanisms. The lack of a genetic road map did not unravel efforts to search for the innate determinants of aggression. Support for the idea that aggression was hard-wired from birth came from a number of different encampments.

Beginning in the early part of the twentieth century, ethologists saw aggression and violence as a response to the call of internal mechanisms or instincts. This emphasis found good company in the Freudian psychoanalysts. They saw aggression as derived from an inborn tendency to destroy. Like all instincts, it builds up over time and must ultimately be discharged in either acceptable or unacceptable ways. This pressure is made worse by frustration. The idea that aggression and violence are linked to frustration had a significant impact on the field and was followed by models emphasizing the frustration-aggression connection (Dollard et al.). Although still grounded in a drive model of behavior, this work also provided evidence that violence can be learned. Still, innate drive theories persisted and were later popularized by the writings of Konrad Lorenz. According to Lorenz, aggression was not simply a response to an instinct but was itself an innate driving force, notable for both its spontaneity and centrality to species preservation.

But drive theories found themselves caught up in an empty vessel. There was little evidence to indicate that aggressive energy builds up until it is released. Further, while the notion of drive or instinct may have some descriptive utility, it offered little in the way of specifying the precise internal mechanisms that underlie violence and ran the risk of engendering a pessimistic attitude about prevention. Fortunately, scientific advances in understanding neuranatomy, brain chemistry, and genetic transmission allowed for increasingly greater precision in understanding the biology of violence, leading us farther from the notion of violence as inevitable instinct. The role of key areas of the brain in regulating emotion and behavior is now well established. Violence has also been associated with some kinds of brain damage from birth trauma, tumors, or head injury. However, rather than acting alone, the biological and social environments seem to exert reciprocal influences.

For example, threat perceptions involve neurotransmitters that partially determine an individual's sensitivity to environmental stimulisome more reactive, others less so. But environmental exposure to violence, danger, or abuse during the early years can quickly overload the brain's alarm system, creating adolescents who are hypervigilant to stress and overreact to environmental cues (Pynoos, Steinberg, and Ornitz). Hypervigilance to threats may also explain some of the inconclusive findings linking testosterone and aggression. It appears that testosterone is linked to specific types of aggression, notably the tendency to "fight back" in a more defensive or reactive fashion related to heightened threat perception rather than the tendency to start fights or engage in offensive aggression (Olweus, Mattson, and Low).

Socialization factors. Not only does the social environment serve as a trigger for biological development, it also provides a context for learning appropriate behaviors. Whatever propensity for violence is written on an individual's biological birth certificate, it is clearly molded and shaped through interactions with others. There is a sizable body of evidence showing that early socialization across multiple contexts accounts for much of the individual differences in later violent behavior.

Different mechanisms have been implicated in the learning of violence. Early theories stressed the importance of reinforcement. A young child wants a toy, but his playmate will not relinquish it. The boy pushes and grabs the toy and the playmate relents. Aggression works. If followed by reinforcement, both mild aggression and serious violence are likely to increase. Such reinforcement is not limited to tangible objects; it can include outcomes such as attention, status, and advantageous positioning in the peer status hierarchy, similar to some of the adaptive functions of aggression discussed previously.

In addition to the role of reinforcement, early formulations of social learning theory emphasized the role of observational learning (Bandura). Individuals who see others use and obtain rewards for violence, especially others whom they admire, are more likely to imitate them and behave violently under similar circumstances. As a psychological mechanism, modeling can also explain variation in violence levels across different social groups and cultures. As violence becomes more legitimate in a social group, it is more likely that members will conform to these emerging group norms. Some observers have described a "code of violence" that characterizes the behavior of many inner-city males. Status is associated with willingness to use violence, and children emulate the toughness and violence of older male role models.

Much of the concern about the links between exposure to media to violence and aggression derives from social learning theory. Research with children has clearly demonstrated a correlation with exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior. Children who watch more violent movies and television are more likely to engage in similar behaviors both as children and adults. Long-term exposure to media violence fosters later violence through several mechanisms. In addition to teaching aggressive attitudes and behaviors, it also seems to desensitize viewers to violence, making it more acceptable. People who watch a lot of televised violence also show exaggerated fears of violence, perhaps making them more hypervigilant and susceptible to reactive outbursts.

The media is but one socialization context that can promote the learning of violence. Research has shown that both parents and peers can be a powerful force in shaping children's behavior. Lack of attention to children's behavior and inconsistent parental discipline and monitoring of activities have been consistently related to the development of aggressive and violent behavior patterns. Extremely harsh and abusive parenting has also been linked to later aggression. Stated simply, "violence begets violence." Equally important is the failure of positive encouragement for prosocial and nonviolent behaviors. Many parents ignore children's efforts at solving conflicts peacefully or managing frustration. Oversights such as these may inadvertently teach children that aggressive acts alone are worthy of notice.

Peers also exert an influence from an early age, but seem to become most important during adolescence. Perhaps one of the most robust findings in the delinquency literature is that anti-social and violent peers tend to gravitate toward one another. Delinquents associate with each other and this association stimulates greater delinquency. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the actions of gangs. Not only is violent behavior accepted, it is required. Members must be "jumped in" via violent victimization; the same procedure is followed for those who want to leave the gang.

The environment also operates to influence the learning of violence. Some studies of environmental influences have focused on the effects of poverty and disadvantage. Poverty itself does not cause violence. Rather, being poor affects one's life experiences in several ways conducive to violence. Individuals living in poor neighborhoods have few resources and supports for healthy development and are more likely to experience multiple stressors. In some neighborhoods, there are few legitimate routes to financial success and social status, which may also engender feelings of relative deprivation in contrast to middle-class society. Those who have little also have little to lose. Thus, low social and economic status may contribute to heightened risk-taking behavior, an idea that finds some support in psychological studies showing that artificially lowering an individual's self-esteem gives rise to higher levels of risky or rule-breaking behavior.

In urban settings, poverty often produces situational factors, such as overcrowding, that are linked to violence. Indeed, the highest rates of violence typically are found among the urban poor (Dahlberg). Drive-by shootings and random violence have come to characterize some of the most distressed, inner-city communities. As violence increases and neighborhoods become more dangerous, the use of force may be seen as normal and even necessary for self-protection. A subculture of violence can emerge wherein violence is legitimized as an acceptable behavior within certain groups. The idea that degree of violence is related to the prevailing social norms about its acceptability can also shed light on cross-cultural differences. Countries where violence is considered non-normative such as Japan have low homicide rates; countries where violence has become almost a way of life such as El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates over one hundred times higher (Buvinic, Morrison, and Shifter).

These different contextual factors can serve as a training ground for violence via their influence on children's learning. However, beyond a focus on how individuals learn violent behavior through socialization, recent efforts have highlighted the importance of cognitive processes that help shape and control behaviorwhat might be called the software of the brain. Studies have shown that more aggressive and violent individuals have different ways of processing information and thinking about social situations. They tend to interpret ambiguous cues as hostile, think of fewer nonviolent options, and believe that aggression is more acceptable (Crick and Dodge). Once these cognitions crystallize during socialization, they are more resistant to change.

Situational factors. Both innate factors and socialization experiences mold an individual's propensity to violence. But this is not the whole story. It appears that situational catalysts can also lead to violence and increase the seriousness of such behavior. Almost any aversive situation can provoke violence. Frustrating situations are linked to heightened aggression, although frustration does not always produce aggression and is certainly not the only instigating mechanism. Other aversive experiences such as pain, foul odors, smoke, loud noises, crowding, and heat portend heightened aggressiveness, even when such behavior cannot reduce or eliminate the aversive stimulation (Berkowitz).

The influence of pain on violent behavior has been widely studied. Pain-instigated aggression is often cited as one of the clearest examples of aversively generated aggression. Further, the likelihood of overt aggression increases as the pain becomes greater and the ability to avoid it decreases. However, it is not necessarily the pain, per se, that causes aggression. Indeed, investigations of people suffering from intense pain have documented higher levels of anger and hostility and speculate that subsequent aggression may be due to the agitated negative affect that accompanies pain rather than the pain itself. Along these lines, any type of aversive experience that results in heightened negative affect should increase the likelihood of subsequent aggression.

Alcohol has also been shown to promote violence. In studies of alcohol and domestic violence, alcohol use typically is implicated in more than half of all incidents. Similarly, both homicide victims and perpetrators are likely to have elevated blood alcohol levels. Although a relation has been established, the precise mechanisms by which alcohol increases violence are unclear. It is likely that these effects are related to its impact on how an individual evaluates social situations and decides on an appropriate response. For example, some alcohol-violence studies suggest that ingestion of alcohol makes normal social interactions extremely difficult, heightening the likelihood of a range of inappropriate responses including violence.

Situational cues that suggest violence are also likely to increase violence by priming violencerelated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Street fights engender more violence because they cue violent responses in observers. The presence of guns can also make violence more likely to occur when they are associated with an aggressive meaning and positive outcomes. For instance, the presence of a hunting rifle will not promote hostile and violent behavior in those who disapprove of aggression toward others. It is not just the weapon but the meaning and anticipated consequences of its use that promote violence. Even the picture of a gun or weapon in a room can increase the chance of an aggressive act. This effect is of particular concern because guns make violence more deadly. For example, the rise in murders of juveniles in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s was entirely firearm-related. Firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and youth in many places (Snyder and Sickmund).

Even nonviolent individuals can turn violent when they are part of a violent crowd. Group violence seems to make individuals feel less personally responsible for their behavior, acting in ways they would never do alone. Violence becomes an act of the group with no one person being held responsible. In some groups, violence emerges as a necessary strategy for defense against enemiesas seen in gang warfare, terrorist organizations, and political violence. At the other end of the spectrum, isolation also breeds violence. Different mechanisms to account for the influence of isolation have been proposed. These range from psychological changes akin to delusions of grandeur to disturbances in the balance of neurochemical pathways critical to the control of emotional and stressful responses.

Prevention and control of violence

Although history attests to the ubiquitousness of violence, it is also true that individuals have available and use a wide array of inhibitory or alternate behavioral strategies. Although aggression and violence may be ever present, they are not inevitable. The longevity of a social group, society, or nation hinges, in part, on the peaceful resolution of conflicts and other social problems. Escalating or unacceptably high rates of violence can serve as a call to action to mobilize the forces of prevention and control.

Just as there is no single cause of violence, there is no single solution. Rather, different types of violence are associated with different causal processes and warrant different responses. A reasoned approach to prevention and control hinges on sorting out these multiple influences as they impact the developing individual over time and across contexts. The control of violence requires a confluence of synchronized efforts that address innate, socialization, and situational contributions to violence, for all individuals as well as for those who display more extreme problems.

New research on the biology of violence provides a credible starting point that looks at individual development as it both influences and is influenced by the environment. If this development proceeds on a course that minimizes violent behavior, it results in a nervous system that is in tune with the demands of the outside world, is able to integrate emotional and representational data, and is not hypersensitive to perceived threat. Environmental factors that compromise this development, such as exposure to lead, head trauma, and abuse provide a viable beginning for prevention. The fact that brain development occurs at a rapid pace during the first years of life suggests that these factors must be addressed at an early age. Not only should efforts focus on prevention of trauma, but healthy developmental supports are needed. Healthy Start and NurseHome Visitation programs are examples of programs that can address these issues.

To the extent that violent actions are learned, a range of prevention and control responses can interrupt this learning process. First in line are strategies to reduce the perceived or actual positive consequences of violence. These may involve changing peer group and parent norms, providing nonviolent and positive means to achieve desired goals such as status and money, and training parents and other socialization agents to reward cooperative and prosocial behaviors. Under some conditions, punishment can also reduce aggression. A child who is sent to his room after hitting his brother should be less likely to hit his brother the next day. A child who is severely spanked for hitting his brother may suppress his aggression in the days to come while also learning that violence is a good way to solve problems. Prison is unfortunately one of the best schools for violence known to society. Inmates are held in isolation, under crowded conditions, socializing only with other violent or antisocial peers, with treatment for accompanying mental health or addiction problems the exception rather than the rule. Prisons also come into play far too late in the game, when brain patterns and cognitions are well formed.

Another prevention prescription would focus on reducing the myriad of opportunities to model violent acts as a result of a continuous exposure to glorified violence in television, movies, and video games, as well as "sports" activities such as extreme fighting. Observing violence can increase individual attitudes and beliefs that such behavior is acceptable. In addition to reducing such modeling opportunities, research suggests that cognitive-behavioral interventions can also shift thinking patterns toward more reflective and less automatically aggressive thoughts.

The notion that human violence is innate or inevitable precludes effective prevention and control. In contrast, if we understand violence as an optional strategy that can be increased or decreased through a variety of mechanisms, opportunities for prevention and control abound. Individuals are biologically and socially capable of peaceful coexistencea clear and powerful antidote to violence.

Nancy G. Guerra

Lyndee Knox

See also Crime Causation: Biological Theories; Crime Causation: Psychological Theories; Crime Causation: Sociological Theories; Delinquent and Criminal Subcultures; Domestic Violence; Guns, Regulation of; Homicide: Behavioral Aspects; Mass Media and Crime; Prediction of Crime and Recidivism; Prisons: Problems and Prospects; Stalking; Terrorism; War and Violent Crime.


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Buss, D. M., and Shackelford, T. K. "Human Aggression in Evolutionary Psychological Perspective." Clinical Psychology Review 17 (1997): 605619.

Buvinic, M.; Morrison, A.; and Shifter, M. Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Framework for Action. Technical report. New York: Inter-American Development Bank, 1999.

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VIOLENCE. Violence was endemic in early modern Europe, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, and from the Urals to the British Isles. Serfs and peasants wielded knives and staffs, most gentlemen and merchants wore swords and/or pistols, and nobles and their numerous retainers were similarly armed. Even teenaged students carried knives in their schools, brawled in the streets, and operated as gangs. The weapons used were often determined by class, as were the instruments of public death. Thus while serfs and peasants were hanged, the aristocracy had the privilege of death by the sword; women were burned alive or drowned. Tempers were short in this society, and weapons were easy to hand. The propertied classes, especially, lacked self-control until the waning of the seventeenth century. They encouraged gangs of retainers or hired thugs, or they formed groups of brigands, to assault enemies in paying off grudges or pursuing local or political power.

Rates of violent activity that can be quantified from official records in western Europe suggest a large rise from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, followed by a long decline to the late eighteenth century. Rates of violent crime based on indictments and inquests rose sharply from the 1560s to the 1620s, peaking at the turn of century at ten per hundred thousand. They then declined greatly in the mid-seventeenth century, when they reached six per hundred thousand, drifted lower in 1700, when they reached three per hundred thousand, and then declined significantly in the mid-eighteenth century, when they reached two per hundred thousand. In all countries, however, rates were highest in the borderlands and lowest in central urban areas.


The sixteenth century represented the apex of a long-term acceleration in personal violence that began in the decades following the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century. Social, economic, and religious conflict nurtured violent solutions in an age where there were few institutions to control human activity. Thus personal violence rose in the midst of the decline of medieval institutions and the cobbling together of new ones that would form the early modern state. Personal violence, whether reactive, instinctive, or ritualized, became an acceptable form of human behavior.

However, a growing intolerance of brutality marked a shift in social psychology that developed in England, the Low Countries, Scandinavia, France, and Switzerland, and which later spread first throughout western Europe, and more slowly across the Mediterranean, in the course of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. An increasingly civilized and sophisticated view of the behavior of middle class citizens, together with a stronger sense of "the peace of God" in Catholic and Protestant churches of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, caused a movement away from violence as a means for the resolution of personal quarrels and disputes. Distressed by sensationalist literature boasting graphic representations of murder and mayhem, the aristocratic and middle classes of Europe began to reform their behavior in what Norbert Elias termed "a civilizing process." Without social support, many traditional forms of personal violence inevitably declined. At the same time, growth in the state's control of violence through policing (particularly in France and Spain) and weapons licensing had a profound effect on communities, limiting opportunities for violence. Finally, with the decay of a popular culture grounded in violence and new expectations of social comportment enforced by the state's judicial system, both group and interpersonal violence receded into the background.

However, perceptions of violence were not easily changed. The late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries witnessed a surge of popular literature in the form of pamphlets and ballads that told gruesome tales of horrid violent acts; these materials were republished throughout the eighteenth century. This perception was also promoted by women who wrote best-sellers on sensational and scandalous violent acts by women, which became stereotypes in the literature of the era. Moreover, while group violence at the hands of the aristocracy was in decline, the rise of the duel among aristocrats came into vogue in the course of the seventeenth century, most significantly in France, Italy, and England, in spite of the admonitions of churchmen, lawyers, judges, and moralists. And while plebeian and gentlemanly delinquency was on the decline, individual aristocratic delinquency in the form of sexual and roisterous debauchery was on the rise. Thus while interpersonal violence had declined sharply in the overall population by the mid-eighteenth century, in its growing absence the public appetite for stories of violence had increased dramatically.

Much violence, however, was spontaneous. The Paduan artist Niccolò Pizzolo was murdered in a quick-tempered argument; the Mantuan painter Andrea Mantegna hired thugs to beat up rivals who pinched his designs; the Swiss artist Urs Graf displayed bouts of brutal beatings; the sculptor-painter Michelangelo of Florence had his nose broken in a fight with a fellow sculptor; and Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl, as was the actor Gabriel Spencer by the London playwright Ben Jonson. Fencing grew in popularity in the sixteenth century as the rapier became a favourite weapon of fashionable society because of its more flexible and lightweight qualities in violent confrontations. Many towns enacted legislation to ban the carrying of arms in public places, all to little avail. But most standards of behavior were flaunted, especially by youths at a time (late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries) when male adolescents and young bachelors comprised a significant proportion of the population increase.

Violence was also embedded in the extreme passions of the fifteenth century, which continued into the sixteenth. Rapes, murders, fisticuffs, and knifings followed adulteries or rejections, as recounted in the stories of Margaret of Angoulême, Queen of Navarre, in the 1530s and 1540s. These passions also influenced perceptions that violent crime was "situationally determined": they can be seen in the activities of cunning women in England, muchachos and caballeristas in Spain, strollica in Italy, znakhar in Russia, and charivari in France. They also can be found in the activities of people on the margins, such as suicides and witches, and the unrecorded inhabitants of marshes, forests, and moors.

Other examples of personal violence were clearly ritualized. These included, for continental Europe, punching a debtor until he agreed to pay, hiring assassins in family vendettas, and gathering armed bands to redress wrongs real or imagined. In German towns, initiation riots for journeyman aspirants to the Hanseatic merchant guilds included being hanged from a chimney until out of breath, thrown three times from a boat in the harbor and pushed back into the sea upon climbing in each time until the last, and being whipped bloody in the guildhall. Erasmus noted from his enlightened Rotterdam and Paris that the initiation ceremonies for schools were "fit for executioners, torturers, pimps or galley-slaves."

Youth were often regarded by authorities as primary agents of personal violence. In Swiss and Italian towns, youthful vigilantes used violence upon older citizens who committed immoral sins such as gambling and the ostentatious display of wealth. In French towns, intervillage combat games led to beatings and killings, which were regarded as part of the culture of sport. In England, there are recorded examples of youthful cricketers beating one another with their bats, and a statute from 1563 stated that a man under age twenty-four "is wild, without judgment and not of sufficient experience to govern himself." Much of this violence was conditioned by their exposure to extreme cruelty early in life. Throughout Europe, cats were stoned to death, and bulls and bears were baited and maimed, as were individuals accused of criminal offences. It was not unusual for crowds to see impaled men on stakes thrown to the ground to be eaten by dogs and crows. As Juan de Mariana of Toledo wrote in 1599, killing beasts brutally was a short step from killing men.

Finally, women throughout Europe were responsible for their own violent acts. These acts were accepted because of the perception of sex: women, ruled by their physical body rather than by rational capacity, and aggressive in their actions, possessed magical powers over men. This was seen in the role of women in murder, rape, and suicide in contemporary writing, prose fiction, and drama. Sexual violence became a defining element in male-female relations through rape, ravishment, and seduction. Older women were also active in violence, especially in Ireland, Holland, and France in riots and rebellions against communities and the state. In Germany they were as apt as men to be tortured by church or state for acts asof ill conduct. Their violence, however, was more pronounced in towns than in the countryside.


Meanwhile, institutions of the state, through war, interrogation, and the courts, became major players in dispensing acts of violence against their own and neighboring peoples. While unquantifiable, it would be safe to assume that interpersonal relations became more peaceful in the course of the early modern era, especially in the second half of the seventeenth century, but that society as a whole became more violent with the actions of city- and nation-states from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth centuries.

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time of ubiquitous violence unleashed by new nation-states. This was violence inflicted upon civilians by employed or discharged soldiers living in their midst; institutionalized violence such as torture and execution; violence associated with extra-legal dispute resolution in the form of duels, feuds, and arbitration; interpersonal violence as assault, homicide, domestic violence, rape, and infanticide; group violence in the rituals of youth gangs, carnival, and sports; popular protest displayed in enclosure, food, and tax riots; and the organized crime of bandits and highwaymen. In the end, violence was never far from the consciousness of early modern Europeans.

War could be especially violent for civilian noncombatants. As Francesco Guicciardini wrote in 1525, "all political power is rooted in violence." In the Schmalkaldic War of 15461547, Spanish troops suspended male civilians by their genitals, then tortured them to reveal where they had hidden their money and valuables; women and girls were raped. The link between personal and public violence was well expressed by Pierre de la Primaudaye in 1577: out of quarrels and dissension come sedition, civil, and open wars, and men, under the influence of war, "become savage."

Violence was also a result of the growth of wealth in the era as it came to a few, while poverty worked its way into the many. Enclosure and the commercial cultivation of land caused rural depopulation and dearth, while swelling populations in towns and cities caused job competition and low salaries in an age of rising prices for food. Thus Leonardo da Vinci's plan for an ideal town had upper walks for the gentility to protect them from the plebs. This idea came to symbolize one of the primary aims of the new seventeenth-century state: the suppression of disorder and the monopolization of violence in the form of ritualized public punishment. It proved workable in the new monarchies of France, Netherlands, and the British Isles, moderately feasible in Italian and German areas, and only partly possible in the Iberic world, Helvetic cities, and Nordic countries.

In the end, the dawn of the modern era of violence occurred in the late eighteenth century with the disintegration of monarchial governments and the rise of secular nation-states, organized bandits and brigades, and modern warfare. These institutions precipitated a professional police, central courts, and the prison as the royal power of the early modern era gave way to the state power of modern times. Thus the growth of the modern state from the sixteenth to the early eighteenth century contributed to a shift in violence from personal to state controlled.


Europe comprises an area of diverse regions, and its geography has led to the work of the Annales School of quantitative research that has included violence as one of its subjects. In France and Italy, each region has a research leader and team. In other regions the focus has been on towns, as with the Burgundian, Flemish, Helvetic, Dutch, German, and Swiss. In the British Isles and Scandinavia, it has been a combination of both regions and towns. Most of the published research, however, has been on Italy, France, the Netherlands, Swiss and German towns, the British Isles, and Nordic countries. Results reveal that England, France, and the Netherlands were the most violent societies from the sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century.

In England, there were various high points from the alleged execution of 70,000 rogues during the reign of Henry VII to the "crime wave" of the early 1600s. While criminal gangs were being eliminated and the violence of private warfare waged by the nobility was replaced with war in the courts (litigation), petty violence seems to have continued unabated, stimulated by the social and economic dislocations of the first agricultural and industrial revolution beginning in the late sixteenth century. In criminal acts, there was also a significant change from violent acts against persons (personal crime) to acts against property (property crime). But while noble violence was diluted by resort to the courts, violence was waged incessantly among the peasantry.

In Scandinavia, violence stemmed from personal conflicts, as is visible in the famous witch trials of the 1660s and 1670s that involved mostly old women. Here, in the Nordic countries, crimes of violence, especially lethal violence, underwent a major decline during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. As in England, violence became more tied to economic disputes, both rural and urban. Much of the violence caused by "honor" disappeared as disputes came to be resolved in nonviolent ways. However, by the late seventeenth century women came to be charged with one-third of all offenses because of sexual crimes that were first prosecuted during Reformation efforts to curb extramarital sex, infanticide, and witchcraft. Violent offenders were often goldsmiths, shoemakers, peasants, and farmhands; only soldiers were overrepresented after wars.

In poor and isolated regions of France, violence was directed downward, rarely upward, in the social order. Much of the violence was that of a riposteinformal justice administered by someone provoked into violent action. Here magistrates showed little interest in investigating popular traditions of "self-help." A similar situation existed in Italy with the popular vendetta. This was demonstrated by the Zambarlini family, who turned their victims into "dogmeat." They dismembered corpses, leaving them unburied to be consumed by dogs or pigs, thereby denying their victims the rites of Christian burial and the hope of eternal salvation.

Regional variations also involved distinctions between violence in rural and urban settings. In the county of Essex, England, for example, the rate of interpersonal violence has been estimated as three times the national average. However, that may be due to the fact that Essex was the center of the Puritan movement, where local clergy were vigilant in having acts of violence reported, and where human acts previously regarded as nonviolent (such as child- and wife-beating) were now regarded as violent in nature and to be strongly condemned and eliminated. In major urban areas such as London, however, local authorities took a strong hand in highlighting major violent acts and creating institutions to reduce violence. Therefore, Londoners came to recognize the limits of terror with a new concern over violence associated with public hangings and their processions and public whippings in the streets; Londoners thus became advocates of the end of state-sponsored violence.


The historiography of violence has seen parallel developments with social history since the mid 1970s, where there are distinct typologies linked to politics and society and integrated into the wider historical context. Currently, there is an outpouring of theses, mostly on violence associated with homicide, infanticide, sexual offences, gender, dearth, and forms of punishment. Recent publications emphasize the role of the state, the deployment of central authority, and ideology. But there are few studies of violence from the view of the perpetrator, apart from London historians who have interpreted violent acts as strategies of the poor to aid their quest for survival in the eighteenth-century city.

See also Assassination ; Cities and Urban Life ; Class, Status, and Order ; Crime and Punishment ; Duel ; Passions ; Police ; Torture .


Beattie, John. Policing and Punishment in London, 1660 1750: Urban Crime and the Limits of Terror. Oxford, 2001.

Burke, Peter. Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. New York, 1978.

Egmond, Florike. Underworlds: Organized Crime in the Netherlands, 16501800. Cambridge, U.K., 1993.

Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process. 2 vols. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. 1st ed. 1978. New York, 2001.

Emsley, Clive, and Louis A. Knafla, eds. Crime History and Histories of Crime: Studies in the Historiography of Crime and Criminal Justice in Modern History. Westport, Conn., 1996.

Evans, Richard J., ed. The German Underworld: Deviants and Outcasts in German History. London, 1988.

Greenshields, Malcolm. An Economy of Violence in Early Modern France: Crime and Justice in the Hauite Avergne, 15871664. University Park, Pa., 1994.

Kiernan, V. G. The Duel in European History: Honour and the Reign of Aristocracy. Oxford, 1988.

Österberg, Eva, and D. Lindström. Crime and Social Control in Medieval and Early Modern Swedish Towns. Uppsala, 1988.

Ruff, Julius R. Violence in Early Modern Europe, 15001800. Cambridge, Mass., 2001.

Sharpe, James. Crime in Early Modern England, 15501750. London, 1984; rev. ed., 1998.

Stone, Lawrence. "Interpersonal Violence in English Society, 13001980." Past & Present 101 (1983): 2233.

Louis A. Knafla

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Though violence has been characterized as the use of force by and against one or more social subjects with the intention to inflict bodily harm, the study of violent processes over the past three decades has broadened the concept by underscoring its varying forms, which emerge from the struggle for power between modern states, elites and subalterns, and recently formed communities. Interstate war, discourse and the coercive apparatuses of the state, epistemic violence, ethnic conflict, collective recovery, and terrorism represent intellectual signposts in the scholarship on violence, although they emerge from different trajectories of inquiry that do not belong to a single genealogical tradition or discipline.


Violence is identified as an effect of competitive war-making in early modern Europe, which produced a bureaucratic apparatus that could secure the material and human resources required for managing warfare. Such bureaucratic apparatuses would form the institutional skeleton of modern national states from the seventeenth century onward (Tilly 1990). The link between war, the state, and violence is reflected in Max Webers remark that a striking feature of the modern state is, ideally, its monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force and, therefore, its ability to sanction the use of force (Gerth and Mills 1946, p. 78). However, this is not to say that modern states only seek to stem forms of unsanctioned violence, especially those that appear to threaten its authority. Michel Foucaults inquiries (1963, 1966, 1975) reveal that modern welfare states also strive to redefine, regulate, and channel the use of force in order to achieve social order. This insight marked a watershed in the study of violence and shifted the focus of research on the phenomenon from interstate war to the subtle manners in which coercion and the measured use of force are deployed by state agencies in order to shape the social identities of individuals.

Foucaults studies of institutions of criminal punishment and rehabilitation, schools and hospitals, and the spaces of economic production underscore the discourses that organize these institutions, in order to socially produce docile subjects whose utility would, ostensibly, advance societal welfare and maintain order. Competing legal, penal, medical, and academic disciplines converge to define, discursively, what forms of violence are criminal, why they are socially immoral or harmful, and how their perpetrators should be punished or rehabilitated. Far from remaining ideological platitudes that are applicable only to those labeled as criminals or insane, these social meanings of deviance are authoritative because they are articulated as categories of objective knowledge, and they become a metric by which to measureand curb our own deviant and violent tendencies. Foucault not only demonstrates how social control is achieved from above, he also reveals the political utility of microdimensions of violence, which enable the reproduction of a predictable social order by conditioning individuals to coerce themselves through conformity to institutionally sanctioned categories of normal behavior.

Ironically, the very institutional apparatuses and discourses that seek to discipline subjects can also be the source from which to innovate new strategies for resisting violent and coercive regimes. Studies of collective violence associated with popular revolution in western Europe, for example, reveal that tactics employed by protesters borrowed heavily from the police forces own methods of employing violence to suppress collective protest. Similarly, these investigations also point to the manner in which episodes of collective violence directed against monarchical power were morally legitimated by perpetrators through the appropriation and redeployment of political concepts like popular sovereignty. Anthropologists, historians, and sociologists attentive to the discursive dimensions of collective movements enrich the meaning of the concept of violence by tracing the manner in which knowledge, as a means of exercising social power, can animate and constrain collective forms of resistance that employ the use of force.


Inquiries into the creation of social order under European colonization identify epistemic forms of violence that radically essentialized social identities and dismantled previously existing social solidarities. This body of literature marks a departure from a previous form of anthropological study that accepted the traditional culture of non-Western societies as an essentially differentiating feature and one that necessitated methods of exhaustive description as a form of analysis. Anthropologists and historians interrogating the cultural objects of tradition demonstrate that in the name of crafting effective procedures of political rule, colonial administrators set about to objectify native traditions. Such a project involved the production of systematized bodies of objectified knowledge that documented the cultures and traditions of colonial subjects; rather than learning about their dynamism, the European project reduced their complexity and then enabled their ossification (Cohn, 1987, 1996; Dirks, 1987, 2001; Chatterjee, 1986, 1993). Working with Orientalist assumptions about the traditional East, these bodies of knowledge taxonomically classified categories and practices of social identity in new and singular relationships with Western notions of religion, ethnicity, or clan. Importantly, the concept of violence in this domain of research is considered a historical process that involved supplanting the previously existing fuzzy character of social identity, which was shaped by numerous sources of competitive influence, with rigid conceptions of identity (Kaviraj 1992, p. 20).

Having epistemologically fixed such traditions as the primary source of native identity, colonial rulers applied these taxonomies to form key state undertakings spanning law and policing, education, urban planning, the fine arts, and census-taking operations. State projects aimed to stabilize the colonial states task of maintaining social order, creating the conditions for profitable and taxable economic production, while representingostensiblyonly a latent imposition on the social and cultural practices of colonial subjects. In fact, these brutal processes of colonial rule would engender more violent social transformations and political conflicts.


Institutionalizing such rigid conceptions of identity in the states operations created the conditions for political forms of violence by sharpeningand rendering incommensurablethe perceived cultural differences between novel traditional communities that consequently began to form. This was especially palpable in the context of emerging native leaders who were able to cultivate new supportive constituencies, in terms of their imagined traditional commonalities, and call for the state to arbitrate when conflicts with rival communities arose. As historians of colonial Asia and Africa demonstrate, despite the states quest to maintain social order, communal and tribal conflict became a bloody and conspicuously recurring phenomena in this era.

The emergence of competing traditional communities became a mobilizational resourceand source of tensionwhen native elites began to organize collective resistance to colonialism. Such communities were rallied behind the call for national sovereignty through movements of cultural nationalism. For native elites, political independence was a corresponding entitlement of these traditional communities who now aspired to the status of nationhood. Of course, such cultural forms of nationalism were riddled with tensions, often manifesting in violent internal conflict. Though statehood was eventually achieved for most colonies, the process was often characterized by territorial partition, bitter campaigns of violence, and the unprecedented displacement of people (as in the case of India and Pakistan). In other instances, the hollowness of constitutional arrangements based on multiculturalism was exposed when domestic politics spiraled into intense ethnic violence or agonistic competition over political and economic resources. Such violence emerges historically out ofand throughthe commission of epistemic forms of violence.


The study of violence associated with contemporary episodes of ethnic cleansing and genocide has revealed much about the dynamics of collective recovery. Scholars in this subfield have shown how testimonies relating to experiences with violence are often shaped by an implicit requirement that frayed ethnic or national solidarities be restored. Testimonials are burdened with the tasks of reestablishing familial-communal honor, identifying perpetrators, and securing state resources for communal rehabilitation. Strikingly, the analysis of collective memory and recovery points to the difficulty of articulating pain as an experience and how the depth of it is necessarily reduced when it is articulated as a collective and social form of suffering (Das 1997).

The theme of collective injury is also salient to discussions of more recent forms of violence associated with terrorist groups, particularly those movements that seem to be morally organized by a religious ethos. Scholars have shown that the moral justifications employed by such movements draw upon earlier forms of cultural nationalism that challenged foreign occupation and imperialism, as well as heretical regimes and moral waywardness. Many current-day militant movements draw their moral authority from religious reform movements from the colonial era that placed an emphasis on the correct observance of religious rituals. The Taliban, for example, trace their genealogy to the Deoband movement in late-colonial-era India, which initiated and institutionalized the madrassa -based study of Islamic law and the upholding of Muslim ritual practices (dress, morality, and regular prayer) as a means to achieve a virtuous way of life.

Tellingly, the focus of such religious reform movements was transformed during the Cold War period when insurgents were recruited, trained, and armed by alliances of Western states and their clients to fight communism. Militant and globally dispersed movements that turn noncombatants into targets of political violence are the products of proxy wars that were waged between the superpowers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

In summary, the study of culture and ideology has transformed the meanings of violence by shifting away from an emphasis on interstate war and physical harm to an exploration of the more insidious ways in which highly regulated forms of violence and coercionpresented as socially productive methods of reform and developmentare sanctioned by the state in order to govern the actions of individuals. Examinations of the formation of discourses, as loci in which social power is exercised through claims to disciplinary knowledge and truth, reveal how epistemic forms of violence reduce the complexity of social identity and, in the colonial sphere, artificially classify non-Western societies as premodern. Ironically, the history of nationalist and political movements from the end of European colonial rule through the Cold War and afterward is marked by forms of communal and ethnic conflict that reinforce the social and political salience of tradition. Terrorismand the predominantly Orientalist public debate surrounding itis a contemporary example of the ways in which religion and politics can come to be mutually dependent and, moreover, of how many of the most dynamic cultural and logistical strategies that organize violence rest outside the domain of the state.

SEE ALSO Anticolonial Movements; Colonialism; Decolonization; Foucault, Michel; Genocide; Orientalism; Terrorism


Brass, Paul R. 2003. The Production of Hindu-Muslim Violence in Contemporary India. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

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Dirks, Nicholas B. 2001. Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Feldman, Allen. 1991. Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1971. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon Books. (Originally published as Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines. Paris: Gallimard, 1966.)

Foucault, Michel. 1973. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of Medical Perception. Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books. (Originally published as Naissance de la clinique: Une archéologie du regard médical. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1963.)

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Arafaat A. Valiani

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VIOLENCE. Human history has been marked and marred by violence; the United States has proved to be no exception. Violent conflict between Native Americans and settlers and immigrants flared soon after the English colonization of Virginia in 1607 and lasted nearly three centuries until the defeat of the Lakotas at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1890. In the numerous wars fought, both sides engaged in massacres. Six massacres stand out for the numbers slaughtered: 400 Pequot Indians in Rhode Island (1637); 300 Sioux at Wounded Knee; some 200 at Wyot in Humboldt Bay, California (1860); 200 Cheyennes at Sand Creek, Colorado (1864); 173 Blackfeet on the Marias River in Montana (1870); and 103 Cheyennes on the Washita River in Oklahoma (1868).

Similar to white-Indian racial violence were the black uprisings; the first was in Virginia in 1691 followed by significant revolts in New York City in 1712 and 1741. By far, the greatest number of these rebellions was in the South—the most notable of which was led by Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831.

Blacks as Targets

Following the Civil War, former slaves were killed in great numbers in riots by whites in New Orleans and Memphis (1866), and in Colfax, Louisiana (1873). Most devastating of all were lynchings—the hanging of persons (usually black men) by mobs. Primarily a southern phenomenon, lynchings occurred from the 1880s well into the twentieth century. At its peak from 1889 to 1918, lynching was responsible for the execution of 2,460 African Americans in the South.

As more blacks fled the South for great cities in the North and West, urban violence became the rule. Riots in East St. Louis (1917), Chicago (1919), and Detroit (1943), primarily targeted black neighborhoods. During the 1960s, residents of black ghettos rioted in the Watts

area of Los Angeles (1965); Newark and Detroit (1967); and Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, and Kansas City in 1968. The 1968 riots were in reaction to the assassination of black leader Martin Luther King Jr. (see King, Martin Luther, Assassination). The 1992 riot in Los Angeles saw members of other minority groups joining African Americans in the greatest urban riot (54 deaths) of the twentieth century (see Los Angeles Riots). Over a century before, the New York City antidraft riot of 1863, one of the biggest urban riots in American history, was motivated to a significant degree by racial prejudice against blacks (see Draft Riots). This riot found lower-class whites violently protesting the newly imposed draft of men into the Union army. Rioting New Yorkers killed more than 110 people, most of them black.

Farmer and Frontier Violence

Racial minorities were not the only aggrieved Americans to resort to violence. Among the most chronically discontented were the white farmers, who over 260 years engaged in uprisings such as Bacon's Rebellion (Virginia, 1676), the Anti-Rent movement (New York, 1700s and 1800s), Shays's Rebellion (Massachusetts, 1784–1786), the Whiskey Rebellion (Pennsylvania, 1794), the Mussel Slough Incident (California, 1878–1882), the Kentucky Night Riders (early twentieth century), and the Farm Holiday movement in the Midwest (1930s).

Frontier whites were at the center of a distinctive type of American violence: vigilantism—taking the law into their own hands. Beginning with the South Carolina "Regulators" (1767–1769), vigilantism gradually spread westward, reaching the Pacific Coast where, in 1856, the powerful San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, with between 6,000 and 8,000 members, became the largest such movement in American history. Although Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa had strong vigilante groups, the strongest groups were to be found in the West, especially in California, Texas, and Montana. Between 1767 and 1904, more than 300 vigilante movements sprung up in the United States, taking at least 729 lives. Their targets and victims were overwhelmingly lawless white members of turbulent pioneer communities.

Labor Violence

Oppressive labor conditions during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries frequently precipitated violence. In 1877, railroad employees spontaneously and violently rebelled from coast to coast. Strikes by workers and lockouts by management often led to tragedy as in the Homestead Strike of 1892, in which clashes between workers and Pinkerton guards hired by the Carnegie Steel Company led to the deaths of sixteen, and in the unsuccessful strike of miners against a Rockefeller-controlled coal company near Ludlow, Colorado, in 1913–1914. The Ludlow strike and management's response led to the death by suffocation of thirteen women and children in April 1914. Members of union families had taken underground refuge from antilabor militia in a deep dugout that came to be known as the "Black Hole of Ludlow" (see Ludlow Massacre).

Industrial violence between capitalists and their employees declined greatly after the labor reforms initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" in the 1930s. New Deal reforms in the interest of hard-pressed farmers also brought to an end some agrarian violence.

Assassinations, Mass Murder, and Riots

Assassination of those who hold public office is the apex of political violence. U.S. presidents have been unusually vulnerable to assassination: Abraham Lincoln (1865), James A. Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), and John F. Kennedy (1963). Ronald Reagan was badly wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt. Also felled by an assassin's bullet was the great nonviolent civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., shot in Memphis in 1968.

The greatest episode of mass killing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries actually took place outside the United States. The combination of mass suicide and murder ordered by the California cult leader, Jim Jones, in 1978 took his own life as well as the lives of 912 (including many children) of his followers at the cult's compound in Guyana, South America (see Jonestown Massacre).

The portrayal of violence changed enormously in the second half of the twentieth century with television news coverage and entertainment. TV coverage of the 1965 Watts riot in Los Angeles showed the anarchy and destruction of that massive riot. In 1991, repeated replays on television of the video recording of the police beating a black motorist, Rodney King, were followed a year later by live TV coverage of the multiracial looting and burning of far-flung areas of Los Angeles in anger over a suburban jury's acquittal of the police who beat King.

Television's most riveting broadcast of violence was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963. Two days later, live TV caught Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused Kennedy assassin. The Kennedy assassination was the tragic introduction to one of the most violent decades in U.S. history—a decade graphically portrayed on TV.


Beginning in 1993, horrific acts of terrorism were perpetrated, starting with a great explosion at the World Trade Center, New York City. In 1995 antigovernment terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168. Few thought that the Oklahoma City horror could be exceeded, but on 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon in Virginia took at least 3,063 lives (see 9/11 Attack). The television images of two of the hijacked airliners being deliberately flown into the twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center, which collapsed in less than two hours, traumatized the nation. Americans were reminded of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. While the emotional impact of Pearl Harbor on the public was huge, the stunning visual impact of the televised destruction of the World Trade Center had an immeasurably greater and more immediate effect.


Ayers, Edward L. Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the Nineteenth-Century South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Brown, Richard Maxwell. No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American History and Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Clarke, James W. American Assassins: The Darker Side of American Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Dray, Philip. At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America. New York, Random House, 2002.

Gilje, Paul A. Rioting in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

Gottesman, Ronald, and Richard M. Brown, eds. Violence in America: An Encyclopedia. 3 vols. New York, Scribners, 1999.

Hofstadter, Richard, and Michael Wallace, eds. American Violence: A Documentary History. New York: Knopf, 1970.

Richard M.Brown

See alsoAssassinations and Political Violence, Other ; Assassinations, Presidential ; Crime ; Indian Removal ; Indian Warfare ; Insurrections, Domestic ; Riots ; Serial Killings ; Slave Insurrections ; andarticles on individual massacres, riots, and other violent incidents.

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Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994


Of all of the crime bills passed at the federal level in the history of the United States, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was arguably the most far-reaching and comprehensive. Costing $30 billion, and taking up over 1,100 pages, the Violent Crime Control Act covered a mind-boggling variety of areas, ranging from an assault-weapons ban to money for midnight basketball programs. The net result was a bill whose effects the nation was feeling ten years later—a bill whose proponents gave it credit for the sharp drop in crime throughout the 1990s, and whose critics dismissed it as an unprecedented federal boondoggle.

Background of the Violent Crime Control Act

The Violent Crime Control Act was passed amid a strong public concern about crime in the early 1990s. Polls had indicated that the American public placed crime at or near the top of the list when asked to name their civic concerns. A large rise in violent crime over a 30-year period—over 500 percent, according to one study, contributed to the public's desire to see something done about the crime rate.

Congress passed four omnibus federal crime bills between 1984 and 1990 in response to this crime wave. Nevertheless, crime continued to rise, and the public's perception was that the federal government was not doing enough to stop crime. However, conservatives and liberals disagreed on the best way to address problem of criminal violence.

Conservatives favored seeing violent criminals serve more of their sentences, and increased money for prison building. They also favored curbing the right of habeas corpus for death row inmates, and increasing the ability of police to process criminal suspects by reforming exclusionary rules. They also favored so-called three strikes laws, requiring long prison sentences for three-time felons.

Liberals wanted to see more money directed toward social programs that would help to prevent criminal behavior. They favored increased gun control. They wanted to see a stop to racially discriminatory laws, and wanted to make sure that minorities were not treated unfairly by the criminal justice system.

The election of President bill clinton in 1992, which for the first time since 1980 meant that the White House and the Congress would be controlled by the same party, increased the chances of meaningful crime legislation. Clinton, who was trying to push through a health care plan that was perceived as liberal, wanted an issue where he could take a conservative approach, and anti-crime legislation seemed like a promising area. In addition, both the Congress and the White House noted the 1993 off-year elections, which many candidates won using strong anti-crime themes.

The stage was set for a comprehensive anticrime bill to pass. Despite the interest of both parties in passing the legislation, it still ended up having a difficult road. Among the problems were the attempts of some liberal representatives to introduce a "Racial Justice Act" which would have allowed death row inmates, at the state and federal level, to challenge their death sentences if statistics suggested that the race of either defendants or victims had affected past death-sentencing decisions in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed. This provision was strongly opposed by Republicans and other conservative Democrats and ended up being dropped from the final bill. A proposed assault weapons ban was also controversial.

Eventually, however, both the House and the Senate were able to pass a bill, and President Clinton signed it into law on Sept. 13, 1994.

Provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act provided $30.2 billion over six years for crime control and related social programs—the most money ever allotted in a federal crime bill. State and local law enforcement would receive $10.8 billion of this; $9.9 billion was earmarked for prisons, and $6.9 billion was earmarked for crime prevention.

The largest portion of this funding went to community policing. The bill created an $8.8 billion program to add 100,000 police officers nationwide for police patrols. In addition, the bill allotted $2.6 billion for the federal bureau of investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and Border Patrol. $245 million was given to rural anti-crime efforts, and $150 million to help implement new laws requiring up to a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases

The act gave $1.6 billion to fight violence against women, including money to train and add police, prosecutors and judges; money for victims' services and advocates, and money for rape-education and community-prevention programs.

Perhaps because the bill was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by a Democratic president, social programs were given a big priority. These programs included $567 million for after-school, weekend, and summer "safe haven" programs for youth; $243 million for in-school programs providing positive activities and alternatives to crime and drug abuse; and $377 million to be used for anti-gang programs, midnight sports leagues, boys and girls clubs, and other projects. There was also $1 billion for drug-court programs and substance-abuse treatment for non-violent offenders.

The most controversial provision of the act was non-monetary: the assault-weapons ban. It called for a 10-year ban on the manufacture, transfer, or possession of 19 semi-automatic assault weapons. Certain kinds of revolving-cylinder shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and ammunition magazines were also banned. The act also outlawed the ownership of handguns by juveniles.

Less controversially, the bill established a three-strikes law that mandated life in prison for a third serious violent-felony conviction or a violent-felony conviction that follows a serious violent felony and a serious drug conviction under federal law. The crime bill also created 60 new federal crimes that call for the death penalty, including murder of federal judges; murder of federal law enforcement officers; murder of high-level members of the executive branch; murder of a member of Congress; kidnapping that results in death, and fatal violence committed in international airports.

Finally, on the subject of prisons, the bill allocated $9.9 billion, including $7.9 billion to build state prisons for violent offenders, and $1.8 billion to states for jailing criminal illegal immigrants.

Effect of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

When President Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control Act, he called it the "toughest and smartest crime bill in our history." The bill also came under fierce criticism, though. The left objected to the extra spending, and the left lamented the bill's failure to address racial issues and the addition of the three-strikes law.

When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1995, there were threats of wholesale revisions to the law, but these threats were never carried out, and most of the provisions of the law were able to take effect. What the bill actually accomplished was debatable, although proponents, including the president, noted the precipitous drop in violent crime throughout the 1990s, and they gave the crime bill credit for at least some of this improvement.

further readings

Clinton, William Jefferson. 1995. "Remarks on Signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994." University of Dayton Law Review 20 (winter).

McCollum, Bill. 1995. "The Struggle for Effective Anti-Crime Legislation—An Analysis of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994." University of Dayton Law Review 20 (winter).

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The use of unjustified physical force with the intention to injure or damage.

The high incidence of violence in the United States is of great concern to citizens, lawmakers, and law enforcement agencies alike. Between 1960 and 1991, violent crime in the U.S. rose over 370 percent, and over 600,000 Americans are victimized by handgun crimes annually. Violent acts committed by juveniles are of particular concern: the number of American adolescents arrested for homicide has increased by 85 percent between 1987 and 1991, and more juveniles are committing serious crimes at younger ages than ever before. Young African American males are particularly at risk for becoming either perpetrators or victims of violent crime. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has identified homicide as the leading cause of death for this demographic group, estimating that one in every 28 black males born in 1987 is likely to be murdered. For white males born in 1987, the ratio is one in 205.

The threat of violence is particularly disturbing because of new variantsincluding carjackings, drive-by shootings, and workplace killingsthat threaten Americans in places or situations formerly considered safe. The CDC has declared workplace violence an epidemic, with the number of homicides in the workplace tripling in the last ten years. Workplace violence may be divided into two types: external and internal. External workplace violence is committed by persons unfamiliar with the employer and employees, occurring at random or as an attempt at making a symbolic statement to society at large. Internal workplace violence is generally committed by an individual involved in either a troubled spousal or personal relationship with a coworker, or as an attempt to seek revenge against an employer, usually for being released from employment. The rising percentage of layoffs, downsizing, and impersonal management styles in many American corporations have been linked to the increase in workplace violence, nearly one-fourth of which end in the perpetrator's suicide.

One type of violence that has received increased attention in recent years is domestic violence, a crime for which statistics are difficult to compile because it is so heavily underreportedonly about one in 270 incidents are thought to be reported to authorities. Estimates of the percentage of women who have been physically abused by a spouse or partner range from 20 percent to as high as 50 percent. According to the FBI, a woman is beaten every 18 seconds in the United States, and almost one-third of American females murdered in 1992 were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Battering is experienced by women of all ages, races, ethnic groups, and social classes. A chronic pattern of ongoing physical violence and verbal abuse may produce a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder referred to as Battered Woman Syndrome, in which the victim experiences depression , guilt , passivity, fear , and low self-esteem .

Various explanations have been offered for the high prevalence of violence in the United States, which is by far the most violent nation in the industrialized world. Among the most prominent has been the argument that violence depicted in the mass mediaincluding television, movies, rock and rap music videos, and video gameshave contributed to the rise in violence in society. Quantitative studies have found that prime time television programs average 10 violent acts per hour, while children's cartoons average 32 acts of violence per hour. On-screen deaths in feature films such as Robocop and Die Hard range from 80 to 264. It has also been argued that experiencing violence vicariously in these forms is not a significant determinant of violent behavior and that it may even have a beneficial cathartic effect. However, experimental studies have found correlations between the viewing of violence and increased interpersonal aggression , both in childhood and, later, in adolescence . Viewing violence can elicit aggressive

behavior through modeling , increasing the viewer's arousal, desensitizing viewers to violence, reducing restraints on aggressive behavior, and distorting views about conflict resolution .

Other causal factors that have been linked to violence include the prevalence of gangs , the introduction of crack cocaine in the mid-1980s, the increase in single-parent families, and the lack of tighter restrictions on gun ownership. In addition, scientists have found a possible link between violence and heredity : studies have shown that males born with an extra Y chromosome (type XYY) are more likely than normal to be inmates of prisons or mental hospitals . The significance of these findings has been disputed, however, as XYY males in the general population are not more violent than other males. The effects of a genetic predisposition are also tempered by interaction with a variety of environmental factors. Of the men who are genetically predisposed to violence, only a minority will actually commit acts of aggression.

There are a number of more credible predictors of individual violence, most of them psychological. The most reliable indicator is a history of violence: each time a person commits a violent act, the probability that he or she will commit more violent acts increases. Psychoses, including schizophrenia , major affective disorders, and paranoid states are also closely linked to violence, as is erotomania, or romantic obsession. This condition involves an idealized romantic love (often for someone, such as a celebrity, with whom one has no personal relationship) that becomes a fixation . Such actions as unsolicited letters and phone calls, and stalking eventually lead to violence, either out of revenge for being rejected or so that the object of the fixation may not become involved with anyone else.

Depression is also associated with violence, often in the form of suicide. Two personality disorders related to violenceparticularly in the workplaceare antisocial personality disorder ("sociopaths") and borderline personality disorder (characterized by instability and lack of boundaries in interpersonal relationships). Chemical dependence can lead to violence by interfering with the ability to distinguish right from wrong, removing social inhibitions, and inducing paranoia and/or aggression. Other possible indicators of violence include neurological impairment, an excessive interest in weapons, a high level of frustration with one's environment , and the pathological blaming of others for one's problems.

In recent years, a public health approach to violence has been widely advocated. This orientation stresses out-reach to those segments of the population among whom violence is most prevalent in an attempt to alter attitudes and behaviors that contribute to it, and to teach the skills necessary for the nonviolent resolution of conflicts. Teenagers, in particular, as well as their parents, are targeted in these efforts, especially in areas with high crime rates. This approach has been criticized by those who believe that violence should be dealt with by addressing its underlying structural causesincluding poverty, racial discrimination, and unemploymentthrough direct socioeconomic intervention.

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Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

Norman Abrams

The bills that eventually became the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (VCCLEA) were originally proposed as amendments to the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. The VCCLEA is directly linked to its historical predecessor, the 1968 legislation that was the first in a series of omnibus legislative packages whose provisions were aimed at street and violent crime. With the 1968 enactment, President Lyndon Johnson moved the subject of violent local crime onto the front burner of national politics, where it has remained ever since. In the intervening thirty-five years Congress enacted a number of lengthy legislative packages, each containing a potpourri of provisions dealing with crime, law enforcement, and crime prevention subjects. Between 1984 and 1990, for example, four such omnibus bills were enacted; the VCCLEA continued that tradition.

Described by President Bill Clinton as "the toughest, largest and smartest federal attack on crime in the history of...[the country]," the VCCLEA contained both provisions supported by liberals and attacked by conservatives (e.g., gun control) and provisions where the liberal-conservative perspectives were reversed (e.g. death penalty). It also contained provisions dealing with such varied subjects as violence against women, drug courts, marketing scams that victimized the elderly, crimes against children, and criminal street gangs. Among its most controversial and/or widely noted provisions were those establishing a ban on assault weapons; a federal mandatory life term three-strikes law; a federal grant program to fund more police at the local level and to help build more prisons; and additions to the Federal Rules of Evidence dealing with the admissibility of evidence in sexual assault and child molestation cases.

The congressional and lobbying infighting that preceded the final enactment of the act was classic in its Byzantine complexity. During the first President George Bush's administration, different versions of a comprehensive bill were passed by the two Houses of Congress, but died because of their inability to bridge the liberal-conservative divide on some key issues, such as habeas corpus and exclusionary rule reform. Early in his administration, President Clinton set forth the elements of a crime bill he would support, including a ban on assault weapons, federal grants for more police, and habeas corpus reform. Putting more police on the street at the local level became the centerpiece of his anticrime program.

Later, after a series of notorious violent crimes in different parts of the country, the State of Washington enacted a three strikes-mandatory life provision, and soon other states began introducing similar legislation. Three strikes, which had originally been a Republican proposal, was soon endorsed by the President and added to his priorities for the Violent Crime bill.

The House version of the crime bill also contained a "Racial Justice Act" which would have allowed individuals sentenced to death to challenge their sentence based on a statistical showing that race had affected the imposition of death sentences in the jurisdiction. Strongly supported by the Congressional Black Caucus and Democrats and opposed with equal fervor by Republicans who believed it would effectively block the use of the death penalty, it was dropped in conference. Similarly, habeas corpus reform did not make it into the final bill.

The most hotly contested issue in this legislation, however, involved the ban on assault weapons. Because the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was a strong opponent of gun control, the Senate initially became the main arena for including an assault weapons ban in the crime bill. Eventually, compromise provisions were crafted. The conference bill (the product of a second conference) was almost immediately approved by a close vote in the House. After a short-lived Republican filibuster in the Senate was broken by a cloture vote, the crime bill was approved and subsequently signed into law by President Clinton on September 13, 1994.

The main elements of the assault weapons provisions were a listing of named banned weapons, a ban on copies of the listed banned weapons, a ban on weapons that fell within a definition containing specific criteria, and a ban on large capacity ammunition magazines. The legislation also contained a ten-year sunset provision and a listing of 670 hunting and sport weapons exempted from the prohibition.


What has been the effect of the VCCLEA? Has it had an impact on crime? Through grants made under its COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) program the act had as one of its goals putting 100,000 additional police on the streets during a five year period through hiring and redeployment. Reportedly, the total number of sworn officers grew during that period by about 87,000, but historic rates of growth might have significantly increased the number of officers, possibly by an almost similar number, so it is difficult to determine how much difference the program made.

Other grant programs have also been implemented: For example, by the year 2000, the Justice Department made grants of more than $700 million through its Violence Against Women office, to support programs for computer tracking, mandatory training for police, and the creation of community coalitions. In 1998 the General Accounting Office did a study to determine the impact of the grant program in support of "truth-in-sentencing" (TIS) laws that provided incentive grants to states with laws requiring violent offenders to serve at least 85 percent of their imposed sentences. A survey showed that twenty-seven states had TIS laws; in twelve of these states, the availability of the federal grant was not a factor contributing to the enactment of the TIS law and in eleven other states, it was only a partial factor; only in four states was the cause-effect relationship clear.

The provisions banning assault weapons had some impact but also proved fairly easy for gun manufacturers to evade. In the year 2002 for example, the person charged as the Washington D.C. area sniper, John Allen Muhammad, allegedly used an assault weapon the manufacturer had modified by removing two military-type components, thus escaping the ban.

Five years and more after enactment of the legislation, President Clinton still viewed the VCCLEA as "landmark legislation...[that] put thousands of new police officers into America's communities,...[gave] crime victims a greater voice in the criminal justice process...and protected women and children from violence and abuse in their homes and communities..." Further, it "helped reduce the violent crime rate in the United States to its lowest level in nearly a quarter century." The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 undoubtedly did some of these things and more, and did have some impact on the crime rate; precisely how much is indeterminable.

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Violence in Terrorism

Violence in Terrorism


While there are many definitions of terrorism and no single accepted one, the research literature assumes three main components: (1) use or threat of violence; (2) injury to noncombatants; and (3) a symbolic effect designed to attract attention. Violence is an integral part of terrorism and is present in every incident.

Several factors influence the decision to use violence within the terrorism framework: (1) violence must be faced by the target power, and the target powers response may violate its own values and draw criticism at home and abroad; (2) violence attracts attention to the terrorist organizations agenda, obliging the targeted regime to confront the problems raised and try to solve them; and (3) the use of violence arouses fear and horror in the civilian population. The perpetrators of the violence try to make the population pressure the regime into solving the terror problem, and sometimes even to meet the demands of the terrorist group.

Even though terror is considered the weapon of the weak, it should be stressed that the use of violence in the framework of terror is also common between sovereign states, and not only between illegal groups operating against certain other groups or states. State terrorism is terror perpetrated by states against their citizens or via specific groups that enjoy state support, whether covert or overt. Totalitarian regimes such as that of Augusto Pinochet in Chile or Saddam Hussein in Iraq used their own secret police forces to terrorize their citizens. These regimes operated against their own citizens, employing kidnappings, torture, and extrajudicial executions. Other regimes, mainly in South America, had armed militias that perpetrated acts of terror against their citizens and which were supported or tacitly approved by the state.

Despite this reality, there is disagreement regarding the inclusion of state-sanctioned acts of violence against citizens in the definition of terror. The main dispute concerns the fact that state violence instigated in its own territory is considered legitimate and justified in the struggle against hostile elements, and therefore cannot be defined as terror. The significance of this is that the definition of state-sanctioned acts as terror depends on the attitude of the international community toward the methods used by the state, the conditions under which the violence is used, whether in an armed conflict facing the state or during peacetime.

According to David Rappoports 2003 work, there have been four separate waves in the use of terror since the 1880s. The first lasted about thirty years, from the 1880s to the 1920s. The groups active during this period espoused a revolutionary antimonarchy ideology, using force mainly in assassination attempts against representatives of the royalty; for example, the Peoples Will, Narodnaya Volya in Russia, or the Black Hand in Serbia. Notable among the events of this period were the assassinations of Czar Alexander II by Russian revolutionaries on March 13, 1881, and of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, on June 28, 1914, the incident that sparked World War I.

The second wave continued from the 1920s to the 1960s. In this wave, terror was used mainly by ethnic groups in their struggles for independence from colonial powersthe EOKA in Cyprus and the Etzel and Lehi, Hebrew acronyms for National Military Organization and Fighters for Israels Liberty, respectively, in British Mandate Palestine. The activities in this second wave differed from those in the first wave in that their targets were military and government installations, similar to the guerrilla warfare of the Force de Libération Nationale (FLN) in Algeria in the mid-1950s.

The third wave was concentrated in the 1960s and 1970s and was employed by ideological groups on the radical left trying to change the ruling regimes in their own countries, like the Red Brigades in Italy. For the first time, these groups were active in countries other than their own. They cooperated with like-minded foreign organizations and for the first time launched international terrorist activities, such as when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) cooperated with the Japanese Red Brigade in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Libya, among other countries.

The fourth wave began in the 1980s. The political ideology of the 1960s and 1970s has been largely replaced by religion as a background for acts of violent terrorism and its targets. Most perpetrators come from Islamic countries, although todays terrorism is not unique to Islam. The main tactics are kidnappings and suicide attacks in numbers that rose from 40 in the 1980s to 125 in the 1990s, and dozens of attacks per year since 2000. The most notable terrorist group is Al-Qaeda, which recruits and operates worldwide. Its network-based structure and use of the Internet for communication between cells in different countries make it completely different from the typical groups of previous decades.

In the early twenty-first century accelerated technological development and computerization throughout the world have increased terror that is less conspicuously violent, such as cyber-terrorism. This involves attacks against a countrys computer systems and civilian and military communications. As such, researchers are not in agreement as to whether this is actually terrorism, since it does not involve violence.

SEE ALSO Al-Qaeda; Guerrilla Warfare; Terrorism; Violence


Rappoport, David C. 2003. The Four Waves of Rebel Terror and September 11. In The New Global Terrorism: Characteristics, Causes, Controls, ed. Charles W. Kegley. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

White, Jonathan R. 1998. Terrorism: An Introduction. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Ami Pedahzur

Alexandr Bialsky

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violence Woven into the fabric of most societies, violence exists in many forms and at multiple levels. Whether physical, verbal, sexual, or psychological, whether inflicted by individuals, groups, institutions, or nations, violence threatens the body in numerous and complex ways.

At the microlevel, personal violence — acts of aggression or force performed by individuals — may be directed at inanimate objects, animals, one's self, or other bodies. Although some forms of interpersonal violence, such as injuries on the sports field or shootings in self-defence, are culturally sanctioned, the more serious forms, like homicide, rape, and aggravated assault, are usually criminalized. To understand why individuals commit violence, criminologists and psychologists often focus on the individual's personality type, family background, and possible physiological abnormalities. Sometimes, however, personal manifestations of violence are linked to broader social structures. As numerous feminist scholars have argued, domestic or family violence must be understood in terms of patriarchal family structures, which have traditionally given men the right to control and discipline their wives and children.

True forms of collective violence result when individuals engage in violent activities at a group or institutional level. Like personal violence, incidents of group violence such as riots, revolutions, and gang warfare are typically viewed as local events, tied to a specific cause or geographical region. Nevertheless, group violence possesses its own unique dynamics and is generally more destructive than personal violence. Sociologists and psychologists have observed that individual members participating in group violence frequently feel less responsibility for their activities and are willing to commit greater atrocities because they are acting in the name of a higher cause, be it religion, political beliefs, or loyalty to an ethnic group or nation. This process of deindividualization is fostered by the military to mobilize individuals for war and other forms of mass destruction like genocide. In war, not only are soldiers made to feel like cogs in a larger military machine, who ‘just follow orders’, but enemies are regularly dehumanized through propaganda, allowing for brutal massacres and torture rarely seen in personal, peacetime acts of violence.

Institutional violence — violence that serves or results from institutional objectives — can take extreme forms, like concentration camps or murders committed by totalitarian governments, or it can be part of a socially accepted economic system or religious organization's goals. Various slave systems have, for example, utilized physical, sexual, and emotional violence to deprive slaves of their humanity, while the Catholic Church employed violence in its Crusades, witch burnings, and inquisitions to neutralize perceived threats to its institutional boundaries. As modern industrial work environments like asbestos plants and coal mines demonstrate, however, institutional violence can also be subtle, resulting from acts of omission or deception rather than force.

At the macrolevel, advances in military and media technology have made violence (and the threat of it) global. Not only can we annihilate the entire planet through nuclear weapons, but we can transmit, via satellite, war and other public spectacles of violence into homes all over the globe.

Christina Jarvis

See also genocide; killing; murder; war and the body.

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Violence Commission


VIOLENCE COMMISSION. After the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order creating the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Its mandate was to explain the forces that were creating a more violent society and make recommendations for reducing the level of violence. Johns Hopkins president emeritus Milton S. Eisenhower chaired the commission, and federal judge A. Leon Higginbotham served as vice-chair. Other members included the longshoreman and libertarian philosopher Eric Hoffer, Terrence Cardinal Cooke, then archbishop of the New York archdiocese, and U.S. House majority whip Hale Boggs. The commission heard testimony from two hundred experts and collected and analyzed data. The final report was transmitted to President Richard Nixon on 10 December 1969. Titled To Establish Justice, To Insure Domestic Tranquillity, it argued that the growing violence was a symptom of enduring social and economic inequality, and that the only long-term answer to controlling violence in a democratic society was to rebuild the cities and provide jobs and educational opportunity for the poor. The commission recommended a $20 billion increase in spending for work and social service programs, as well as a recommitment to a full-employment economy. It also recommended handgun control legislation and highlighted the connection between television and real-life violence. The commission's liberal recommendations were ignored by the administration of Richard Nixon. The commission's work, however, influenced a generation of liberal criminologists.


United States. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. To Establish Justice, To Insure Domestic Tranquillity: Final Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969.

Richard M.Flanagan

See alsoAssassinations and Political Violence, Other ; Crime ; Riots .

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Violence. An aspect of human behaviour often bound up with emotions (especially anger), which religions cannot ignore—and often express. Opinion is divided as to where violence should be located along the nature—nurture spectrum. Those favouring natural processes or psychodynamic theory hold that religious activities reduce violence if they function cathartically, but increase violence if they result in frustration. An additional consideration is that religions often put ‘violence’—if that is what it is—to religious ends, examples here being sacrifice, head-hunting, many male rites of initiation, and the justification of war (just war) on religious grounds.

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What Is Violence?

Why Do People Behave Violently?

How Is Violence Treated and Prevented?


Violence is the use of physical force to injure people or property. Violence may cause physical pain to those who experience it directly, as well as emotional distress to those who either experience or witness it. Individuals, families, schools, workplaces, communities, society, and the environment all are harmed by violence.


for searching the Internet and other reference sources


Hate crimes




Social modeling

What Is Violence?

Violence is a social and health problem for all who experience and witness it. Violence takes many forms, including:

  • Family violence, often referred to as domestic abuse, child abuse, child maltreatment, spouse abuse, and wife battering
  • Peer group violence, which includes workplace violence, school violence, gang violence, and bullying*
    * bullying
    is when a person repeatedly intimidates or acts aggressively toward those with less power or ability to defend themselves.
  • Sexual violence, which includes rape*, date rape, marital rape, intimate partner abuse, and child sexual abuse
    * rape
    is when a person forces another person to have sexual intercourse. or engage in other unwanted sexual activities.
  • Abuse of power, which includes mistreatment of children, students, elders, people with disabilities, and others who are smaller or less powerful than the abuser
  • Community violence, which includes assaults, fights, shootings, homicides, and most forms of peer violence
  • Hate crimes and hate speech, which target victims based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual orientation
  • Media violence, shown on television, in film, and in video games.

Why Do People Behave Violently?

Research indicates that violent behavior may have many different causes, some of which are inborn but most of which are learned from experiencing or witnessing violent behavior by others, particularly those who are role models.


Chromosomes carry genetic messages from parents to offspring, and there is some research that suggests that, in some cases, aggressiveness may be inherited.

Brain injury

Injury to the front parts of the brain may remove some personal control over anger and aggression.

What Is Wrong with Media Violence?

Research shows that media violence can lead to real violence in multiple ways. The U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health both have reported that watching television violence is an important predictor of aggressive behavior. Childrens cartoons and music videos in particular often portray violence. American children see about 16,000 simulated murders and 200,000 acts of violence on television by age 18. In nearly 75 percent of those cases, punishment is not shown to be a consequence of violent behavior.

Perhaps potentially even more serious is the link between violence and some interactive video games. During violent video games, the player identifies with the point of view of the aggressor and practices violent thoughts, feelings, and actions. For some people, with enough reinforcement, violent behaviors can become accessible or even automatic if and when the player later encounters conflict in real life.

Antisocial personality disorder

People with antisocial personality disorder often behave violently even as children. They may disregard their own safety and the safety of others. People with this disorder do not seem to understand that violence harms other people, and they do not seem to have a conscience that tells them right from wrong. The terms sociopath and psychopath sometimes are used to describe people with antisocial personality disorder.

Alcohol and substance abuse

Drinking and drugs often play a role in violence. For some, these substaneces interfere with otherwise good judgement or behavior. Some people try to use alcohol or drugs to treat their feelings of anger or depression, but instead feel worse. Violence toward othersor towards themselvescan result.


Constantly viewing violence at home, in communities, or on television can lead people to believe that violence is a normal part of life. People who are surrounded by violence may reach a point where they no longer notice violent events or remember that peaceful behavior is a possibility.

Learned helplessness

People who resign themselves to the belief that violence is an inevitable part of their lives may give up trying to avoid or escape that violence. They may become passive and unable to create safety for themselves or their families. Battered wives who remain at home with battering husbands, for example, may believe that trying to escape violence is hopeless.

Social modeling

Children learn by observation and by imitation. Children who observe their home, school, or media role models behaving in violent ways may come to believe that turning angry feelings into angry actions is acceptable behavior, or even the most effective way to solve problems. Such children may never learn peaceful behaviors or cooperative ways to solve problems.

Parents who model abusive behavior at home can create a cycle of violence, teaching children to grow up to be abusive adults. The importance of positive role models and the dangers of negative role models should not be underestimated.

Learning the boundaries between anger (emotion) and violence (physical force) is an important developmental task for all people and all cultures. It is possible to have angry feelings without turning those feelings into angry actions or violent behaviors. Expressing anger in a nonviolent way can be healthy. However, parents, adult mentors, media, and community leaders first must model nonviolent conflict-resolution skills for young people to learn them.

Social Modeling And Self-Regulation

Social psychologist Albert Bandura has been studying social modeling, observational learning, aggression, and self-regulation since the 1970s. Banduras theories indicate that role models (social modeling) can influence people toward creativity or toward violence. If children observe violent behavior at home, in school, or on television, they may come to believe that turning angry feelings into angry actions is acceptable behavior. When these children become angry themselves, they will display the behaviors they have observed, and they even may create new angry behaviors that go beyond what they have learned from their models.

Another important aspect of Banduras research focuses on self-direction and self-efficacy, or peoples beliefs about their own abilities to influence and affect the world around them. If children observe adults failing to control their own angry feelings or violent behaviors, or if they observe violent behavior going unpunished, they may come to believe that peaceful behaviors cannot succeed or are not worthwhile activities. They may lose their motivation to learn cooperative problem-solving skills, or they may quit before they achieve success in using these skills.

How Is Violence Treated and Prevented?

People who experience or witness violence should react immediately. Police and violence hotlines should be called in an emergency. People who have been injured should be taken to a clinic or hospital emergency room for treatment. When an immediate crisis has ended, a family doctor or school counselor or member of the clergy should be contacted for counseling and referrals. Shelters and child protection agencies can help battered women and children. Counseling can help batterers and their families to learn better behaviors for managing stress, conflict, and anger. Therapists can help people with post-traumatic stress disorder* achieve emotional recovery from the aftermath of violence.

* post-traumatic stress disorder
is a mental disorder in which people who have survived a terrifying event relive their terror in nightmares, memories, and feelings of fear. It is severe enough to interfere with everyday living and can occur after a natural disaster, military combat, rape, mugging, or other violence.

Students and faculty gather for a memorial on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. On April 20, 1999, two students killed 12 classmates and one teacher before taking their own lives. Reuters Newmedia Inc./Corbis

Those who commit violent acts or have violent or angry feelings need to receive treatment. Emotional problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and other conditions which make a person more violence-prone need to be dealt with. The social forces that prevent violencefamily, friends, and the communityneed to take positive steps to make violence less likely and to increase safety.

Physical violence is never an acceptable form of behavior. Everyone has choices. Becoming aware of the problems, deciding not to follow violent patterns, and making a commitment to learn new ways of relating are the keys to change. It is never too late to change the pattern of violence in families, communities, or society.

See also


Antisocial Personality Disorder


Conduct Disorder


Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Personality Disorders

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder




Nemours Center for Childrens Health Media, Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, 1600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE 19803. This organization is dedicated to issues of childrens health and produces the KidsHealth website. Its website has articles about violence.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This government agency posts fact sheets at its website covering youth violence, domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and violence in the workplace.

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vi·o·lence / ˈvī(ə)ləns/ • n. behavior involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. ∎  strength of emotion or an unpleasant or destructive natural force: the violence of her own feelings. ∎  Law the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force. PHRASES: do violence to damage or adversely affect.

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Violence. See Aggression and Violence.

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