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Fact Sheet

Interpersonal violence


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What is interpersonal violence?

Interpersonal violence occurs when one person uses power and control over another through physical, sexual, or emotional threats or actions, economic control, isolation, or other kinds of coercive behavior. Some different types of interpersonal violence include:

Abuse is any behavior toward another person that is physically violent or involves emotional coercion, or both and one person is in a position of authority.

Bullying which is a type of harassment that can be either verbal or physical, or both. It can also take the form of coercion where someone is threatened by another person and as a result of those threats, the bully’s victim feels intimidated and pressured into acting a certain way or doing a certain thing. Bullying can occur in all settings – school, work, home, neighborhood and the internet.

Dating/Relationship Violence occurs when one intimate or romantic partner tries to maintain power and control over the other through words and actions that are physically and emotionally abusive. Dating violence can take many forms including physical violence, coercion, threats, intimidation, isolation, and emotional, sexual or economic abuse. It occurs in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships and can be instigated by either males or females. Women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest per capita rates of intimate violence—nearly 20 per 1000 women. (Bureau of Justice Special Report: Intimate Partner Violence, May 2000). Some examples of dating violence include: hitting, slapping, kicking, punching, strangling, holding down, abandoning in a dangerous place, and forcing or attempting to force unwanted sexual acts.

Sexual Violence is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to. It includes inappropriate touching; vaginal, anal, or oral penetration; sexual intercourse that a person says no to; rape or attempted rape; sexual harassment, threats or peeping. Sexual violence can be verbal, visual, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. Examples of this are voyeurism (when someone watches private sexual acts), exhibitionism (when someone exposes him/herself in public), incest (sexual contact between family members), and sexual harassment. (Taken from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Information website. See below for more information on accessing this website).

Youth Violence refers to aggressive behaviors, including slapping, hitting, kicking, bullying, punching, fist fighting and knife fighting, as well as robbery, rape and homicide.

Gang Violence refers to acts of aggression and violence and criminal activity committed by a group of peers where the group usually has an identity (e.g. a name; a sign; a neighborhood). In some neighborhoods, the pressure to join a gang occurs early and can be very difficult to resist. Members often join to feel a sense of family and community, and to achieve power and respect. On the flipside, members may worry about their own safety and fears of being abused by others in the gang. Gang members include both males and females.

What triggers violence?

There are a number of reasons why a person might become violent. For example, he or she might be angry, frustrated, or sad; or trying to control another person; or just generally short tempered.

A person’s belief system might also influence how the person behaves. A person who acts aggressively or violently may believe that violence is an acceptable way to deal with anger or an acceptable way to get something that the person wants. The person may also have grown up in a family where violence was part of how family members interacted with each other.

Some ways to stop being violent

Violence is not O.K., and nobody should have to put up with it. Being angry, confused or frustrated are all normal emotions, and there are non-violent ways of expressing these emotions. If you’re having trouble managing your anger, you might want to check out the Anger fact sheet and the Anger and violent behavior: what’s the connection fact sheet.

Deciding to do something about your violent behavior is a big step and it takes a lot of courage.

Look at what makes you violent. To stop this behavior, it might be useful to make a list of the things that trigger your violent behavior. This could be a person, a situation, a mood, or drugs and alcohol. By knowing what triggers your violent behavior, you can start to avoid these things or try to work out ways to deal with the situation.

Who is affected by your violent behavior? Does it hurt anyone physically or emotionally? Do you want to have safe and secure relationships, or do you want people to be scared of you? These questions might help you see how your violent behavior can negatively affect you and the people around you.

Talk to someone. Putting an end to violent behavior is not always easy, and having someone to support you can be helpful. You don’t have to do it by yourself. A counselor or another mental health professional might be able to help you find ways to deal with your violent behavior. Check out the Get Help section for more info about these providers.

Drugs, alcohol and violence

Using drugs and alcohol increases the likelihood that a person might act in a violent way. If you’re finding that you become violent while drinking or taking drugs, you might want to look at ways to better manage your drug and alcohol intake. A counselor or other mental health professional who specializes in addictions counseling can help you do this. Check out the Get Help section for more information on how these professionals can help.

Information for this fact sheet

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center

The National Center for Victims of Crime, National Dating Resource Center

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Information

If you are a victim of sexual assault, call a friend or family member you trust. You also can call a crisis center or a hotline to talk with a trained volunteer. One hotline is the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) at 1-800-656-4673.

Feelings of shame, guilt, fear, and shock are normal. It is important to get counseling from a trusted professional. The US Department of Health and Human Services, Women’s Health Information website provides additional information about what to do if you have been sexually assaulted.

Last reviewed: Feb 28, 2013

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