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Social Perspectives on Violence

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Violence is not a single kind of activity, but rather a socially defined category of activities that share some common features. This article presents a social perspective on violence that calls attention to the meanings of violence and to other social factors that promote and support or, alternatively, oppose and restrict violence. Implications for prevention and intervention are examined.

Key Words: violence, theory, social, constructionism, systems

  Violence is a social phenomenon. For an action to be considered violent, it needs a victim or a group of victims. The interpersonal nature of violence seems to call for explanations or understandings that also are interpersonal. Rather than look inside the perpetrator for the causes of violence, social perspectives look in the social situation for factors that may explain why violence is not universal but instead varies in frequency and intensity. The social question is not, "Why does violence occur?" but rather "Why does this naturally occurring, socially undesirable activity happen more in some circumstances than in others?" Attention to the social aspects of violence can seem to excuse individual actions and, as a result, to encourage more violence. Rather, this review is intended to help prevent violence by contributing to the understandings of the social influences contributing to violence.

Social Realities

People's individual experiences become social as they are shared. Individuals can be in the same place or be exposed to the same events electronically, or they can use a symbolic means to communicate their experiences to others. It is the combined experiences of many individuals, shared in these ways, that makes up a culture, a society, or a family. Within cultures, societies, and families, shared experiences are organized into categories of events referred to variously as concepts, constructs, and schemas.

The social construction of reality occurs naturally at an informal level. Informal conversations about events and experiences tend to take the form of "accounts "—naturally occurring conversations in which people attempt to make sense of an experience (Scott & Lyman, 1968). An older person is jostled by a group of young people, returns to his or her peers, and talks about how and where it occurred, about who was present and how the bystanders responded, and about the characteristics of the assailants, etc. As such accounts are shared, a social group builds a model of common experience in which the personal experience becomes universal and members of the group see each other and their social world in similar ways. It is not only the "victim" who participates in constructing such accounts; the "aggressor" as well relives the experience with others who see the event in similar ways (e.g., Blumenthal-Kahn, 1972; Brown, 1974). In many cases, the account works to justify further or increased violence (Staub, 1990).

In the formal process of theory-building, scholars also attempt to understand and to explain social phenomena. Scholars are expected to recognize the limitations of their shared experience, rather than to generalize their conclusions to all people and all situations. Scholars are also expected to be careful and methodical about their ways of gathering and handling information. Theorists may organize events sequentially, looking at the causal factors and consequences of violence, or they may organize events into abstractions—such as levels of violence or forces acting on individuals to create violence. As opposed to popular accounts, formal theories are supposed to undergo a rigorous examination to determine their validity (their faithfulness to the data) and their usefulness. Quite different theories may each be useful in different ways, and each may also be valid as it describes a part of the whole experience. Some social theorists have attempted to create "metatheories" that incorporate and reconcile a number of more limited, specific theories.

The social approach to violence includes both formal and informal understandings. What these understandings have in common is their emphasis on the common—rather than the individual—experience. Because of this emphasis on shared experience in social groupings, social theories are most useful in suggesting ways in which behavior change can be accomplished by addressing social phenomena rather than by attempting to alter the individual.

The Social Construction of Violence

Violence was not always the concern that it now is (Brown, 1979). In the past, some violent acts were integrated into society by either justifying the violent actions or by attributing the actions to individual psychopathology. In the family environment, the violent male was seen as enforcing a natural rule that men should direct the activities of their wives and children. Violence in a political context—war and revolution—was seen as the inevitable outcome when opposing rulers struggled over resources or when an oppressed people attempted to free themselves. When the actions of an individual or a group of individuals were too hard to justify, societies protected themselves by judging the offender(s) to be different from other people. Over the years, such individuals were viewed as possessed by devils, suffering from brain fever, mentally retarded, or having missing out on emotional connections with other humans.

There are continuing debates about whether or not society has actually become more violent (Warr, 1994). Popular accounts describe a changed world—one in which the idyllic community of the 1950s has given way to a violent society characterized by drug wars, sexual assaults on children, robbery and killing on neighborhood streets, and violence in school corridors. Some scholars challenge these accounts, suggesting that the peaceful community—if it ever existed—was not as prevalent in Western societies as in various tribal or indigenous societies (Knauft, 1994). Social harmony, then, is only one kind of social experience: one from which it may be possible to learn how to help modern communities move toward the ideal of a violence-free society.

One viewpoint explains the apparent change in violence as the breakdown of a "myth" that prevailed in Western society (see Brown, 1979; Steinmetz & Straus, 1974). According to this view, the myth of harmonious, loving families participating in a society which offered freedom from pain, oppression, and want was perpetuated by a small group of the elite who controlled public images. People whose lives did not conform to the myth lived "on the other side of the tracks" and their social experience—one in which family beatings, assaults in public places, starvation and sexual exploitation were common—was not shared with the larger society. The myth has been exposed as modern transportation and modern communication have eliminated social barriers, making violence visible (Marr, 1994).

Other scholars explain the apparent change as one of social redefinition; the social category of violence has been expanded (Gelles & Straus, 1979; Reiss & Roth, 1993). Coercive sexual behavior serves as a good example of this redefinition (see Koss & Cook, 1993; Yllo, 1993). Not so long ago in the U.S., commonly held assumptions about human sexuality served to condone men's use of force and manipulation in overcoming women's sexual refusals. Such behavior was considered acceptable because it was believed that women were intensely ambivalent about sex and therefore the man was doing the woman a favor. Changing social assumptions, especially an increased concern with the psychological effects of involuntary sexual activity, have gradually led to an environment in which more and more people agree that marital rape is a form of violence. Attitudes toward corporal punishment of children are beginning to change in the same way (e.g., Turner & Finkelhor, 1996).

Despite the possible challenges to such perceptions, it remains likely that violence levels in the U.S. have increased. Increases in reported violent crimes and in incarcerations can be documented (Cohen & Canela-Cacho, 1994), and certain kinds of violence are clearly more prevalent (Reiss & Roth, 1993). Public attitudes demonstrate high anxiety about violence, leading to changes in lifestyles and even place of residence (Warr, 1994). Formal theorizing about violence should both assist in understanding any changes and help to guide efforts to reduce levels of violence.

Social Theories

Social theories of violence can be grouped into several categories; only a few of these categories will be reviewed in this paper. The reader will detect some overlapping concepts, and indeed some theories include essentially the same elements—differing only in the ways in which the elements are seen as interacting.


According to this broad theoretical tradition (e.g., Parsons, 1977), social groups have a number of functional requisites; certain needs must be met in order for a social group to survive. Various lists of functional requisites have appeared over the years. The following examples serve to illustrate the approach.

Social and political change. Families, communities, and nations often evolve in ways that benefit some of their members and work to the disadvantage of others. Societies have created a variety of mechanisms including elections, courts, and mediation with the intent of facilitating change and eliminating injustice. But such mechanisms have their limitations. For example, courts create a need for either education or money to guarantee a fair hearing of a grievance. Violence is often explained as the only alternative for individuals and groups who do not see a nonviolent way to break out of a position of disadvantage.

Social stability. Many of the mechanisms that serve the goal of social change have been created by a powerful elite with a goal of ensuring that change happens gradually and doesn't threaten their privileges. In this case, violence is seen as a natural response when a social heirarchy is threatened. The Watergate incident and the highly publicized beating of Rodney King brought out viewpoints of this kind; many people did not doubt that official misconduct had occurred, but they considered such tactics as necessary if society was to be defended against internal disruption or external attack.

Socialization. Children must be taught the expectations of their social group and must be helped to acquire the skills and understandings to take their place in the group. Violence may result when children do not acquire necessary skills to handle interpersonal relationships, to manage their own lives, and to become economically self-sufficient. Effective socialization requires more than just the presence of adults who can teach skills. Farrington (1991), for example, found deficiencies in the parenting experiences of violent adolescents; their childhood was characterized by harsh discipline, lack of nurturance, and poor supervision.

Stress management. Since there can be no such thing as a stress-free society, every social group must manage stress; companionship, play, and sex are among the aspects of social life that can serve a stress management function. Linsky, Bachman, and Straus (1995) documented a connection between stress levels and levels of violence. When stress management fails, either through decreasing effectiveness of familiar approaches or through increases in stress beyond the group's capacity, it seems that violence is among the likely outcomes.

Conflict management. Conflict theorists suggest that conflict is a positive force in society and that human groups must handle conflicts in productive ways. Sprey (1974) described the informal mechanisms that traditional community and family structures offered for the management of conflict. For example, in the extended/multigenerational household any conflict between intimates could be mediated by others who were not as intensely involved. Neighborhoods also offered ready access to concerned others who could assist with a family or other dispute. Lacking the support of concerned others, disputants may use violence in an attempt to achieve resolution.

Control. Social control is another essential function; a society needs ways to ensure that its members do not harm each other. Violence, from this perspective, demonstrates failures in the control process. Research supports this theory: Shaw and McKay (1942) identified a high correlation between ethnic heterogeneity, low socioeconomic status, residential mobility, and delinquency. They theorized that neighborhoods lacking stable, cohesive networks of informal social control experience more problems with youth gangs and violence. Formal social control also is associated with violence; Wilson (1987) has pointed out that law enforcement is inconsistent in "ecological niches" characterized by drug sales and high crime.

Functionalist contributions. Functional analysis has identified many factors that may help to explain contemporary violence. Many people consider violence to be a necessity that comes into play when the various mechanisms of society do not address social needs. High stress levels, rapid technological, social, and economic change, and conflict between social groups make sense as contributors to violence. These understandings of violence have the advantage of leading directly to action; if a society knows what is broken, it can organize attempts to fix it. On the other hand, a functionalist approach can point to so many possible areas of change that the result is essentially a "laundry list" of problems and proposed solutions. The theory does not explain how to set priorities or coordinate interventions.


An increasingly popular approach to violence views human interaction through language, a primary symbolic tool through which people share their experiences (see Sarbin and Kitsuse, 1994). Constructionist theories of violence focus on discourse themes—shared meanings—that either justify violent acts or else redefine violence so that it is acceptable behavior. Three such discourse themes will be examined here.

Gender and family violence. Violence is strongly associated with gender; males not only commit more violent acts, they also are the primary consumers of entertainment with violent themes (Kruttschnitt, 1994). The constructionist theory of gendered violence suggests that men perpetuate this pattern in their discourse (Blumenthal, Kahn, Andrews, & Head, 1972). Anecdotal evidence seems to support this idea. Boys differentiate themselves from girls with shared play themes of fighting monsters and evildoers. Elementary school boys make threats, deride weaker boys, and encourage aggressors. In this male social reality, the person who can be victimized deserves it; being dominated in any way is a source of humiliation. For the young male, winning is the only thing that is important. Young men's stories revolve around potential if not actual violence, and violent episodes are a necessity if one is to really validate one's masculinity.

Young men also typically become interested in girls and sex; sexual success is valued by the male peer group. But girls, despite their presumed inferiority, control access to this valued activity and the young male is in danger of being dominated. The male solution to this dilemma is coercion. Women, according to the male myth, don't even know how much they like sex; the male believes that he must introduce the reluctant female to this activity, and assumes that she will be eternally loyal to the man who first gives her sexual fulfillment.

Caring, on the other hand, is a job to be left to the specialists: women. Love is seen as a sign of weakness, a sure way of being distracted from the fight. Bull Meachum, the Marine fighter pilot depicted in the film The Great Santini , gradually taught his son that no matter how much it hurts, he must become tough and distant so that he can take over the role of protecting his loved ones. Meachum also told a colleague of his discomfort being "a warrior without a war." In a real-life parallel, General Westmoreland was quoted during the Vietnam war as justifying the violence of his off-duty soldiers. It was not fair, he said, to expect people to be trained killers six days a week and Sunday-school teachers the seventh.

The power of this male discourse is supported by research. Linsky, Bachman, and Straus (1995) found that rape was a more likely response to stress when cultural norms favored violence, women's status was low, and men viewed women primarily as sex objects. Other studies have found attitudes "conducive to rape"—negative views of women, resentment and fear of domination, and beliefs about women's ambivalence toward sex—in a variety of male samples (Reiss & Roth, 1993).

The violent society. Graham (1979) argued that the American tradition is one in which violence is a constant theme. The preferred version of history emphasizes the rule of law, the development of effective political mechanisms, and cooperative efforts. But folklore (Lynn, 1979) and official histories feature a series of violent conflicts and the exploits of violent heroes. The U.S. was founded on violent overthrow of a civil authority, and its children have been brought up to emulate a series of violent role models: Hopalong Cassidy, the U.S. Cavalry, G.I. Joe, the Six-Million-Dollar Man, and—more recently—the X-men, Ninja Turtles, and Power Rangers. Carrie Nation is remembered because she was violent, and most Americans feel some personal pride in winning two world wars.

The American fascination with violence is not only focused on violent heroes, however. Victims of violence, displayed in newspapers and on television news, bring to life another part of the discourse: fear. Fear of an enemy helps to justify more violence. An armed citizenry stands ready to attack, but cannot agree on the identity of the enemy. In contemporary society the young are still being trained to be killers; video games have enabled the child in the 1990s to develop perceptual skills and eye-hand coordination in preparation for space wars as well as street warfare. But these young people are also growing up in a world where cooperative efforts are increasingly valued and violence is increasingly punished. As the number of arrests for violence is increasing, the number of individuals imprisoned for violence also increases. But the ideal remains the same; toughness is valued, and the young know what really matters. The societal response—meeting violence with violence—does nothing to alter the theme.

Economic and racial segregation. Violence also seems to be more common among groups who are excluded from the mainstream (Reiss & Roth, 1993). A constructionist theory of such marginalization calls attention to differing views of opportunity and success. Among those who see themselves excluded from well-paying employment, success through nonviolent means seems to be based on luck. Stories told in the economically deprived underclass are more likely to describe the folk hero who "got over" on the wealthy than the person who succeeded through hard work, study, and consistency. Not only do marginalized groups generally lack skills that are obtained only through family socialization or extended schooling, but many of their members exhibit patterns of behavior—speech and dress, for example—that limit their access to higher-status jobs (Reiss & Roth, 1993). On the other hand, violent means to success are portrayed as highly effective and have the additional advantage that violent acts bring social recognition.

This violence-supporting discourse is promoted by the fact that members of marginalized groups are unlikely to be exposed to mainstream society where success and opportunity are described in other terms. Role models are likely to validate a belief in discrimination and limited opportunity, just as they are likely to demonstrate the success that can be achieved through violent means. Young people may grow up with detailed knowledge of guns, but lacking equivalent knowledge of appropriate behavior.

Constructionist contributions. Social constructionism focuses not on the objective social system but rather on the ways in which it is understood by its members. Whereas functionalist approaches to violence call for changing the situation, constructionist approaches call for changing socially constructed views of the situation. The advantage of such an approach lies in its ability to identify and describe many different discourse themes that contribute to violence. The theory also suggests a strategy for change: intervene in the public and private conversations that make up the discourse. This approach empowers every person to be an agent of change even as it focuses attention on the mass communicators whose messages reach large numbers of people. The theory does not, however, describe what changes should take place to produce a discourse that does not support or encourage violence.


Finally, in the most integrative of the efforts to understand human behavior, systems theories have both philosophical and pragmatic roots. The term "system" is one that may be used in many ways. In simple usage it refers only to the fact that separate elements are connected in some way. In more sophisticated usage, systems theories predict the nature of interactions among the individuals, families, or groups that make up the system that is being studied. Bateson (1979) focused on the epistemological error of using individual-level theories (e.g., frustration) to explain phenomena at the level of a pattern of interactions. Systems approaches to intervention (e.g., Minuchin, 1974)—on the other hand—tend to focus on the practical issue of identifying the proper system level (i.e., marital dyad, household, extended family) where efforts will be most likely to succeed in resolving a problem.

Systems theorists view all social interactions as somehow patterned in ways that regulate violence—along with all other forms of behavior. System levels are nested, and each level operates according to its own rules. Feedback processes enable each level to assess its effectiveness and to make necessary modifications to continue functioning. Systems are always in a state of change but the changes do not disturb the stability of the system. Understanding the processes, however, is not sufficient for planning and implementing more permanent change. Systems theorists believe that direct efforts to change any system element will fail; the system will restore the missing piece or replace it—often in a more exaggerated form. Making a long-term change in a system problem—such as violence—requires a coordinated approach that includes an understanding of how violence fits into the system.

A complete systems analysis of violence (see Straus, 1973, for a partial example) would locate sources of violence (a) in the individuals; (b) in dyadic interactions as varied as infant/caregiver and teacher/student; and (c) in family subsystems, neighborhoods, communities, ethnic and religious groups, and the larger society. Subsystem contributions would be seen as organized in ways that both encouraged violent acts and imposed limits on violence. The various system levels would be seen responding to changing resources, challenges, opportunities, and barriers. Above all, the analysis would demonstrate that various attempts to reduce or eliminate violence seem to have instead activated a "positive feedback loop" in which the problem appears to be getting worse.

Systems contributions. Systems theory has proved most useful for sorting through complex situations and guiding action. A systems approach suggests that interventions will be most effective if they are carefully coordinated. The systems-oriented professional monitors changes at all levels as various interventions "perturb" the system. Efforts that increase the problem are stopped, even if they made sense as possible solutions. The systems approach is pragmatic; if it works, it should be continued until it stops working, at which time something else should be done.

The strength of systems theory lies in its ability to describe the relationships among events and the actors—groups and individuals—who take part in them. With this awareness it is possible to focus interventions at the levels where they are most likely to be effective and to monitor whether or not the interventions are working. Systems theory is value-free, however, and other theories are needed to suggest desired directions for change.

Implications for Prevention and Intervention

This article has summarized social understandings of violence, showing ways in which violent acts are linked to the social environment. Attempts to reduce or eliminate violence would be expected to be most effective if they use these linkages, and in fact many policymakers, teachers, social workers, and corrections personnel are familiar with social theories. But the community response to violence tends to be fragmented and inconsistent; socially-aware programs coexist with approaches based on mechanistic assumptions of individual punishment and reward. What appears to be missing is the kind of coordination and monitoring called for by an understanding of system change.

Control efforts continue to present a challenge. Violence on the part of law enforcement personnel can be seen as actually increasing the levels of violence in the community. Informal control structures offer other possibilities for nonviolent, supportive means of averting potential violence. But existing values emphasize individual autonomy at the expense of the community. A major effort is required before private citizens without official status will feel empowered to step into conflicts in their communities. In the meantime, training in nonviolent tactics needs to continue in attempts to reduce or eliminate institutional violence.

Constructionist theories point to the underlying problem: social meanings of violence. Our society should be working toward a more accurate picture of violence that includes its limitations and its costs both to the victim and to the attacker. Research on violence has already started to precipitate such a change among many professionals; they are less tolerant of violence and more willing to work toward its elimination. Other groups in society are also working to change their ways of talking about violence: Feminist groups, for example, are encouraging women to speak up for their right to a safe environment. Men—many who have recently begun to organize a discussion of their shared experience—have the potential to redefine their social world and reject violence as a solution.

The discourse of violence would lose much of its power if groups differing on gender, racial, ethnic and economic bases had more complex and realistic views of each other. Genuine dialogue should reduce the tendency to exclude "the other" (Staub, 1990) and justify violence. At the family level it has been demonstrated that genuine exchange can replace the rhetoric of power and domination: Couple relationships as well as parent-child relationships can be restructured on the basis of mutual respect. Family therapists have a singular opportunity to reduce violence, one family at a time.

Finally, the communications media carry special responsibility for the community's discourse on violence. The perception of imminent violence, for example, has come to exist largely through highly-publicized news stories. Fictional portrayals of violent heroes demonstrate unrealistic success in their ventures and rarely suffer negative consequences. Films, music videos, and television programs promote violence by creating a social reality in which violent actions are the norm. Voluntary self-censorship and an effort to build a realistic community view of violence—while difficult to imagine—offer the potential for system-wide change and virtual elimination of violence in America.

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Youth and Violent Performativities pp 15–33 Cite as

The Subjects and Objects of Violence

  • Ben Arnold Lohmeyer 5  
  • First Online: 13 June 2020

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Part of the Perspectives on Children and Young People book series (PCYP,volume 11)

Violence is not a new phenomenon. It has captured the attention of researchers in a variety of fields. In sociology, violence attracted interest as early as Durkheim’s 1897 investigation of suicide and Weber’s 1919 assertion on the state’s monopoly on violence. Today violence is an object of research in diverse fields including peace and security studies, gender studies, criminology and social policy studies. Violence is a slippery idea, which quickly changes shape and meaning (Henriksen & Bengtsson, 2018 ; von Holdt, 2013 ). This chapter provides a brief overview of this emerging field, however, rather than a literature review, I outline some of the central issues and theories to contribute a framework and to fill a gap in the field. I argue that a broad definition of violence that acknowledges unique structural and cultural dynamics make visible the production of lived-subjectivities of violence which young people perform and resist.

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‘Non-violence’ is used here to describe the assumed absence of violence or the assumption that violence is not a normal/acceptable part of society. Not to be confused with ‘nonviolence’, the deliberate attempt to avoid using violence.

The term ‘objective’ to describe violence is problematic. It invokes the positivist sciences and claims of neutrality, with which I am uncomfortable because it obscures the subjective human reality and effects of violence. It is not my intention to reinforce these unhelpful assumptions. I unpack these issues and my reasons for adopting this language in Chap. 7 . However, the term objective violence is useful as an umbrella term for non-physical violence including structural, cultural and symbolic violence (and likely more). Listing each of these terms will become increasingly impractical in this book. As a result, I will use the imperfect term objective violence.

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Lohmeyer, B.A. (2020). The Subjects and Objects of Violence. In: Youth and Violent Performativities. Perspectives on Children and Young People, vol 11. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-5542-8_2

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  • structural violence headlines

Abandoned building with crumbling gray cement exterior, looking out from inside

Structural Violence in the Headlines

Focusing only on direct violence obscures other, potentially more harmful, social injustices.

By Russell P. Johnson | November 21, 2023

After the attack in Israel last month, I saw three main responses from my friends who pay close attention to this region. The first response was horror at the violence of Hamas and an insistence that the hostilities cease and the more than 240 hostages be released. The second response was a worry about how the Israeli military would respond; the fact that more than ten thousand deaths have been reported in Gaza over the last month was as predictable as it is tragic. The history of the region shows that the casualties of violent conflicts are frequently civilians and disproportionately Palestinians . The third response was a concern that the American media wouldn’t provide sufficient context, and that popular understanding in the United States would only reflect part of the story. Even if news outlets only report facts, they have to decide which facts are included and which facts are left out. As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy says , “It is not about the truth-telling, it is about the whole truth-telling.” For many commentators , one part of the “whole truth” that is often omitted is structural violence. But what is structural violence? Is it actually violence? What is the history of this concept, and why is it being invoked now? The term “structural violence” was coined by peace theorist Johan Galtung in 1969. In this earliest formulation, structural violence was the name given to preventable social conditions that result in groups of people having unequal chances at living and thriving. Whereas in “personal or direct” violence, Galtung writes, we can easily identify the actor responsible, in structural violence “there may not be any person who directly harms another person in the structure. The violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.” For example, consider a society where a racial minority has dramatically less access to healthy food, and their life expectancies are thus lower. Responding to criticisms that peace researchers focused too narrowly on the absence of war, Galtung introduced the term “structural violence” so people who seek peace have to take social systems like these into account. As the term “structural violence” became more prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s, the focus changed slightly , in part due to critiques by Kenneth Boulding, in part due to developments in Galtung’s thinking, and in part due to peace scholars’ engagements with critical theory. The distinction between structural violence and direct violence (also called acute violence) remained, but greater emphasis was placed on how social institutions operated to deprive people of their material and psychological needs. Writing in 1986, David Gil defined structural violence as the “extent to which fundamental human needs tend to be frustrated and human development tends to be inhibited as a result of the normal workings of social institutions.” One can sometimes identify specific actors (legislators, business owners) who bear a greater responsibility for structural violence than others. But, as religion scholar Jason Springs points out , the power of structural violence lies in the fact that dehumanizing, repressive, and exploitative conditions can seem like business as usual—to perpetrators, victims, and outsiders. However one defines structural violence, the central idea is that focusing only on direct violence obscures other, potentially more harmful, social injustices. What’s more, human beings have a tendency to pay attention to direct violence and ignore structural violence. Punching someone registers on our moral Richter scale; slowly eroding their will to live does not. For those not directly affected, direct violence shouts while structural violence whispers. The Quaker Palestinian writer Jean Zaru observes , “The structures of violence are silent and people cannot take pictures of those.” By contrast, she writes , “television captures only the direct violence.” Even that, Zaru notes, is selective; the direct violence of the Israeli military tends to be depicted in the West as preserving “law and order,” if it is depicted at all. Like police violence in the United States, this direct violence is rarely deemed exceptional enough to merit publicity. Though a pacifist herself, Zaru criticizes Western pacifists who criticize direct violence in Israel and Palestine while remaining silent about structural violence. A bombing makes headlines in the way that restricting access to water does not. One is seen as noteworthy, the other is seen as normal. One arouses our moral outrage, the other might not stop us from scrolling. Even journalists who want to provide more context for the situation in Gaza tend to focus more on paroxysms of direct violence—1948, 1967, 1987, 2014—than the day-to-day experiences of people in the occupied territories. But as Ian Black reminds us in his history of the conflict, “Underlying structures, attitudes, and routines matter as much as the endless ‘newsworthy’ events that erupt from them.” This is why commentators insist that structural violence must not be ignored as we try to make sense of the present situation. Muhannad Ayash argued in April, “Israeli violence is first and foremost structural. It involves the dehumanization of the Palestinian people in Israeli culture, education, and politics; the checkpoints; the apartheid wall; the besiegement of the Gaza Strip; the home demolitions; the permits system; the economic hardships Palestinians suffer; the restrictions on Palestinian access to healthcare and social services; the imprisonment; the denial of the freedom of movement; the limited access to holy places; the stealing of Palestinian lands; the building and expansion of illegal settlements, and so on.” These realities do not justify or excuse Hamas’s violence, but they are necessary to explain it. Our tendency to react to direct violence while ignoring structural violence has wreaked havoc on the world countless times. As human beings, we are so easily lulled to sleep by the white noise of repression and hypnotized by the routinization of recrimination. The journalistic dictum “If it bleeds, it leads” is a scathing indictment on our moral short-sightedness. Of course, the fact that it took the horrors of the Holocaust for many Europeans to recognize structural violence against Jews is another important and tragic part of the “whole truth.” In a recent interview , Palestinian scholar and nonviolence advocate Daniel Bannoura expressed gratitude that American Christians are taking an interest in Palestine, but also frustration that it took the Hamas attack and Israeli retaliation to spark this interest. The fact that many people around the world don’t pay attention to structural violence gives power to the occupation; the fact that they do pay attention to direct violence gives power to Hamas. The international tendency to shine a spotlight on exceptional acts of direct violence encourages militant groups to use tactics of terror to get their points across. I write this by way of confession. After all, this column is part of the very problem I am criticizing. I’m writing in response to acute violence rather than in response to steady, bureaucratic devastation. I’m reacting to what’s already in the headlines rather than actively seeking to listen to people suffering under what Martin Luther King Jr. calls a “negative peace.” At best, I hope that these words can help all of us, myself included, reflect on what gets overlooked when we allow our moral agendas be dictated by the news cycle. Zaru writes, “Without justice, there is no peace, even in the absence of open strife.” As a nonviolent activist, she has dedicated her life to humanizing Palestinians and Israelis and to challenging violence of all kinds. While I hope the direct violence ends soon, I also hope we will have the presence of mind to recognize violence and demand justice “even in the absence of open strife.” Featured photograph by Alexandros Giannakakis via Unsplash  


Russell P. Johnson

Columnist, Russell Johnson (PhD’19), is Assistant Director of the Undergraduate Religious Studies Program at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His research focuses on antagonism, nonviolence, and the philosophy of communication. 

See All Articles by Russell P. Johnson

The Many Ways We Have Failed Young People Amid the Gun Violence Crisis


McAbee is a poet, essayist, and theologian, whose work has appeared in TIME, The New York Times, The Hudson Review, The Sun (US), and a variety of other publications. He has spoken widely in university and congregational settings throughout the US and the UK. He works as Professor of Religion and the Arts at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.

O n Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023 Jillian Ludwig’s family returned home to New Jersey from Nashville. They’d traveled to Tennessee two days earlier, after Jillian, a freshman music business major, was found unconscious from a bullet wound , around 3:30pm at the Edgehill Community Garden, less than half a mile from the university and only two blocks from Nashville’s famed Music Row.

In my 12 and a half years as a professor at Belmont, our community, like so many others, has been wounded time and again by our nation’s and our state’s gun violence crisis. The Covenant School shooting in March 2023 impacted us deeply. Some in our community are members of the Covenant Presbyterian congregation, at least one faculty member had a child at the school on the day of the shooting, and many, like myself, are close friends with Covenant School families, whose lives have been irreparably changed.

Gun violence has impacted the Belmont student body before. In 2018, for instance, 21-year-old Belmont student DeEbony Groves was killed in the racially motivated Waffle House Shooting, which claimed four lives. And while our campus has largely been spared direct violence over the years, it is not uncommon for Campus Security to send email messages regarding armed robberies or gunfire that have occurred on the outskirts of campus.

Like so many universities across the country, we’ve also lost students to suicide, part of our country’s mental health crisis and epidemic of loneliness. A number of those have involved guns—both on and off campus.

In Jillian’s case, she was shot in the head by a stray bullet, approximately an hour before she was discovered by a passerby. Once found, she was rushed to nearby Vanderbilt Hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries the following night. Shaquille Taylor, a 29-year-old Nashville resident, has been charged in the incident. Taylor was apparently firing at a car on the same block as the Community Garden, where Jillian was walking.

As my classes met the day after Jillian’s death, I asked students how they were processing this trauma. Many spoke about their fear. Some already worried about going out at night in Nashville, and now, since this tragedy occurred in broad daylight, even the daytime seems scary. One spoke of a deep grief, as their friend group included students who knew Jillian.

A number of students shared feeling dismay at their initial reaction of not having a reaction. They spoke of feeling that gun violence is such a part of our culture that even the death of someone a couple of blocks from their own campus did not feel shocking. This apathy unnerved them.

Read More: How Do We Respond to this Hell. In Nashville After the Shooting

One student spoke poignantly of having a feeling of failure. They said, “I feel like Nashville failed Jillian, failed her family. This family entrusted our city with their child, and we failed her. We failed them.”

For years, my own reaction to the gun violence in our culture was much like the students who came to fear their own apathy. It’s not that my heart wasn’t moved at hearing of the victims of gun violence, it’s that I couldn’t bring myself to find a way to act, a way to move forward.

The children and teachers at Sandy Hook, at Uvalde , the students and professors at Virginia Tech , the day-to-day violence of our culture, domestic abuse victims, robberies gone wrong—the overwhelming number of deaths from gun violence anesthetizes many of us and keeps us from turning our apathy into grief, our grief into action.

I continue to be struck by the words of the student who felt like we’d failed Jillian and her family. I asked that student, “Shouldn’t you feel safe here too? Haven’t we failed you? Haven’t we failed you all?”

As these students’ professor and the middle-aged parent of two small children, I can’t help but ask, how many ways have we failed the young people in our communities?

In the case of Jillian Ludwig and her family, our city, state, and country have failed on so many fronts. Taylor, the accused assailant, has a history of violent crime . In 2021, he shot into a vehicle which held a Mom and her two small children. Having been arrested for this crime, he was determined by three court-appointed doctors to be incompetent to stand trial, due to an intellectual disability and language impairment . By federal law, someone who cannot understand their crime cannot be tried, and based on Tennessee state law, there is an unreasonably high bar for someone to meet the standard of involuntary commitment to an institution. So, Taylor walked free for a crime eerily like the scenario that led to Jillian’s death.

As recently as September 2023, Taylor was arrested for being in possession of a stolen truck, one which had been carjacked at gun point by two assailants wearing ski masks. While there had not been sufficient evidence to link Taylor directly to the carjacking, he was arrested and released for possessing the stolen vehicle and missed his November 3rd court appearance.

Tennessee failed the Ludwig family—and Taylor, himself—by not providing adequate care for Taylor’s disability. Additionally, despite Taylor’s intellectual disability and criminal background, he is still legally allowed to possess a gun in the state of Tennessee, as we have no Extreme Risk Protection Order, or “red flag law” on the books.

In the weeks after the Covenant School shooting earlier this year, thousands upon thousands of Tennesseans marched and held vigils at our Capitol and across our state. A Fox News poll at the time showed that overwhelmingly, over 80% of US voters , across the political spectrum, support common sense gun safety measures aimed at curbing gun violence.

Despite pleas for change, our state legislature failed to take any action on gun safety measures during its regular session. In August 2023, Gov. Bill Lee called a special session of the legislature in order to address the gun safety crisis. This too was a debacle. Many of the mothers from the Covenant School were treated with contempt by Republican legislators. The Senate attempted to adjourn almost immediately. The House attempted to curb the free speech of protestors within the Capitol, and Gov. Lee failed to push through any effectual change.

Despite the claim by many religious people that this is a nation built on Christian values, we operate as a society without a meaningful social ethos. The fabric of our culture is being torn in myriad directions, and the job of mending it must be the responsibility of us all, particularly in areas where we have such broad popular consensus as gun safety reform.

So far, my university’s response has been primarily pastoral and rightly so. Our community is wounded. Our University President Rev. Dr. Greg Jones and his wife, Rev. Susan Pendleton Jones, have publicly attempted to create space for mourning and belonging for Belmont staff and students.

We have been told that Campus Security is liaising with Metro Police regarding the neighborhoods in our vicinity, but certainly this type of coordination was already occurring before Jillian lost her life to a bullet in the shadow of our university.

In the midst of this mourning, there are signs of hope and moral courage from my university’s leadership. One Belmont Board member, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, has been an outspoken advocate for gun safety reform, participating in a vigil with Covenant moms and publicly advocating for gun safety legislation. Another, Rev. Dr. Clay Stauffer , serves as Chair of the Advisory Board of Voices for a Safer Tennessee, a conservative-leaning, nonpartisan gun safety advocacy group, formed in the wake of the Covenant shooting. In addition to these, Belmont’s Board Chair, Milton Johnson has himself become an Advisory Board member at Voices for a Safer Tennessee. His active support of Voices for a Safer Tennessee holds much weight in our community and our region. These members’ leadership on this issue serves a sign of hope that our university will act with moral courage in the best interests of our staff and students in advocating for meaningful gun safety reform.

The needle for gun safety reform is moving slowly in Tennessee and throughout much of the country. But it is moving. With overwhelming electoral support across the political spectrum, I believe that we can see significant gun safety reform in our communities, but it will take active engagement from the overwhelming majority of Americans.

We must continue to pressure our elected officials to make common sense gun safety reform a reality. Continuing to fail has already been too costly for far too many families.

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Module 10: Marriage and Family

Violence and abuse, learning outcomes.

  • Describe the social and interpersonal impact of family abuse

People placing crime scene tape around the front of a house.

Figure 1.  Thirty percent of women who are murdered are killed by their intimate partner. What does this statistic reveal about societal patterns and norms concerning intimate relationships and gender roles? (Photo courtesy of Kathy Kimpel/flickr)

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a significant social problem in the United States. It is often characterized as violence between household or family members, specifically spouses. To include unmarried, cohabitating, and same-sex couples, family sociologists have created the term  intimate partner violence (IPV) . (Note that healthcare and support personnel, researchers, or victims may use these terms or related ones interchangeably to refer to the same general issue of violence, aggression, and abuse.) According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men. Women are the primary victims of intimate partner violence. It is estimated that one in five women has experienced some form of IPV in her lifetime (compared to one in seven men) (Catalano 2007).

IPV may include physical violence, such as punching, kicking, or other methods of inflicting physical pain; sexual violence, such as rape or other forced sexual acts; threats and intimidation that imply either physical or sexual abuse; and emotional abuse, such as harming another’s sense of self-worth through words or controlling another’s behavior. IPV often starts as emotional abuse and then escalates to other forms or combinations of abuse (Centers for Disease Control 2012). IPV includes stalking as well as technological violence (sometimes called cyber aggression), which is committed through communications/social networks or which uses cameras or other technologies to harm victims or control their behavior (Watkins 2016).About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner and reported an IPV-related impact during their lifetime (Centers for Disease Control 2018).

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, IPV affects different segments of the population at different rates with American Indian and Alaskan Native women experiencing the highest levels of IPV at 48 percent compared to 47 percent among multiracial women, 45 percent for Black women, 37 percent for white women, 34 percent for Latinas, and 18 percent Asian/Pacific Islander women. Contact sexual violence, which includes rape and unwanted sexual contact, is experienced by 42.6 percent of women and 24.8 percent of men in the U.S. (Centers for Disease Control 2018). Bisexual women are most likely (61 percent) to experience rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner compared to 44 percent of lesbians, 37 percent of bisexual men, 35 percent of heterosexual women, 29 percent of heterosexual men, and 26 percent of gay men.

Link to Learning

For visual representations of this survey data, please see the link at the Intimate Partner Violence Fact Sheet .

Accurate statistics on IPV are difficult to determine, as it is estimated that more than half of nonfatal IPV goes unreported. It is not until victims choose to report crimes that patterns of abuse are exposed. Most victims studied stated that abuse had occurred for at least two years prior to their first report (Carlson, Harris, and Holden 1999). People who have the most to lose by reporting domestic violence, such as women who are in arranged marriages, lack U.S. citizenship, and/or are homeless or involved with the criminal justice system, are likely the most undercounted in these victimization surveys. Also, studies and research methods apply a range of categories, which makes comparative or reinforcing data difficult to obtain. For example, some studies may only ask about IPV in two categories (for example, physical and sexual violence only) and may find fewer respondents reporting IPV than do studies that add psychological abuse, stalking, and technological violence.

Sometimes abuse is reported to police by a third party, but it still may not be confirmed by victims. A study of domestic violence incident reports found that even when confronted by police about abuse, 29 percent of victims denied that abuse occurred. Surprisingly, 19 percent of their assailants were likely to admit to abuse (Felson, Ackerman, and Gallagher 2005). According to the National Criminal Victims Survey, victims cite varied reasons why they are reluctant to report abuse, as shown in the table below.

IPV against LGBTQ people is generally higher than it is against non-LGBTQ people. Gay men report experiencing IPV in their lifetimes less often (26 percent) than straight men (29 percent) or bisexual men (37 percent). 44 percent of lesbian women report experiencing some type of IPV in their lifetime, compared to 35 percent of straight women. 61 percent of bisexual women report experiencing IPV, a much higher rate than any other sexual orientation frequently studied. Studies regarding intimate partner violence against transgender people are relatively limited, but several are ongoing. A meta-analysis of available information indicated that physical IPV had occurred in the lifetimes of 38 percent of transgender people, and 25 percent of transgender people had experienced sexual IPV in their lifetimes. Compared with cisgender individuals, transgender individuals were 1.7 times more likely to experience any IPV (Peitzmeier 2020).

Many college students encounter IPV, as well. Overall, psychological violence seems to be the type of IPV college students face most frequently, followed by physical and/or sexual violence (Cho & Huang, 2017). Of high schoolers who report being in a dating relationship, 10% experience physical violence by a boyfriend or girlfriend, 7% experience forced sexual intercourse, and 11% experience sexual dating violence. Seven percent of women and four percent of men who experience IPV are victimized before age 18 (NCJRS 2017). IPV victimization during young adulthood, including the college years, is likely to lead to continuous victimization in adulthood, possibly throughout a lifetime (Greenman & Matsuda, 2016)

Watch It: Why Does She Stay?

Leslie Morgan Steiner tells her story of experiencing severe domestic violence as a young woman. Listen carefully as she describes the stages of domestic violence. What are the early signs?

After watching the TEDTalk, do you have an answer to the question, “Why does she stay?”

What does a  typical  domestic violence survivor look like? What can you do to end domestic violence according to Steiner?

Child Abuse

In the fiscal year 2017, approximately 4.3 million children are the subjects of Child Protective Services (CPS) Reports. This number includes duplicates (more than one report for the same child), with and the majority (65.7 percent) of these reports made by professionals such as education personnel (19.4 percent), legal and law enforcement personnel (18.3 percent), and social services personnel (11.7 percent)  [1] . Of these, 17 percent or 674,000 are classified as victims, with 74.9 percent of victims described as neglected, 18.3 percent as physically abused, and 8.6 percent as sexually abused. These victims may suffer a single maltreatment type or a combination of two or more maltreatment types. An estimated 1,720 children died of abuse and neglect at a rate of 2.32 per 100,000 children in the national population.

Infants are also often victims of physical abuse, particularly in the form of violent shaking. This type of physical abuse is referred to as shaken-baby syndrome , or abusive head trauma, which describes a group of medical symptoms such as brain swelling and retinal hemorrhage resulting from forcefully shaking or causing impact to an infant’s head. A baby’s cry is the number one trigger for shaking. Parents may find themselves unable to soothe a baby’s concerns and may take their frustration out on the child by shaking him or her violently. Other stress factors such as a poor economy, unemployment, and general dissatisfaction with parental life may contribute to this type of abuse. While there is no official central registry of shaken-baby syndrome statistics, it is estimated that each year 1,400 babies die or suffer serious injury from being shaken (Barr 2007).

In a study conducted by the Medill Justice Project using nearly 3,000 cases nationwide, 72.5 percent of those accused of shaken-baby syndrome crimes are men, while 27.5 percent are women [2] . The gender discrepancy found in this study has been attributed to socialization and to the ways in which men are, or are not, taught how to care for infants. Other studies have questioned whether males are more likely to be the perpetrators or are just more easily convicted based on their size and strength.

Corporal Punishment

Physical abuse in children may come in the form of beating, kicking, throwing, choking, hitting with objects, burning, or other methods. Injury inflicted by such behavior is considered abuse even if the parent or caregiver did not intend to harm the child. Other types of physical contact that are characterized as discipline (spanking, for example) are not considered abuse as long as no injury results (Child Welfare Information Gateway 2008).

This issue is rather controversial among modern-day people in the United States. While some parents feel that physical discipline, or corporal punishment, is an effective way to respond to bad behavior, others feel that it is a form of abuse. According to a poll conducted by ABC News, 65 percent of respondents approve of spanking and 50 percent said that they sometimes spank their child.

Tendency toward physical punishment may be affected by culture and education. Those who live in the South are more likely than those who live in other regions to spank their child. Those who do not have a college education are also more likely to spank their child (Crandall 2011). Currently, 19 states officially allow spanking in the school system; however, many parents may object and school officials must follow a set of clear guidelines when administering this type of punishment. [3] Studies have shown that spanking is not an effective form of punishment and may lead to aggression by the victim, particularly in those who are spanked at a young age (Berlin 2009).

Watch It: Child Maltreatment

Although definitions of child abuse vary, international studies conducted by the World Health Organization have shown that a quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children and 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child. Additionally, many children are subject to emotional abuse (sometimes referred to as psychological abuse) and to neglect.

In armed conflict and refugee settings, girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, exploitation and abuse by combatants, security forces, members of their communities, aid workers and others.

Watch the UNICEF clip below about the story of a child soldier in South Sudan.

Child abuse occurs at all socioeconomic and education levels and crosses ethnic and cultural lines. Just as child abuse is often associated with stresses felt by parents, including financial stress, parents who demonstrate resilience to these stresses are less likely to abuse (Samuels 2011). As a parent’s age increases, the risk of abuse decreases. Children born to mothers who are fifteen years old or younger are twice as likely to be abused or neglected by age five than are children born to mothers ages twenty to twenty-one (George and Lee 1997).

Drug and alcohol use is also a known contributor to child abuse. Children raised by substance abusers have a risk of physical abuse three times greater than other kids, and neglect is four times as prevalent in these families (Child Welfare Information Gateway 2011). Other risk factors include social isolation, depression, low parental education, and a history of being mistreated as a child. Approximately 30 percent of abused children later abuse their own children (Child Welfare Information Gateway 2006).

The Child Welfare Information Gateway from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides tools, resources, and publications related to child welfare.

  • Explain why more than half of IPV goes unreported. Why are those who are abused unlikely to report the abuse?
  • Why do you think so many CPS cases are not labeled as victims? Who has the power to make this determination and why do you think it is so difficult to substantiate these reports of child abuse?


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  • "Child Maltreatment 2017," U.S. Department of Child and Human Services. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2017.pdf#page=20 . ↵
  • "Study: Men More Likely to be Accused of Shaking Infants," Northwestern University. https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2013/08/the-medill-justice-projects-study-shows-men-far-more-likely-than-women-to-be-accused-of-violently-shaking-infants/ . ↵
  • Gershoff, E. T., & Font, S. A. (2016). Corporal Punishment in U.S. Public Schools: Prevalence, Disparities in Use, and Status in State and Federal Policy. Social policy report, 30, 1. ↵
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Sociology of Violence Research Paper

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Forms and Characteristics of Violence

In its broadest meaning, the term violence refers to a range of human activities intended to inflict harm or injury (Levine and Rosich 1996). Some acts of violence are spontaneous and informal, occurring without premeditation or structure; others are methodically planned in advance. Some violence is interpersonal, enveloping one or a few individuals; other violent acts are vastly broader and more formal, encompassing numerous victims, entire groups, or even whole societies. Violence can be directed inward as in self-destructive behavior, including suicide; it can also be aimed at other human beings. Finally, violence is frequently aimed at causing physical injury; but it might also be intended to create embarrassment or loss of face.

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Based on the informality/formality of its source as well as the amount of destruction it generates, violence can be said to range from the micro level (e.g., “Losing his temper, a man takes a knife from the kitchen drawer and stabs to death his wife”), through the midlevel (“Having planned for 13 months, two students open fire at their high school, shooting to death 12 schoolmates and a teacher”), to the macro level of behavior (“More than 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda are massacred”).

Destructive behavior directed against property may also have a basis in violence. Certain property crimes have a symbolic component that acts as a threat to do physical harm. Dating back to the end of the Civil War, for example, cross burning was historically linked to the murder of former slaves in the South who competed with whites for jobs (Lane 1997). A burning cross was designed therefore to send a threatening message not only to the primary victim but also to black Americans in general. In contemporary American society, burning a cross on the lawn of a black family that has recently moved into a previously allwhite neighborhood is taken as a threat of violence to come (Levin and McDevitt 2002).

Violence is an interdisciplinary concept, some variant of which has had a place in the research and teaching of several of the behavioral sciences. Introductory social psychology texts almost invariably contain a chapter on aggression in which the causes and consequences of microlevel (interpersonal) and midlevel forms of violence are addressed. Topics typically include issues such as frustration-aggression, the effects of punishment, and social learning. By contrast, political science texts focus mainly on macrolevel acts of violence, including war, revolution, and terrorism.

Criminologists have played a major role in conducting research into the development and maintenance of violence in society. Not surprisingly, they have focused on forms of violent behavior that have been negatively sanctioned in criminal law.

Sociologists have emphasized, however, that not all violence is criminal in nature. In fact, certain violent activity is positively sanctioned either formally or informally. During wartime, for example, the willingness to kill the enemy is regarded as a patriotic act, whereas the failure to engage the enemy in mortal combat is a punishable offense. Moreover, in middle and high schools around the country, bullies are frequently found not among the geeks, nerds, and dorks but among the most popular students. And professional boxers, wrestlers, and football players—those most adept at playing combative sports that attract large audiences—have been rewarded with salaries of millions of dollars. Moreover, their images are honorifically placed on trading cards, on T-shirts, and sometimes on the cover of celebrity magazines.

Even criminal violence can be positively sanctioned. Informal sanctions for violent behavior can be found when gang members encourage one another to fight their shared enemy. Some racist skinhead gangs permit members who have done harm to a person of color to receive their version of “merit badges,” spider web or twin-lightening bolt tattoos worn proudly on their arms and shoulders (Levin and McDevitt 2002).

The influence of roles in the construction of violence has been well-represented in the sociological literature. According to Campbell (1993), gender helps to determine whether a particular act of violence will be negatively or positively sanctioned. Traditionally, boys have been rewarded but girls punished for engaging in the same sorts of aggressive behavior.

Just as it is in the wider society, violence is an important area of interest in the field of sociology. In such courses as social problems, deviance, family violence, and criminology, violence is a major topic. Moreover, much sociological research has addressed various aspects and forms of violence, including war/genocide/terrorism, family/gender, and youth/gang violence. Such interest appears to have gained momentum in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

Origins of the Sociology of Violence

The sociological approach to violence owes much of its original form and substance to the work of nineteenth-century positivists who employed scientific observation and measurement to explain violent crime. Adolphe Quetelet (1836, 1969), a Belgian mathematician in the early nineteenth century, applied statistical techniques to the investigation of crime as a social rather than an individual phenomenon. In particular, Quetelet studied the impact of poverty, education, sex, age, and season of the year on French crime rates. Many of his findings continue, to this day, to find confirmation in social research. For example, rates of violent crime tend to rise during the summer months and are relatively high among impoverished and uneducated populations. Rates of violence over time and cross-nationally as a result of structural variables—for example, availability of firearms, expanded drug markets, racial discrimination, and exposure to violence—continue, to the present day, to occupy the attention of research sociologists (see, e.g., Beeghley 2003).

Later in the nineteenth century, French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1988, 1996) suggested that crime was both normal and inevitable and that criminal behavior had functional consequences for society. For example, crime calls the attention of society’s members to the prevalence of human suffering and the need for social change. There is no human society in which crime does not exist, according to Durkheim. Such a society would stifle all forms of creativity and demand absolute conformity from all its members. Under these conditions, positive forms of social change would be impossible.

Early sociologists examined violence in the context of a breakdown in social order. Durkheim suggested that anomie (i.e., normlessness) increases under conditions of rapid social change—that is, knowledge of the correct ways of behaving are disrupted by a weakening of traditional values and standards, so that individuals no longer see the socially prescribed rules of behavior as making sense. The guidelines for appropriate behavior fall away.

Tonnies (1963) and Simmel ([1903] 1988) advanced this view by stressing the importance of social ties that connect residents to each other and provide stability and cohesiveness. During a time of rapid social change, weak ties among residents weaken social control and make communities unstable and less safe. Also, disorder and disruption of previous orderly life lead to criminal behavior that is followed by violence.

Karl Marx (1956) was another important nineteenthcentury figure in the history of the sociology of violence. His ideas about group conflict subsequently became a basis for those contemporary sociologists who take a conflict approach.

For Marx, social class was the most basic division in any society. Under capitalism, conflict existed between those who owned the means of production and those who worked it. Capitalism also created the economic conditions responsible for various forms of crime and violence. Marx believed in the inevitability, through revolution, of an egalitarian state of communism in which workers both owned and worked the means of production. Until the utopian state of communism was achieved, however, class conflict would rule the day.

For Marx, social order was not based on consensus but on the coercion of powerful actors who established the rules of society and benefited from them. The same powerful individuals also controlled societal resources and were in charge of distributing rewards and punishments. The struggle over those resources created conflict that could escalate into violence. Resources included economic assets, political power, and moral values.

Conflict theory underlies present-day research, which has established a positive association between economic inequality and homicide rates as one of the most consistent findings in the cross-national literature on homicide (LaFree 1999). Similarly, conflict theorists have explained urban riots, including those that occurred in major cities of the United States during the 1960s, as a product of blocked or limited opportunities for economic and political development (Sears and McConahay 1973). The more recent riots during the 1990s and 2000s in Great Britain, Germany, and France, in which second- and thirdgeneration immigrant children were involved, also point to similar causes such as isolation from mainstream society, unemployment, and lack of hope for the future.

Into the twentieth century, sociologists in what was known as the Chicago School (because of their location at the University of Chicago) empirically investigated the impact of the declining social and physical conditions of a neighborhood on increases in crime and violence. A study of Chicago neighborhoods by Clifford Shaw and his associates found that delinquency was highest in areas marked by physical deterioration and a declining population. This explanation was known as the theory of social disorganization (Shaw et al. 1929).

Also early in the twentieth century, George Herbert Mead (1925) and other symbolic interactionists directed the attention of sociology to the influence of childhood socialization on an individual’s conformity or nonconformity to the social order. Mead suggested that an individual’s self develops out of social interaction. Initially, children are capable only of imitating their significant others without truly understanding the meaning of their acts. With greater cognitive maturity, they then learn to take the role of specific others—that is, to place themselves in the position of important people in their lives and to view themselves from the point of view of these individuals. Finally, to the extent that socialization is successful, children come to take the role of the generalized other, meaning that they see themselves from the standpoint of their entire language community or society. In interaction with others, they develop a consistent self-image and become law-abiding, conforming members of their social group. Conversely, those who suffer a failure in socialization are more likely to resort to crime, violence, and other forms of antisocial behavior.

Mead’s work promoted an interactionist perspective. In explaining violence, the victim is seen, from this perspective, as playing an active role in a dynamic exchange. Rather than being a passive recipient, the victim behaves in such a manner as to affect the behavior of the perpetrator who seeks to manage the impression he gives to others. Felson (1982) found, for example, that individuals are more likely to attack a victim who has insulted them. Similarly, Felson and Steadman (1983) determined that perpetrators are more likely to murder rather than assault victims who express aggression against them. According to Felson, Ribner, and Siegel (1984), the presence of an audience—a set of bystanders—can help either to mitigate or to escalate violent behavior by suggesting to the potential perpetrator that violence is supported or discouraged.

Individual-Level Explanations

The predominance of individual-level explanations—those rooted in biological or psychological characteristics—is a result of social psychologists and psychiatrists dominating the field over the last few decades. The abundant presence of behavioral scientists trained in psychology or psychiatry also accounts for the heavy emphasis historically on microlevel incidents of violence.

Human Nature

The work of evolutionary psychologists has posited the operation of a constant in human nature—the continuing existence of murder as an effective survival mechanism in a hostile environment. Psychologist David Buss (2005) has recently argued that murder is a normal product of a longterm evolutionary process in which human beings compete for survival and reproductive advantage.


Using an evolutionary perspective, some sociobiologists have proposed that violence (or at least the choice of a victim of violence) is determined by what they call “a selfish gene” (Wilson 1999). In other words, violence is a result of a biological urge to increase the likelihood that an individual’s genes will survive to be passed to the next generation. Thus, any given individual is more likely to kill someone who does not share his heredity—more likely to murder strangers than cousins, more likely to murder cousins than brothers or sisters.

Early biological theories of violent behavior tended to emphasize the influence of body constitution (e.g., Sheldon’s somatotyping), heredity (e.g., the XYY chromosome syndrome debate), and intelligence (e.g., IQ as a predictor of delinquency). In more contemporary biological explanations, these variables have been all but replaced by research on hormones (e.g., cortisol and testosterone), learning disabilities, paradoxical reactions to antidepressants, neurological pathology, and repeated head trauma (see Lewis 1999).


One of the most important contributions of social psychologists to the study of violence is the frustrationaggression hypothesis (Dollard et al. 1939). Derived from research conducted in the mid-twentieth century, this hypothesis was initially stated in absolute terms: Individuals who experience goal blockage, that is, those who are unable to achieve their goals or objectives, were predicted inevitably to become aggressive or violent; conversely, aggression or violence was hypothesized always to be preceded by frustrating circumstances. More recent conceptions no longer depict the relationship as perfect or automatic (frustrated individuals may instead lower expectations, change their philosophy of life, blame themselves). Moreover, there are many sources of aggression, not just frustration. Still, there is a large body of research that continues to confirm that frustrated individuals tend to become aggressive and that aggression is frequently preceded by frustration (see, e.g., Rhodes 1999).

Structural Explanations

More than their counterparts in psychology and psychiatry, sociologists have tended to focus their research agendas on large-scale incidents of violence or on differential rates of violence between cities, states, and nations or over time. In addition, sociologists have sought to locate important sources of violence in social relationships rather than in individual characteristics.

In strain theory, sociologists have expanded and enlightened the frustration-aggression hypothesis. They have also indicated the structural (as opposed to the personal and idiosyncratic) sources of frustration in everyday life. In 1957, Columbia University sociologist Robert Merton built on Durkheim’s concept of anomie to argue that deviant behavior, including violence arises from social strain or imbalance between the culturally approved goals and the socially acceptable means for achieving these goals.

Drawing on Merton’s work, Agnew’s (1992, 2004) general strain theory proposes that criminal violence is a result of strain, defined to include a range of emotional reactions—frustration, anger, disappointment, fear, and depression—originating in unhealthy and threatening social relationships. In other words, the propensity for violence develops not only in response to frustration but more generally from the way that individuals are treated by others, especially members of their family, neighborhood, workplace, and schools.

Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld (1994) examined the relationship between the American preoccupation with material success or “the American Dream” and violent crime rates. These analysts argue not only that material success has come to dominate American culture but also that other social institutions—education, family, politics— have tended to become subservient to the economic system. For example, business executives are expected to put aside family values and relocate their family members if it means furthering their own career opportunities. In the educational system, students’ decisions about attending college depend almost entirely on maximizing their job opportunities after graduation. Based on Messner and Rosenfeld’s earlier work, Beeghley’s (2003) analysis encompasses a number of important structural variables, including income inequality and racial discrimination.

Social Disorganization

In the 1980s, researchers observed that physical and population decline in Chicago had led to an increase in crime in neighborhoods whose primary activity was industrial production (Taub, Taylor, and Dunham 1984:4). Similar findings were found for other cities such as Baltimore (Taylor 2000) and Schenectady and Albany (Rabrenovic 1996).

Such factors as broken windows, loud and uncivil youth, trash and junk on the streets, vandalism and graffiti, and boarded-up or abandoned buildings were blamed for first creating perceptions of fear that induce residents to withdraw from social life. The sense of danger and the residents’ withdrawal led, in turn, to a decrease in sources of informal social control, which was conducive to crime (Wilson and Kelling 1982). Moreover, where physical deterioration was not addressed, it contributed to a further destabilization and decline of the neighborhood, according to social disorganization theorists (Skogan 1990).

Ralph Taylor (2000:5) operationalizes signs of social disorganization into social and physical incivilities. Social incivilities refer to actions of individuals and groups in the neighborhoods that are perceived by the local residents to be disorderly, troublesome, and threatening. They include behaviors such as hanging out on the street corner, drinking in public, fighting on the streets, and aggressive panhandling. Physical incivilities, on the other hand, represent the conditions of the neighborhood itself such as the presence of trash on the streets, graffiti on the walls, poorly maintained or deteriorated housing, abandoned housing, and vacant lots.

Much evidence has accumulated to suggest that violence is more likely to occur when the constraints are weak and the motivations are strong (Agnew 2004): The perpetrator chooses to be violent to the extent that he or she perceives that the costs are low (i.e., the violent individual probably won’t get caught, but if he or she does, the punishment will be minimal) and the perceived benefits are substantial (i.e., the perpetrator will gain in an important economic, political, or psychological sense). The rational aspects of violence can be seen in the finding of Felson and Messner (1996) that many killers are motivated to commit murder to avoid being attacked by a victim they had assaulted or to avoid being prosecuted on the word of an eyewitness.

In what he calls “the seductions of crime,” Jack Katz (1990) has suggested that criminal violence can have an emotional payoff. The perpetrator feels a sense of excitement and a rush of power and dominance. The murderer may “get high” on the sadism and brutality.

James A. Fox and Jack Levin (2005) have applied this conception to sadistic serial killers who torture, rape, and humiliate their victims to achieve a sense of power and dominance. Choosing to inflict pain and suffering in an “up close and personal manner,” these killers seek control over their victims’ lives. They exalt in the suffering they cause their victims to suffer; and they then exercise ultimate power by deciding who lives and who dies.

In the past, widespread political support for genocide has been suggested as a basis for personal costs and benefits. Brustein (1996) argued that during the 1930s many German citizens joined the Nazi party because they envisaged Nazi party membership as

a ticket to employment or career advancement in a future National Socialist Germany. In late 1930, the party used membership as an inducement to attract civil servants, by hinting that in a Nazi state civil service jobs would go only to registered Nazi Party members. (P. 163)

Similarly, it is now suggested that hate crimes offer an emotional benefit. On the basis of police arrest records, Levin and McDevitt (2002) developed a typology of hate crime motivations that suggests the majority of hate crimes are committed for the thrill by groups of teenagers or young adults. Selecting victims who are generally different in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability status, youthful perpetrators gain “bragging rights” among their peers and achieve a sense of superiority over their victims. Many other hate crime offenders have a more practical objective: Their attack is defensive in that they encourage “intruders” to move out of the neighborhood, workplace, or dormitory. Finally, a few hate crime offenders are on a mission—the intent is to eliminate members of another group from their community, their country, or the world. These mission offenders usually make a career of hatemongering, a condition that is often enhanced by membership in hate groups.

Major Research Areas

Much of the recent sociological research into the causes and consequences of violence has concentrated on institutions such as the school and the family. As concern about school shootings and family abuse has found its way into popular culture and politics, sociologists have increasingly turned their attention to these areas. Also, because of a soaring rate of youth violence documented during the 1980s and 1990s, criminologists have sought to understand and counteract the sources of such youthful crime. Finally, the interest of sociologists in issues of war and peace, and terrorism increased substantially after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Juvenile Violence

From 1986 through 1992, there was a dramatic increase in the number of murders committed by teenaged boys. Then, beginning in 1993, the rate of teen homicide plummeted. In Boston, for example, there were 39 homicides committed by teenagers in 1990; by 1998, teenagers were responsible for only three murders.

The reduction in violent teenage crime has been explained by such factors as a declining use of crack cocaine, zero-tolerance policing, and effective gun control (see Blumstein and Wallman 2000). According to a U.S. Department of Education report (Sinclair et al. 1998), during the 1996 to 1997 school year, the first in which such statistics were compiled, there were 6,093 expulsions for firearm violations in schools across the country. To counter this kind of experience, schools have become actively involved in the center of effective community efforts to reduce teen violence. High school principals adopted a zero-tolerance policy regarding students who carry firearms to school. In addition, by means of conflictresolution programs built into the curriculum, many schools began teaching students to have empathy for victims, to control one’s anger, and to manage impulsive behavior. Finally, through athletics and other extracurricular programs, schools are increasingly providing adult supervision, guidance, and control.

Moreover, in communities where a substantial decrease in violent juvenile crime is observed, residents have become active in reestablishing a sense of community, recognizing they can make a difference in the lives of local youths. At the grassroots level, parents, teachers, psychologists, religious and business leaders, social workers, college students, and police officials worked together to take the glamour out of destructive behavior and to provide constructive activities for after-school hours. Through myriad new programs, adults provide inner-city teenagers supervision, structure, guidance, and some hope for the future (Levin 1999).

However, other problems such as bullying persist. Although long considered nothing more serious than a youthful rite of passage, bullying has recently been recognized as one of the most disturbing crimes among students. The National Association of School Psychologists estimates that 60,000 children miss school each day because they fear being bullied. Kaufman et al. (1999) report that bullying peaks in the sixth grade and is four times more likely to occur in the sixth grade than in the twelfth grade.

Bullying not only hurts its victims but also risks injuring perpetrators when victims retaliate. Painter (1999) points out that many bullying victims bring guns to school for the purpose of protecting themselves or getting even. Moreover, Fagan and Wilkinson (1998) suggest that “bullying is a precursor to stable antisocial and aggressive behavior that may endure into later adolescence and adulthood” (p. 74). The two youngsters who in April, 1999, massacred 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, had endured years of taunting and bullying prior to their rampage. Consequently, there are now more studies investigating how and why students bully and how their targets respond.

A source of conflict in many schools is the perceived or real problem of the biased and unfair treatment by teachers and classmates of students who are different in terms of their ethnicity, race, gender, class, religion, disability status, sexual orientation, nationality, or physical appearance. Data on the prevalence of “bullying” or harassment among 11-, 13-, and 15-year-olds from the 1998 World Health Organization survey of Health Behavior of School Children in the United States shows that 25.8 percent of these youth had been bullied because of their religion or race and 52 percent were exposed to inappropriate sexual comments or gestures (Nansel et al. 2001).

In many schools, students (mostly males) negotiate their social status in a group based on hierarchical structure consisting at the top of bullies, then of onlookers or bystanders, and at the bottom victims. Usually in the majority, onlookers who hold respect for human dignity can play an important role in dismantling this pecking order, so that bullying becomes devalued in school culture. As a result of effective antibullying programs and policies, more bystanders have come forward to report bullying among their peers. Breaking the culture of silence in many middle and high schools has helped reduce the prevalence of school shootings around the country (Newman 2004).

One explanation for increased levels of conflict and violence in schools focuses on the characteristics of the school as a social organization. In this view, schools are bureaucratic organizations based on hierarchical structure and are dominated by rules and regulations that define school activities (Brint 1998). Pedro A. Noguera (1995) suggests that many of the current problems schools experience are the products of the emphasis on maintaining order and control over students as opposed to creating a humane environment in which learning is maximized. Similarly, Hawkins et al. (1997) report that conflict is most visible in middle school and high school because these institutions are often overly managed and have too many restrictive rules and regulations, all of which suppress adolescent development toward self-organization.

Family Violence

Violence has distinct normative elements and reflects the political and social realities of the society in which it occurs. For example, violence in a family was until recently defined as a “normal” part of family life. It took a change in societal norms and the introduction of the term abuse to describe the sorts of behavior that are no longer so tolerated or acceptable in our society.

However, there is still much controversy surrounding family violence. One of the reasons is the private nature of family life and the lack of support for public scrutiny over what happens “behind the closed doors” of the home. The level of privacy experienced of nuclear family life may lead to social isolation, which in turn could make members of the family more vulnerable to family violence (Laslett 1978; Williams 1992). Another explanation offered as a reason for family violence is based on the belief that parents should have power over their children and authority to choose appropriate punishments. Moreover, abuse is based on a moral evaluation, meaning that it depends on the moral judgments of people (Gelles and Straus 1979).

Early studies of family violence focused on the personality characteristics of abusive parents, abused children, and abusive and abused spouses. Because the most likely offenders were men, violence was conceptualized as a problem of individual males. However, feminist scholars moved beyond the analysis of individual characteristics and behaviors to study the macrolevel characteristics of the larger society. Concentrating primarily on how the patriarchal ideology and structure of society leads to violence, this feminist perspective addresses the pervasive sexism inherent in the norms, values, and institutions of society. Although there are several different approaches within the feminist framework, most feminists see family violence as shaped by gender and power (Dobash and Dobash 1998). On the basis of the coercive control model, domestic violence is defined as a tactic of entitlement and power, a tactic that is deeply gendered (Yllo 1998:615). However, such a model does not hold any utility for explaining child abuse, women’s abuse of men, or abuse in gay and lesbian relationships.

Another challenge is found in the need to incorporate race, class, and ethnicity as important analytical variables. Aida Hurtado (1997) demonstrates the importance of doing so by showing how gender subordination is experienced differently by white women and minority women. In particular, Hurado’s complex analysis of male coercive power allows gender subordination to be examined as women’s connection to or distance from white male power.

Resource theory conceptualizes force as a personal resource that can be used to resolve conflicts. From this perspective, force is most often a resource of “last resort,” used when all else fails (Goode 1971). Thus, economically disadvantaged parents might use physical force more than economically advantaged parents do in disciplining their children because they do not have options for sanctions that are more socially acceptable such as sending their children to their rooms or denying them the use of a computer or electronic game systems (Straus, Gelles, and Steinmetz 1980).

Overall, the number of homicides of husbands and wives has declined steadily from just under 2,200 in 1976 to fewer than 800 in 2002 (Fox, Levin, and Quinet 2005). Part of the reason for the substantial reduction in domestic murder seems to involve the liberalization of divorce laws over the second half of the twentieth century (Fox et al. 2005). No-fault divorce laws have permitted couples to separate before the level of antagonism reaches violent proportions. Another factor is that the stigma associated with being an abused spouse or a divorcee has greatly declined. Besides divorce, the presence of a number of legal and social remedies and interventions for abused partners—restraining orders, police arrest procedures, hotlines, shelters, and support groups—has provided viable options to those who might, during an earlier era, have either remained in a vulnerable position or resorted to violence as a defensive reaction.

War, Peace, and Intergroup Conflict

International conflict and violence have long been the domains of political scientists who prefer to study violent conflicts among nations. However, during the past century and into the twenty-first century, violent conflicts have occurred increasingly within nations. Improved military technology not only has made war more deadly to combatants but also significantly increased civilian casualties. Since World War II, 80 percent of all war causalities have been civilian. And most of these deaths and injuries have been inflicted by political authorities against their own people (Hauchler and Kennedy 1994).

Among the first to demonstrate interest in the area, Helen Fein (1979) employed a quantitative approach to examine the variability in Jewish victimization during the Holocaust in Europe. To account for differences in national responses, Fein used several variables such as the prewar size and visibility of the Jewish community, the intensity of prewar anti-Semitism, the extent of SS control in each country, the character of native government response, the amount of warning time, and the behavior of selected resistance movements (Fein 1979). It is noteworthy that Fein was criticized for attempting to quantify this “emotionally charged” subject (Horowitz 1980). Other sociologists argued that it was inappropriate for sociologists to study “single historical events” such as the Holocaust. Nevertheless, an increasing number of sociologists have followed the lead of Fein’s study of genocide to examine the conditions under which large-scale violence occurs.

More recently, Robin M. Williams (2003) explained the causes and consequences of violent intragroup conflict by focusing on who the actors are and how they define and differentiate themselves from their enemies. Most societies are ethnically diverse, and ethnic conflicts are at the heart of “wars within.” They are fueled by economic competition, by political manipulation of people’s fears, and by culture wars that promote ethnic identities that are distinct and opposed to one another.

Williams argues that elites try to minimize interaction among different ethnic groups so as to forestall any interdependence that might develop. In addition, elites representing dominant ethnic groups use discrimination and the power of government to suppress and minimize the influence of minority ethnic groups. Over time, the domination of minority ethnic groups leads either to the mobilization of these groups toward conflict or to an accommodation among the competing groups.

Another area of study that has drawn the interest of sociologists involves “ethnic cleansing.” Known as genocide, such acts of violence are committed with the intent of annihilating an entire group of people based on differences in their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or national origin. One of the important findings is that most recent ethnic conflicts are resolved not through large-scale confrontations but through political accommodation and negotiation (Gurr 2000). The important issue therefore becomes how and why group conflicts escalate into violence. In response, Levin and Rabrenovic (2004) state that ethnic conflicts are not unavoidable consequences of human diversity. Rather, such conflict is constructed by political leaders and culture elites who employ violence to gain psychological, social, and economic advantage. They do so by manipulating fear of one group against another in an effort to justify the use of violence (see also Glassner 2000).

Local media also play an instrumental role in the construct of hate. When elite and media characterizations of ethnic minorities as dangerous threats amplify each other, the results can be disastrous. To illustrate the process whereby elites and the media collaborate to escalate the level of ethnic conflict, Levin and Rabrenovic (2004) cite examples of ethnic violence in Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, and India, among other places. During periods of economic instability, structural change, or political turmoil, members of the majority group often react to a threat, whether real or perceived, by turning against the members of the minority groups. Operating under a zero-sum definition of the situation (i.e., someone else’s loss is viewed as a personal gain), they try to limit the minorities’civil rights and access to economic resources. The failure of the formal governing structures to protect the human rights of all residents and to ignore growing social inequalities become the root cause of many ethnic conflicts that explode into violence. The riots of minority youth in London in 1981 and in Paris in 2005 were products of growing segregation between the native-born white population and the nativeborn minority population that left minority youth without equal access to the resources of mainstream society. In their quest to absorb immigrants as fast as possible, many European societies used the policies of the welfare state to provide newcomers with minimum resources such as housing, schooling, and health care but at a lower standard and in segregated communities. These new ethnic groups also lacked political power and representation, which led them to feel as though they were second-class citizens in their own country.

In extreme forms, ethnic conflicts can lead to expelling and executing minority group members for the purpose of creating ethnically homogeneous societies as occurred in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

Public Policy and Future Research Initiatives

Violence is regarded widely as a serious social problem— so serious, in fact, that policymakers have turned to social science to help them design programs to prevent or reduce violent behavior. For example, research in the area of family violence has spurred the development of many programs and services for addressing the needs of victims of violence as well as for empowering them to combat violence on their own. Similar developments have been seen in the area of school violence, where research conducted by social scientists has informed programs and policies to reduce bullying and to implement effective conflict resolution programs in the schools (Fox et al. 2005).

Much of the violence documented in this research paper is related to structural factors and thus can only be effectively reduced by making changes in society as a whole. For example, many cities have developed programs and activities that address the causes of criminal behavior by targeting the social, political, and economic forces that foster them. As we discussed earlier, the substantial decrease in violent crime that many urban communities experienced since the mid-1990s can be partially explained by neighborhood mobilization around important crime issues as well as by an increase in the number of community-based programs and local resources that target youth and young adults, providing them with adult supervision and hope for the future (Blumstein and Wallman 2000). Similarly, the existence of a civic infrastructure consisting of independent political parties and civic organizations as well as the separation between government and religious organizations seems to help societies threatened by ethnic conflict to avert an escalation of those conflicts into destructive violence (Williams 2003).

To this point, the influence of violence research on public policy has been quite limited. It is hoped that social research in the area of violence will, in the years ahead, become even more relevant for policymakers and practitioners. The heavy reliance on the criminal justice system to deter criminal violence by incarcerating large numbers of offenders, mostly minorities, is not only costly but does not solve the problem in the long run. It appears that harsh punishment may dissuade certain adult offenders but not their juvenile counterparts.

It should be emphasized, at the same time, that the impact of social research on public policy has been limited by economic and political circumstances (Wilensky 2005). In the United States, single-issue research proposing shortterm solutions has too often been supported and encouraged by a decentralized and fragmented political and economic system. In many cases, the findings of social research have been used not for policy planning purposes but only as rhetorical weapons in the public relations arsenal of politicians and government officials.

The future influence of sociology on public policy in the area of violence is, at this juncture, unclear. We can only hope that, in the years ahead, violence research will play an increasingly significant role in informing public policy and public opinion.


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sociology essays on violence

Sociology: Impact of Violence Coursework


To put it in simple words, bullying is a type of harassment. It is a negative action against an individual’s mental and physical security. Bullying can happen in two ways: A single person being attacked by another single person or a single person being attacked by a group of people. Bullying never occurs between two persons of equal strength. The person who is attacked always will be weaker as compared to the person or group of persons who is or are attacking. All types of bullying will lead to physical and mental torment of the attacked person. This may also have a long time effect.

Adolescent age is a very important period in one’s life. It is a time when a person develops into adulthood. At this age, everyone tends to accept everything his/her circumstances offer. Besides, during this time, the youngsters tend to possess a high degree of self-esteem. So anything that hurts their mind will badly affect their future life.

Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finnish adolescents: school survey

  • Research Question: – Is there any relationship between bullying and suicidal temptation in adolescence?
  • Methods: – Survey method used.
  • Sample: – 8th and 9th-grade students participated in this survey. The questionnaire was given to the students.
  • Major Findings:-Both bullies and bullied students keep depression and a suicidal tendency in their minds.
  • Conclusion: – Both bullies and bullied adolescents need psychiatric intervention to overcome this kind of depression and suicidal tendency. (Heino, 1999, p.348-351).

Is Victimization From Bullying Associated With Medicine Use Among Adolescents? A Nationally Representative Cross-sectional Survey in Denmark

  • Research question:-Is there any relation between bullying and medicine use?
  • Method: – Survey method used.
  • Sample: – 5th, 6th, and 9th-grade students took part in the survey. A standardized questionnaire was used for the survey.
  • Major Findings: – This report leads to a fact that bullied adolescents use medicines for psychological problems like insomnia, tension, and physical problems like headache, stomach pain, etc than the other adolescents.
  • Conclusion: – Survey report indicates that there is a relationship between bullying and medicine use. (Due, 2007, p.110-117).

Bullying Among Young Adolescents: The Strong, the Weak, and the Troubled

  • Research Question: – How does bullying affect minority youth?
  • Method: – Analysis of the data got from these students.
  • Sample: – 6th-grade students from the minority community. 11 schools participated in it.
  • Major findings: – Bullied adolescents have increased behavior troubles and are emotionally distressed. Bullies are strong and have high social and economic status.
  • Conclusion: – Same as the others, minority youth faces bullying problems. (Juvonen, Graham & Schuster, 2003, p.1231-1237).

Electronic Bullying Among Middle School Students

Research Question: – Is electronic bullying prevalent in adolescents?

Method: – Questionnaire method is used.

Sample: – 6th, 7th, and 8th standard students participated. 23 questions were given.

Major Findings: – Survey report indicates that bullying badly affects adolescents. So there is a high possibility for electronic bullying problems in the future.

Conclusion: – In coming years there will be a high prevalence of electronic bullying among adolescents.. (Kowalski & Limber, 2007).

Relation among bullying, stress, and Stressor: a follow-up survey using panel data and a Comparative survey between Japan and Australia

  • Research Question: – How does bullying affect the personal character of adolescents?
  • Method: – Questionnaire and scales used for the study.
  • Sample: – 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th-grade students from Tokyo.
  • Major Findings: – Bullying creates a wrong impression in adolescents. It generates stress and depression in their mind.
  • Conclusion:-Bullying badly affects one’s character. In all countries aftereffects of bullying are almost the same. (Relation among bullying, stress, and stressor: A follow up a survey using panel data and a comparative survey between Japan and Australia, 2001, p.1-100).

From the above-mentioned study, it is evident that bullying is associated with depression among adolescent pupils. It causes several psychological problems and physical problems. It results in physical problems like headache, stomach pain, poor health, and mental problems like insomnia, nervousness, the tendency for suicide, lack of interest in studies, and other extracurricular activities, besides causing introverted personality. Therefore, it is obvious that bullying affects adolescents badly. The new form of bullying is electronic bullying. It will have dangerous effects in the future.

It is the responsibility of the educational institutions as well as society to take adequate measures for preventing bullying and its after-effects.

Due, Pernille. (2007). Is victimization from bullying associated with medicine use adolescents: A Nationally representative cross sectional survey in Denmark. Pediatrics : Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics , 120 (1), 110-117. Web.

Heino, Riittakerttu. (1999). Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in fnnish adolescence: School survey. British Medical Journal , 319 (7206), 348-351. Web.

Juvonen, Jaana., Graham, Sandra., & Schuster, Mark A. (2003). Bullying among young adolescents: The strong, the weak, and the troubled. Pediatrics : Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 112 (6), 1231-1237. Web.

Kowalski, Robin M., & Limber, Susan P. (2007). Electronic bullying among middle school students. Journal of Adolescent Health , 41 , S22-S30. Web.

Relation among bullying, stress and stressor: A follow up survey using panel data and a comparative survey between Japan and Australia . (2001). The Japanese Society Institute. 5. 1-100. Web.

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How To Craft a Top-Tier Violence Essay Easy-Peasy

violence essay

Are you looking forward to a straight A-grade in your violence essay assignment?

Well, use our excellent writing prompts and expert tips below.

Definition of an Essay About Violence

As the name suggests, this is a writing piece that seeks to present an author’s argument on violent activities in society. Such an essay may contain one of the following aspects:

  • Intentional use of physical force
  • Emotional abuse
  • Self-violence

These actions may result in any of the effects mentioned below:

  • Psychological harm
  • Deprivation
  • Mal-development

Now that we are well-informed on the topic let us explore the structure of essays on violence.

Outline of an Essay on Violence

The sensitivity of such a paper requires maximum precision on the part of the student. The diction, format, style, and general outline will play a vital role in the delivery of your essay.

Let’s brush through the main parts of your future essays about violence:

Introduction: Present the issue at hand (force), its importance, and why your reader should pay attention. The thesis statement will appear here to give the focus of the paper. Body: In this section, develop your argument present in the intro with convincing facts and examples. Ensure that the topic sentences of your paragraphs answer the thesis statement. Conclusion: Reiterate the most important evidence supporting the arguments as a reminder to your reader. You can have a call-to-action in this section, which may be a warning against the perpetrators of violence or how to report a case of abuse.

Remember that violence can take different forms. Thus, it would help if you endeavored to address the way you chose in detail to feed the reader’s curiosity as much as possible.

Now, let’s take a look at some violence essay samples.

Violence Against Women Essay To many, it remains remarkable that violence against women persists in modern, Western cultures. Women have achieved a great deal of equality, if mainly legal, which in turn supports shifting social thinking that condemns the violence. In plain terms, it makes little sense that society should still in some way enable the abuses. However, sociological theories help to clarify the issue just as Western logic does little to defy or address the violence. It may in fact be, for example, that the abuse was lesser in a past when women enjoyed fewer freedoms, and because men did not perceive them as threats to masculine authority. Not unexpectedly, any patriarchy enables the violence, just males tend to be increasingly dominant when women seek independence (McDermott, Cowden, 2014, p. 1768). This then reinforces that male resentment is likely an influence in abuse of women. As men feel increasingly challenged, they will then use their generally superior physicality to punish such women, and the patriarchal society adds an exponential effect; more exactly, the more women suffer violence, the more the violence is supported as a norm. Then, given the complex nature of the highly developed patriarchy, other elements impact on the subject. An important factor of the subject is that, in Western and other cultures, violence against women is usually intergenerational. This in turn reinforces the impacts of observational learning; in families or in social arenas, societies often support the violence (Michalski, 2004, p. 658). If it is often challenged or condemned, the greater reality is that male dominance is so deeply embedded in a culture like the American, it essentially exists as an intensely powerful force. Despite advances in women’s movements and activism, it must be remembered that this goes back only a few decades. This equates to men holding great power for long centuries, and a trait in any population holding power is a disinclination to surrender any. These traditions then link to the male’s as having the “right” to abuse women as they choose, just as sexual violence against women is still extremely common. Times have changed but it takes a great deal to reverse ethics and gender values so implanted in the culture. Moreover, such changes, again, rely on a male willingness to alter male perceptions. This is unlikely. In plain terms, American men have traditionally enjoyed the socially supported validation of abusing women, which reality has long existed with marriage and external to it. This may be supported by how, today, campus sexual violence and date rape remain at high levels. Little more may be expected in a society that has so long perceived women property. It may then be wondered why changing laws offer minimal protection for female victims of violence. This, however, suggests a reverse logic. Laws of themselves rarely impact on society unless that society is insisting on the law. The U.S., for example, may enact severe penalties on men who abuse women. As noted, many such laws exist. Nonetheless, the current administration strongly reflects gender value which may easily be described as blatantly sexist, which in turn promotes the male empowerment to abuse. Legislation is then no answer unless the society radically revises its views of gender roles. It is true that women today have opportunities to empower themselves to unprecedented degrees. Even this, however, is relatively meaningless in a patriarchy determined to retain its authority. As long as the society’s control largely rests in male hands, then, it is the tragic reality that violence against women will be ongoing. This also reflect how, generally speaking, males who are violent or abusive so often support one another. As noted, then, the answer is not legal; rather, it lies within the culture’s ability to redefine itself.
Domestic Violence Essay Sample Domestic violence is prevalent throughout the world, including Northern America. While the victims may include men, women are by far the most common targets. There are several types of domestic violence, which in turn often lead to a deadly cycle of violence with other, external factors that often play a large role and greatly influence domestic violence, such as patriarchy and power. Fear is perhaps the most basic element in regards to domestic violence, as it is at the core of how most perpetrators attempt to control their victim(s). Fear can be created either explicitly or implicitly, and can be given off through merely a subtle look or gesture. Additionally, one may possess weapons to create fear, destroy another’s property, or show any type of behavior that would intimidate their victim (Johnson, 2008). Intimidation can include a number of different tactics, such as destroying things, handling weapons, raising one’s voice, or hostile treatment overall towards the victim. A perpetrator may even drive recklessly with the victim in the car, or harass him or her at their workplace. Additionally, they may intimidate through communication, such as texting or emailing. Intimidating communication also extends to verbal abuse, which can cause great damage in the victim (Johnson, 2008). Screaming, putting down the other, swearing, or deriding someone are all part of verbal abuse, and is often a precursor to physical abuse (Johnson, 2008). Physical abuse is often a form of domestic violence, and includes measures such as slapping, hitting, pushing, shoving, strangling, hair pulling, and others. Additionally, physical abuse can also encompass the use of weapons. Physical abuse may also, in a less obvious sense, include threats to destroy the other’s possessions, and thus ranges from lack of consideration, to permanent injury or even death (Wilson, 2009). Emotional abuse is perhaps the most common type of domestic violence. This includes any behavior that purposely undermines another’s confidence, thus leading the victim to believe that they are stupid, useless, a ‘bad person,’ or even that the victim is insane (Wilson, 2009). This type of domestic violence can have long lasting consequences, as it demeans and degrades the victim. The perpetrator can also threaten the victim with harm, along with threatening their family. They may even threaten to commit suicide, or use the silent treatment as a form of emotional abuse (Johnson, 2008). Other forms of domestic violence include sexual abuse and domestic homicide. Sexual abuse includes any unwanted advances or sexual behaviors, such as rape, forcing the other to perform sexual acts that are either painful or humiliating, or even causing injury to the other’s sexual organs (Johnson, 2008). In addition, domestic homicide is not extended to only the partner, but also the children. This is, sadly, often a result of ongoing domestic violence that leads to a culmination of killing the other (Wilson, 2009). Domestic violence often follows a common pattern, or cycle. While every relationship varies, they typically undergo similar events based on three parts: the tension building phase, an acute battering episode, and the honeymoon phase. These can all occur in one day, or they may be spread out over a period of months. In the tension-building phase, tension will rise over common, smaller issues, such as money or jobs. Then the verbal abuse may begin, in which the victim tries to please the abuser, and may even give into a form of abuse (Johnson, 2008). The verbal abuse usually escalates to physical abuse at this point. The second phase is the acute battering episode, in which tension peaks and physical violence ensues. This is most often triggered not by the victim’s behavior, but by the abuser’s own emotional state. The last phase is the honeymoon phase, in which the tension has been released. The abuser will become ashamed of their behavior at this point, and try to make amends or either blame the partner for the abuse. The abuser may also try to be kind and loving at this point, and exhibit uncharacteristic helpfulness (Johnson, 2008). Often, the abuser will try to convince the victim that it will not happen again, and thus the victim will not want to leave the relationship. This cycle of abuse can occur over and over again, as the relief gained and promises made during the honeymoon phase provide the abused victim with the false belief that they and their partner are ‘ok.’ There are other, less obvious factors that also greatly influence domestic violence and aid in analyzing violence against women, such as patriarchy, power, and systemic gender oppression, which are deeply entrenched into societies and cultures worldwide. Systemic gender oppression refers to violence against women, which may be carried out not only by romantic partners, but also within communities, civic, and legal institutions. Perpetrators may unconsciously endorse physical abuse as a result of systemic gender oppression (“Patriarchy,” 2015). This is closely tied to the influence of patriarchy towards domestic violence, which refers to the social relations between women and men. Patriarchy is a means of sustaining gender, racial, or class privileges over another, which may be outright, such as violence, or subtle, like the formation of laws, which perpetuate gender inequality. Patriarchy, in this way, is a structural force that sways the relations between men and women (“Patriarchy,” 2015). Additionally, power often sets the course for patriarchy. Often, abusers will combine their masculinity with entrenched feelings of patriarchy, thus making the cycle of abuse more severe (“Patriarchy,” 2015). As a result, power forms relationships based on only one of the individuals maintaining the authority, while the other is at their mercy. Culture and racial oppression are two other factors that come into play when analyzing domestic violence against women. Culture is often utilized to rationalize gender inequality and, consequently, violence, by integrating cultural beliefs as to how women must or should be treated (“Patriarchy,” 2015). When the defense of a place, particular society or culture, religion, or country are integrated into justifying one’s belief on the maltreatment of women, this is also a defense of the culture of patriarchy within said entity. This is closely related to the factor of racial oppression in domestic violence against women. Studies have shown that men of color typically overemphasize how racial oppression influences violence towards women. Additionally, race and gender often overlap within this realm; however, race is “all too often privileged over gender” (“Patriarchy,” 2015). In summary, domestic violence comes in many shapes and forms, which often form a pattern, or cycle of violence. Domestic violence, in turn, can be greatly influenced by other external factors, such as power, patriarchy, culture, and racial oppression, as discussed. Sadly, domestic violence is not merely a result of an individual’s own behavioral issues, but also an offshoot of the implicit and explicit ways that societies and cultures influence the relationships between men and women.

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Essay on Violence in Society

The society has become a scary world with recent happenings. Here are some prompts for your inspiration:

  • Causes of violence in society
  • The impact of crime on teenagers
  • Forms of violence between nations
  • Organizational abuse and how to deal with it
  • People don’t just become evildoers in society
  • Violence and genetic inheritance: What is the connection?
  • Development of aggression in a person
  • Age and violence: Which is the most aggressive age?
  • A power fueled society is a violent society. Discuss
  • How the crave for knowledge cause violence

Gun Violence Essay Topics for High School Students

Below are some great ideas that high school students can use for their essay on gun violence assignment:

  • How to reduce school gun violence
  • Traumatic experiences of gunfire and killings in schools
  • Gun violence amongst adolescents in high schools
  • Gang violence groups in schools
  • How teachers can contribute to a reduction in gun violence in school
  • Should gun control be introduced in the high school curriculum?
  • The role of peer provocation
  • Parenting practices to reduce gun violence
  • Schoolyard bullying and gun violence
  • How troubled teens end up with guns

Gun Violence in America Essay

Are you stuck on your essay on gun violence in America? Well, here are some professional ideas to get you jam-started:

  • Political debates and gun control in America
  • Gun violence in poor American urban cities
  • The rise of highly organized mass killings in America
  • Post 9/11 gun control measures
  • Who is to blame for gun violence in America?
  • Victims of gun attacks in the US
  • Gun control policies
  • Social issues in the US lead to gun violence
  • Security measures in the US
  • Justice for victims

General Essays About Gun Violence

  • Mental health
  • Human trafficking
  • Domestic violence
  • Gun control laws
  • Religious violence
  • Gang violence
  • Education on gun control
  • Role of psychiatric services
  • Prediction of gun violence
  • The purpose of the National Rifle Association

From the insights, violence is indeed both an individual and societal issue of concern. Therefore, writing on such a topic needs extensive research and elaborate facts. Therefore, don’t be afraid to buy custom assignment writing by our professional writers.

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Guest Essay

This War Did Not Start a Month Ago

A line of Palestinian women and children walk away from their homes during the 1948 nakba.

By Dalia Hatuqa

Ms. Hatuqa is an independent journalist who specializes in Palestinian-Israeli affairs. She wrote from Ramallah, West Bank.

For the past month, normal life in Ramallah — a city in the West Bank usually known for its young population and its vibrant nightlife — has been brought to a standstill.

Since Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 attacks, Israeli forces have launched numerous raids on the West Bank, arresting people from all walks of life: students, activists, journalists, even individuals posting online in support of Gaza. Air and drone strikes have destroyed houses and streets, targeted numerous refugee camps, and nearly leveled Al-Ansar Mosque . They have pummeled the city of Jenin; last month, Israeli forces destroyed the memorial for an Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, at the spot where she was killed while reporting more than a year ago.

Meanwhile, a settlement council has been distributing hundreds of assault rifles to civilian squads in settlements in the northern West Bank, part of a larger effort by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is a settler himself, to arm civilian groups in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. So far, the ministry has purchased 10,000 assault rifles for such teams around the country. It’s part of the atmosphere of escalating violence that has killed more than 130 Palestinians living in the West Bank since Oct. 7.

For Palestinians, this type of systematic violence is nothing new.

To many inside and outside this war, the brutality of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks was unthinkable, as have been the scale and ferocity of Israel’s reprisal. But Palestinians have been subject to a steady stream of unfathomable violence — as well as the creeping annexation of their land by Israel and Israeli settlers — for generations.

If people are going to understand this latest conflict and see a path forward for everyone, we need to be more honest, nuanced and comprehensive about the recent decades of history in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, particularly the impact of occupation and violence on the Palestinians. This story is measured in decades, not weeks; it is not one war, but a continuum of destruction, revenge and trauma.

Since the 1948 nakba — in which entire Palestinian villages were wiped off the map and the modern state of Israel was established — Palestinians have endured a subjugation that has defined their daily lives. For decades, we have been reeling from Israel’s military occupation, as well as a succession of deadly invasions and wars. The wars of 1967 and 1973 helped shape the modern geography and geopolitics of the area, with millions of largely stateless Palestinians split between Gaza and the West Bank. In Gaza, often referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison, Palestinians are prohibited from entering or leaving , except in incredibly rare circumstances.

This history has been absent from much of the discourse surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, as though the attacks of Oct. 7 were completely arbitrary. The truth is, even in times of relative peace, Palestinians are second-class citizens in Israel — if they are deemed citizens at all. According to Israeli law, Palestinians do not have the right to national self-determination, which is reserved for Jewish citizens of the state . A variety of laws restrict Palestinians’ right to movement, governing everything from where they can live to what personal identifications they can hold to whether or not they can visit family members elsewhere.

The “right of return” — the right of Palestinians and their descendants to return to villages they were ethnically cleansed from during the 1948 war — is central to many Palestinians’ political perspective because so many are still, legally, refugees. In Gaza, for instance, roughly two-thirds of the population consists of refugees. This status is not some abstraction; it dictates everything from where people live to which schools they go to or doctors they see.

Many Gazans have parents and grandparents who grew up only a few miles from where they live now, in areas they are now, of course, forbidden to enter. They still invoke rich memories from their childhood or adolescence, when they walked through citrus groves in Yaffa or olive fields in Qumya — the latter of which, like many villages whose people were expelled into Gaza during the 1948 war, was later transformed into a kibbutz.

There have been periods of increased cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians over the past 75 years. But these were usually preceded by times of increased conflict, such as the first and second intifadas, or popular uprisings. The intifadas, in which Palestinians participated in large-scale resistance, sometimes civil and sometimes violent, are often presented by Western media as random or indiscriminate bursts of murderous savagery — as has been the case with the Oct. 7 attacks. But that violence did not happen in a vacuum.

Stark conditions in Palestinian communities — including the ever-tightening control of daily life through violent night raids, arrests, military checkpoints and the building of illegal Israeli settlements — were the backdrop to these outbursts. Unfortunately, from a historical standpoint, these acts of violence seem to be the only things that have moved the needle politically for Palestinians.

The death and destruction we Palestinians have collectively witnessed and endured have prolonged our generational trauma. Even before this conflict, PTSD was pervasive in Palestinian homes, as was depression. As a young population, children bear the brunt of Israel’s military rule: Many are snatched at night from their beds or from the arms of their mothers, beaten and imprisoned after being tried arbitrarily in military courts . Others are shot and paralyzed, if not killed.

In Gaza, these victims have virtually no legal possibility of recourse from the Israeli state. Under the 16-year siege of Gaza, Israeli administrators have controlled access to electricity, food and water, at one point determining the number of calories Gazans could consume before sliding into malnutrition. They have also allowed Gaza and the occupied territories to serve as a testing ground for Israel’s vaunted security tech firms. Many people from Gaza have risked the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to get out, only to die en route.

With Gaza sealed for the past 16 years and the West Bank largely contained by settler violence and the army, Israel has been able to keep its occupation indefinite. The periodic spasms of violence — such as the occasional small group or lone wolf attacks and rocket barrages — reinforce the state’s justification for long-term control of Palestinians and Palestinian lands.

Over the years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers have been very clear that a separate, sovereign Palestinian state is not on the negotiating table. Neither is the possibility of giving Palestinians the rights that Israelis enjoy. So the status quo of endless occupation — and regular cycles of violence — has become normalized, with the international community seemingly unwilling or unable to hold Israel’s government to account.

The Oct. 7 attacks broke that state of play. The occupation’s unsustainable nature was laid bare for all to see, as was the impossibility of governing two peoples but privileging one of them over the other.

Dark days are ahead — that much we know. Having lived through wars, invasions and bombardments, we have come to expect the worst. In the West Bank, morale is low on the quiet streets. Twenty-four-hour Arabic satellite news stations provide a droning, ubiquitous background to daily life. They play a constant stream of horrific images and videos: all shocking but not unprecedented.

A feeling of helplessness permeates the West Bank’s cities and villages as we watch more and more fellow Palestinians — now more than 11,100, according to the Gazan health ministry — lose their lives. Israeli officials have proposed pushing Gaza’s population into Egypt’s Sinai Desert, which would render them refugees twice or three times over, and perhaps edge the Israeli settler project into a new, more expansive phase . In the West Bank, we look around, and wonder: Could it happen here? Is it happening already ?

Any kind of shared future is most likely a longer way off than it was a month ago. But Palestinians already knew that. Was the day before Hamas’s attacks considered peace? Maybe for Israelis it was, but for Palestinians it wasn’t.

Dalia Hatuqa is an independent journalist specializing in Palestinian-Israeli affairs.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .

Opinion Joe Biden: The U.S. won’t back down from the challenge of Putin and Hamas

Joe Biden is president of the United States.

Today, the world faces an inflection point, where the choices we make — including in the crises in Europe and the Middle East — will determine the direction of our future for generations to come.

What will our world look like on the other side of these conflicts?

Will we deny Hamas the ability to carry out pure, unadulterated evil? Will Israelis and Palestinians one day live side by side in peace, with two states for two peoples?

Will we hold Vladimir Putin accountable for his aggression, so the people of Ukraine can live free and Europe remains an anchor for global peace and security?

And the overarching question: Will we relentlessly pursue our positive vision for the future, or will we allow those who do not share our values to drag the world to a more dangerous and divided place?

Read this op-ed in Arabic.

Both Putin and Hamas are fighting to wipe a neighboring democracy off the map. And both Putin and Hamas hope to collapse broader regional stability and integration and take advantage of the ensuing disorder. America cannot, and will not, let that happen. For our own national security interests — and for the good of the entire world.

The United States is the essential nation. We rally allies and partners to stand up to aggressors and make progress toward a brighter, more peaceful future. The world looks to us to solve the problems of our time. That is the duty of leadership, and America will lead. For if we walk away from the challenges of today, the risk of conflict could spread, and the costs to address them will only rise. We will not let that happen.

That conviction is at the root of my approach to supporting the people of Ukraine as they continue to defend their freedom against Putin’s brutal war.

We know from two world wars in the past century that when aggression in Europe goes unanswered, the crisis does not burn itself out. It draws America in directly. That’s why our commitment to Ukraine today is an investment in our own security. It prevents a broader conflict tomorrow.

We are keeping American troops out of this war by supporting the brave Ukrainians defending their freedom and homeland. We are providing them with weapons and economic assistance to stop Putin’s drive for conquest, before the conflict spreads farther.

The United States is not doing this alone. More than 50 nations have joined us to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. Our partners are shouldering much of the economic responsibility for supporting Ukraine. We have also built a stronger and more united NATO , which enhances our security through the strength of our allies, while making clear that we will defend every inch of NATO territory to deter further Russian aggression. Our allies in Asia are standing with us as well to support Ukraine and hold Putin accountable, because they understand that stability in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific are inherently connected.

We have also seen throughout history how conflicts in the Middle East can unleash consequences around the globe.

We stand firmly with the Israeli people as they defend themselves against the murderous nihilism of Hamas. On Oct. 7, Hamas slaughtered 1,200 people, including 35 American citizens, in the worst atrocity committed against the Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust. Infants and toddlers, mothers and fathers, grandparents, people with disabilities, even Holocaust survivors were maimed and murdered. Entire families were massacred in their homes . Young people were gunned down at a music festival. Bodies riddled with bullets and burned beyond recognition . And for over a month, the families of more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas, including babies and Americans, have been living in hell , anxiously waiting to discover whether their loved ones are alive or dead. At the time of this writing, my team and I are working hour by hour, doing everything we can to get the hostages released.

And while Israelis are still in shock and suffering the trauma of this attack , Hamas has promised that it will relentlessly try to repeat Oct. 7 . It has said very clearly that it will not stop.

The Palestinian people deserve a state of their own and a future free from Hamas. I, too, am heartbroken by the images out of Gaza and the deaths of many thousands of civilians, including children. Palestinian children are crying for lost parents. Parents are writing their child’s name on their hand or leg so they can be identified if the worst happens. Palestinian nurses and doctors are trying desperately to save every precious life they possibly can, with little to no resources. Every innocent Palestinian life lost is a tragedy that rips apart families and communities.

Our goal should not be simply to stop the war for today — it should be to end the war forever, break the cycle of unceasing violence , and build something stronger in Gaza and across the Middle East so that history does not keep repeating itself.

Just weeks before Oct. 7, I met in New York with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu . The main subject of that conversation was a set of substantial commitments that would help both Israel and the Palestinian territories better integrate into the broader Middle East. That is also the idea behind the innovative economic corridor that will connect India to Europe through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel, which I announced together with partners at the Group of 20 summit in India in early September. Stronger integration between countries creates predictable markets and draws greater investment. Better regional connection — including physical and economic infrastructure — supports higher employment and more opportunities for young people. That’s what we have been working to realize in the Middle East. It is a future that has no place for Hamas’s violence and hate, and I believe that attempting to destroy the hope for that future is one reason that Hamas instigated this crisis.

This much is clear: A two-state solution is the only way to ensure the long-term security of both the Israeli and Palestinian people. Though right now it may seem like that future has never been further away, this crisis has made it more imperative than ever.

A two-state solution — two peoples living side by side with equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity — is where the road to peace must lead. Reaching it will take commitments from Israelis and Palestinians, as well as from the United States and our allies and partners. That work must start now.

To that end, the United States has proposed basic principles for how to move forward from this crisis, to give the world a foundation on which to build.

To start, Gaza must never again be used as a platform for terrorism . There must be no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, no reoccupation, no siege or blockade, and no reduction in territory. And after this war is over, the voices of Palestinian people and their aspirations must be at the center of post-crisis governance in Gaza.

As we strive for peace, Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority, as we all work toward a two-state solution. I have been emphatic with Israel’s leaders that extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank must stop and that those committing the violence must be held accountable. The United States is prepared to take our own steps, including issuing visa bans against extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank.

The international community must commit resources to support the people of Gaza in the immediate aftermath of this crisis, including interim security measures, and establish a reconstruction mechanism to sustainably meet Gaza’s long-term needs. And it is imperative that no terrorist threats ever again emanate from Gaza or the West Bank.

If we can agree on these first steps, and take them together, we can begin to imagine a different future. In the months ahead, the United States will redouble our efforts to establish a more peaceful, integrated and prosperous Middle East — a region where a day like Oct. 7 is unthinkable.

In the meantime, we will continue working to prevent this conflict from spreading and escalating further. I ordered two U.S. carrier groups to the region to enhance deterrence. We are going after Hamas and those who finance and facilitate its terrorism, levying multiple rounds of sanctions to degrade Hamas’s financial structure, cutting it off from outside funding and blocking access to new funding channels, including via social media. I have also been clear that the United States will do what is necessary to defend U.S. troops and personnel stationed across the Middle East — and we have responded multiple times to the strikes against us.

I also immediately traveled to Israel — the first American president to do so during wartime — to show solidarity with the Israeli people and reaffirm to the world that the United States has Israel’s back. Israel must defend itself. That is its right. And while in Tel Aviv, I also counseled Israelis against letting their hurt and rage mislead them into making mistakes we ourselves have made in the past.

From the very beginning, my administration has called for respecting international humanitarian law, minimizing the loss of innocent lives and prioritizing the protection of civilians. Following Hamas’s attack on Israel, aid to Gaza was cut off, and food, water and medicine reserves dwindled rapidly. As part of my travel to Israel, I worked closely with the leaders of Israel and Egypt to reach an agreement to restart the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance to Gazans. Within days, trucks with supplies again began to cross the border. Today, nearly 100 aid trucks enter Gaza from Egypt each day, and we continue working to increase the flow of assistance manyfold. I’ve also advocated for humanitarian pauses in the conflict to permit civilians to depart areas of active fighting and to help ensure that aid reaches those in need. Israel took the additional step to create two humanitarian corridors and implement daily four-hour pauses in the fighting in northern Gaza to allow Palestinian civilians to flee to safer areas in the south.

This stands in stark opposition to Hamas’s terrorist strategy: hide among Palestinian civilians. Use children and innocents as human shields. Position terrorist tunnels beneath hospitals, schools, mosques and residential buildings. Maximize the death and suffering of innocent people — Israeli and Palestinian. If Hamas cared at all for Palestinian lives, it would release all the hostages, give up arms, and surrender the leaders and those responsible for Oct. 7.

As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace. To Hamas’s members, every cease-fire is time they exploit to rebuild their stockpile of rockets, reposition fighters and restart the killing by attacking innocents again. An outcome that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would once more perpetuate its hate and deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves.

And here at home, in moments when fear and suspicion, anger and rage run hard, we have to work even harder to hold on to the values that make us who we are. We’re a nation of religious freedom and freedom of expression. We all have a right to debate and disagree and peacefully protest, but without fear of being targeted at schools or workplaces or elsewhere in our communities.

In recent years, too much hate has been given too much oxygen, fueling racism and an alarming rise in antisemitism in America. That has intensified in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. Jewish families worry about being targeted in school, while wearing symbols of their faith on the street or otherwise going about their daily lives. At the same time, too many Muslim Americans, Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans, and so many other communities, are outraged and hurting, fearing the resurgence of the Islamophobia and distrust we saw after 9/11.

We can’t stand by when hate rears its head. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hate and bias. We must renounce violence and vitriol and see each other not as enemies but as fellow Americans.

In a moment of so much violence and suffering — in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and so many other places — it can be difficult to imagine that something different is possible. But we must never forget the lesson learned time and again throughout our history: Out of great tragedy and upheaval, enormous progress can come. More hope. More freedom. Less rage. Less grievance. Less war. We must not lose our resolve to pursue those goals, because now is when clear vision, big ideas and political courage are needed most. That is the strategy that my administration will continue to lead — in the Middle East, Europe and around the globe. Every step we take toward that future is progress that makes the world safer and the United States of America more secure.

About guest opinion submissions

The Washington Post accepts opinion articles on any topic. We welcome submissions on local, national and international issues. We publish work that varies in length and format, including multimedia. Submit a guest opinion or read our guide to writing an opinion article .

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  24. Sociology: Impact of Violence

    It results in physical problems like headache, stomach pain, poor health, and mental problems like insomnia, nervousness, the tendency for suicide, lack of interest in studies, and other extracurricular activities, besides causing introverted personality. Therefore, it is obvious that bullying affects adolescents badly.

  25. Violence Essay: Samples And Topics To Write About

    Now, let's take a look at some violence essay samples. ... In plain terms, it makes little sense that society should still in some way enable the abuses. However, sociological theories help to clarify the issue just as Western logic does little to defy or address the violence. It may in fact be, for example, that the abuse was lesser in a ...

  26. Opinion

    The Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, defines crimes against humanity as extermination of, or other mass crimes against, any civilian population. The crime of ...

  27. Essay on Violence As A Social Problem

    Decent Essays. 649 Words. 3 Pages. Open Document. Violence is a social problem that increases over the years. Violence is not so much shown in magazines and books as it is on television and the media. This does not mean that violence on television is the only source for aggressive or violent behavior, but it is a significant contributor.

  28. Opinion

    For Palestinians, this type of systematic violence is nothing new. To many inside and outside this war, the brutality of Hamas's Oct. 7 attacks was unthinkable, as have been the scale and ...

  29. Opinion

    In a moment of so much violence and suffering — in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza and so many other places — it can be difficult to imagine that something different is possible.