Definition of Violence

Types of Violence
Community Violence and Sexual Violence

Violence can be defined in many ways. The World Health Organisation (WHO) promotes a broad definition of violence: 5

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

The definition should be understood to include physical, sexual and psychological abuse (such as the significant abuse of power arising from a dependent relationship, threats, intimidation and neglect).

Violence can result in psychological and social problems as well as physical problems, all of which are of concern to communities and place considerable burdens on the health, social and justice systems. This definition recognises that the outcomes of violence are broader than physical injury, disability or death and demonstrates that violence is not only an issue of concern to Police and the justice sector, but to the social sector as a whole.

A discussion of types of violence follows, but for the purposes of this Action Plan, the WHO definition has been adapted and the focus is on two key types of violence, community violence and sexual violence.

Types of Violence

In order to develop effective interventions to address violence comprehensively, it is important to have an understanding of the different types of violence. Violence can be categorised in a number of ways. The World Health Organisation has developed the following useful typology (see figure 2) 6 that divides violence into three categories, based on the relationship between the perpetrator/s and the victim/s:

1. Self-directed violence includes suicidal behaviour and self-harm.

2. Interpersonal violence includes violence inflicted against one individual by another, or by a small group of individuals, and can be categorised as:

  • Family and intimate partner violence; involving violence between family members, and intimate partners, including child abuse and elder abuse. This often takes place in the home.
  • Community violence; involving violence between people who are not related, and who may or may not know each other (acquaintances and strangers). It generally takes place outside the home in public places.

3. Collective violence includes violence inflicted by large groups such as states, organised political groups, militia groups or terrorist organisations.

The types of violence outlined above are distinguished by the relationship between the perpetrators and the victims of the violent behaviour. The violent behaviour can be further described in terms of whether it is physical, psychological, sexual, or involves deprivation and neglect (see figure 2).

This typology is useful for demonstrating the nature of the violence, the relationship between the offenders and victims, and the settings where violence occurs, i. e. within the family or the community.

For example, violence in public places can include intimidation, threats, and physical or sexual assaults, between friends or strangers. Child abuse in the home can include psychological, physical and sexual abuse and neglect.

Community Violence and Sexual Violence

The Government is interested in addressing all types of violence, and is continuing to develop measures to achieve this (as indicated in this document).

However, the types of violence that are the focus of this Action Plan are community violence and sexual violence, as indicated by the shaded areas in Figure 2.

Community violence is defined for this Action Plan as: violence between people who are not related, and who may or may not know each other (acquaintances and strangers). It generally, but not always, takes place outside the home, in public places.

Sexual violence is defined for this Action Plan as: any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, sexual harassment, or act directed against a person's sexuality, using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. 7 This includes various forms and contexts of sexual violence such as rape (within a relationship and by strangers or acquaintances), sexual abuse of mentally or physically disabled people and sexual abuse of children.

Figure 2. A Typology of Violence



  1. World Health Organisation (WHO), 1996, WHO global consultation on violence and health. Violence: a public health priority, Geneva, (document WHO/EHA/SPI.POA. 2)
  2. WHO, 2002, World report on violence and health, Geneva
  3. Adapted from the WHO definition.