Advantages and Disadvantages of Defining Violence Focus on Physical Harm


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The issue of defining violence has brought a lot of concern as there is no clear definition since many reflects biasness, inconsistencies, and ambiguity. The term violence is one of the universal scourges that threaten life, happiness, and also the health of all people. One way of defining violence is to consider the effects such as physical harm. Other definitions focus on violence as a cause of mental, social, material, and psychological damage and injuries. There may be many definitions based on different social philosophers, and this paper primarily focuses on violence as the cause of physical harm to an individual or group of people. Therefore, there is need to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of such definitions. The disadvantages encountered necessitate other factors that should be considered when defining violence. Such factors include: violence as a cause of material, a psychological and social effect on an individual or group of people.

Violence is a statutory impermissible physical force applied by one person or group to oneself or other individuals that causes physical harm or death to the intended person or group (Stanko 2002). Rosenberg also conquers with Stanko definition since he gives such definition to violence as “Violence is the threatened or actual use of physical force or power against another person, against oneself, or against a group or community that either result in, or has a high likelihood of resulting in, injury, death, or deprivation” (Rosenberg 1994). Jackman gave the general meaning of violence. Jackman stated that all physical, verbal, or written action that inflict or cause any pain, injuries, or harm to an individual was violence (Jackman 2001). The injuries include psychological, physical, mental, social, or material.

The violence levels are self-directed, interpersonal, or collective. Self-directed violence level involves physical, material, social, or psychological actions directed to an individual, and it causes harm to the person (Rosenberg 1994). Such consequences include destructive actions, suicidal thoughts, property destruction, and body alteration or mutilation. Body mutilation and suicidal actions are forms of violence that contribute to physical injuries. For examples, sexual violence and child maltreatment including rape and sexual harassment undercut interpersonal violence. Collective violence underpins physical actions and results in fatal injuries that are always planned by a group of individual to harm another person or a group of people (Rosenberg 1994). They include war, terrorism, and political conflict.

The definitions of violence discussed here above bring out the different meaning in many perspectives. Next step is to look at the advantages and disadvantages of such definitions. The primary focus will be on physical violence. The question is whether it appropriate to define violence as physical behaviour and actions, it helps to clearly distinguish physical violence from other forms of violence.

Violence is a social issue that causes diverse problems. Firstly, violence regarding physical behaviours results in death, permanent disability, pain, functional impairment, body mutilation, and minor and major injuries. Rape, murder, and warfare are some of the activities associated with violence. For example, in case there is war, death and injuries are the fruits of violence. War is an undesirable act that is considered deviant in the social context, and it is motivated by wilful malice and inhuman, hence, categorised as physical violence. In this regard, violence is physical activity that causes physical injuries.

It is deemed appropriate to focus on violence as the cause of physical harm rather than psychological, social, or material harm. Associating violence with physical force disqualifies psychological definition of violence. In rape incident, the victim’s rights are violated since victim suffers physical harm and torture, and the results are death and pain (Kelly 1988). When rape is considered as social violence, it does not cover up the physical injuries sustained by the victim. Thus, it is more relevant to define violence as physical harm.

Most profound effect of physical violence is non-physical. Thus, the general definition of physical violence covers up the mental and psychological harm. During a war, the victim suffers both physical harm and psychological harm. Though there is mental disturbance, war is majorly defined as physical violence. In fact, brain damage results from psychological or mental disturbance. However, mental disturbance may lead to nose bleeding, mental pain, and madness (Rosenberg 1994). Victim of madness may practice self-destruction or sometimes interpersonal violence. At times, mad people perform body mutilation and may even commit suicide or start a conflict with others (Rosenberg 1994). When such a scenario is considered psychological violence, then it fails to make the inclusion of physical effects. It justifies the advantage of defining violence focusing on physical harm.

Physical violence attends the infliction of both the emotional and psychological violence. When physical harm is initiated, it affects an individual both mentally and psychologically. Many social scientists are, for this opinion, taking into consideration rape cases where victims are not only physically harmed but also mentally disturbed (Kelly 1988). Rape causes mental depression, diminished self-esteem, worries, fear, and social shame in the mind of the victim. Since rape in many cases is considered a coercive physical behaviour, then it is advantageous to define violence in terms of physical actions as it will incorporate the other forms of violence.

Many people fail to expose psychological or mental violence especially when it is self-directed. It is, therefore, not imperative to define violence in mental or psychological terms. For instance, when a person decides to perform body mutilation including chopping off a finger, the action is exposed, and many people will be able to identify that the individual has caused self-harm. Consequently, reporting such cases to the authority will be easier than identifying and reporting psychological violence case (Waddington, Doug, and Ray 2005). Hence, it is advantageous to define violence in physical aspects since many psychological and emotional aspects of violence go unreported or unidentified.

Physical harm causes sexual abuse and may result from the use of physical power (Kelly 1988). In a case of a family, the father is always more powerful than the mother. The man may insist on engaging in sexual act in a manner that does not please the wife. The women may resist doing as restricted and ordained by the man, hence, resulting to violence. It is referred to marital rape, and it leads to physical injuries, separation, or sometimes death. Thus, such kind of powers causes’ physical harm, hence, it is important to describe it in physical terms.

Defining violence regarding physical harm is opposed as explained concerning racism. Is there any physical damage caused to an individual in terms of racial difference? The answer is clearly no (Wolff 1971). But the person will be disturbed both mentally and psychologically. This kind of pain and effect to an individual is not catered for in the definition of violence in terms of coercive physical activities. Therefore, when violence is limited to physical harm, psychological and mental harm will not be addressed. Thus, the definition given in physical harm concept is disadvantageous.

Moreover, only strong law policy is followed in the aspect of defining violence as physical harm. Therefore, such a definition does not undercut all types of violence. “When the state lawfully executes a convicted criminal, it is not usually treated as violence,” (Wolff 1971). In the scenario, the convicted criminal is physical and mentally tortured. Since the law is given the priority, the judge and those involved in aiding such violence are not condemned. In fact, it is looked upon as a lawful action. Also, the injuries sustained by workers during industrial activities are not considered as violence yet they cause physical harm (Wolff 1971). This is because the injuries are within the legitimately defined law boundary. However, such a person is affected psychologically. The act extends its effect to other individual including friends and relatives of the victim. Another case noticed in a scenario where police and social workers suffer an attack in the course of their work (Waddington, Doug, and Ray 2005). Therefore, violence should not only be defined in terms of unlawfully physical harm but also as a general cause of physical, mental and psychological harm to an individual or group.

Once it is explicitly acknowledged that the social response to violent actions or events is malleable, it can also be recognizing that not all acts of violence meet with uniform interpretations within the same culture.” (Jackman 2001). This quote from Jackman identifies that culture is dynamic and differs from one society to another. The way a community defines violence is different from the definition of another society. For example, some communities view female genital mutilation as a tradition rather than violence although it causes physical harm. If one defines FGM as a physical violence, then it may not make sense to all people. Therefore, it is disadvantageous to explain violence in terms of physical harm but also cultural norms, beliefs and traditions should be taken into consideration.

During violence, individual’s health is compromised. The health effect causes physical harm and injuries and also inner illness. For example, during war, materials are destroyed, thus, damaging them. But looking at the situation where these materials comprise of wood and other substances containing fuel, smoke is emitted which does not only pollutes the environment but also compromises human health. Hence, alongside physical harm there are detrimental health effects. The effect of such kind of pollutant causes health diseases such as lung cancer, TB, and allergy. These effects are hazardous to human health. Therefore, there is a need to describe such a situation in terms of physical, psychological, and emotional harm rather than physical only.

War, sexual abuse, domestic violence among others may occur without causing physical harm. For instance, when terrorists attack students in a school, they may not necessarily cause physical injuries to them but they may disturb them mentally. The same scenario is also reflected in domestic violence. Also, an individual may be insulted in terms of sexual consideration by another person verbally. Thus, inflicting mental pain on the victim results in mental depression and shame. In all this cases, it is noted that not all scenarios cause physical harm but may only cause mental or psychological injuries. Therefore, it nullifies the definition of violence focusing on physical harm only.

Many people assume that staying out of harm is the matter of locking doors and windows and avoiding dangerous places. However, to others, escaping violence is not possible. Surprisingly, the threat of violence is behind those doors – well hidden from public view. And for those living in the midst of war and conflict, violence permeates every aspect of life.” (Dartmouth 2007). Brundtland shows that there is no boundary in the manner in which violence occurs. Realistically, violence appears without the general public notice. As it was mentioned earlier, it is not a guarantee that every action of violence results to physical harm only since it also results to material and mental harm. Material harm results to mental depression emanating from stress. Brundtland urges that the matter of violence should be looked and analysed deeply considering all aspects of life (Dartmouth 2007). When violence is defined in terms of physical harm only, other important aspects are ignored, thus, implying that it is not an appropriate definition of violence.

Political harassment and conflicts encountered in most cases involve insults bringing out the issue of daily conflict (Kleinman 2006). They may occur within a nation or amongst nations. When a politician attacks an opponent in a political rally, the attack is not physical. Therefore, defining violence as a physical action disregards insults that are part of non-violence action. Thus, it gives reason to describe violence in a broad manner as reflected by Jackman. Also, with the same issue of politics, many deduction may be highlighted which nullify the definition of violence as physical. Many people describe politics as ‘dirty game’. The reason behind this description is that politics causes psychological, mental, physical, and material violence. Many political administrators use the power granted to them mercilessly. They fail to evaluate the impacts that their actions have on children and society in general. A child brought up in a community endorsed with political conflicts experience mental disturbance (Kleinman 2006). The child’s character is always inaugurated by the society actions. When politicians involve themselves in injustices and violation of rights, the well-being of the society is jeopardized. Thus, pointing out a reason to define violence in many aspects.

Corruption is among the major global threats. The definitions of violence focusing on physical harm have failed to describe corruption as violence. Corruption forms are the basis for modern violence that is in routine form rather than speculative form (Pandey 2006). Firstly, corruption is the act of using power or forcefully inheriting public or individual property unlawfully (Pandey 2006). Mostly, corruption is associated with power and politics. Most politicians develop weak social policies that can easily be bent to defend themselves when convicted of corruption cases. In fact, it is the responsibilities of the politicians to appoint and approve chief magistrate and other judges. Since politicians are endorsed with such powers, they embark on blackmailing and victimizing the judges to keep their cases underlying. It paves the way for the form of violence especially when the effect of corruption is taken into consideration. The effects include loss of material, leads to public or individual stress, and losing trust from another individual. It may also cause physical harm as people fight back the corrupt individuals (Pandey 2006). Since corruption is one of the factors that cause injuries, it is advisable to describe violence in general terms.

In conclusion, the definitions of violence vary depending on the scope of the subject matter. Some of the factors that bring out the definition of violence are culture, environment, and philosophical view and interpretation. Defining violence in terms of physical harm is associated with various advantages and disadvantageous. In fact, such a definition excludes other forms of violence such as emotional that should not be left out. Therefore, it is imperative to emulate Jackman’s point of view while defining violence.


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