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SPOTLIGHT
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Violence can take on many different forms in today's society

Published on -2/25/2013, 7:37 AM

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This is the first in a series about violence in contemporary culture.

Q: How do we define violence in contemporary culture?

A: The World Health Organization in 2002 defined violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a 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." Noteworthy is the fact the WHO definition equates intention with action, regardless of outcome.

The use of power includes actions that result from power relationships. These actions include threats and intimidation. The definition of violence includes neglect, all physical, sexual and psychological abuse, suicide and self-abuse such as self-mutilation. The complete impact of violence, therefore, cannot be limited to injury and death.

Continuing with information from WHO, in the last 45 years, the rate of suicide has increased 60 percent worldwide. These figures do not include attempted suicides. The highest risk group for suicide used to be elderly men, but now the highest risk group is young people in both developing and developed countries.

In interpersonal violence, there is a strong inverse ratio between both homicide rates and economic development, and economic development and economic inequality. This relationship is most pronounced in poorer countries with large discrepancies between the rich and the poor. Homicide rates vary by gender and age. In persons 15 to 29 years, the male rate of homicide is six times the female rate. For other age groups, male homicides are two to four times greater than female rates. These statistics are from the Oxford University Press and the World Bank, 2006.

Other forms of violence reported by WHO include child abuse and intimate partner violence. Approximately 20 percent of women and 5 percent to 10 percent of men reported sexual abuse as children. A range of 25 percent to 50 percent of children reported physical abuse. A WHO study from 2011 across several countries reported a range of 15 percent to 71 percent of women experiencing physical or sexual abuse.

Collective violence includes war, armed conflicts and violent deaths. For example, violent deaths in the United States include those related to gangs and drugs, not wars within this country. Those countries suffering from long-term internal armed conflicts, such as Iraq, experience ongoing homicides related to collective violence.

The causes of violence are multi-factoral and can be categorized into four general levels. The first set of factors are demographic traits. These include age, income, education, genetic predisposition, personality, temperament, substance abuse and a personal history of experiencing, observing or engaging in violence.

The second level of causative factors is of close relationships, namely, family and friends. For young people, having friends who encourage or engage in violence increases their risks of becoming either perpetrators or victims. In marital relationships, high conflict predisposes partners to intimate partner violence. With elder abuse, the past relationships between the elderly persons and their caregivers are predisposing factors for abuse.

The third level of causes for violence is the community, including schools, neighborhoods and work environments. Examples of community forces leading to violence include drug trafficking, the absence of socializing networks and concentrations of poverty.

The fourth and final level of causes of violence is of broad social influences that either encourage or inhibit violent behavior. These forces include the social norms creating gender roles, the cultural practices for raising children, income equality or inequality, the responsiveness of the social welfare system and the criminal justice system, and the cultural acceptance of violence.

The cultural climate's attitude toward violence largely is determined by exposure to violence in the media, the availability of firearms and political instability.

A review of the history of the world and the history of the United States reveals violence has been a behavior present throughout its history.

According to John Galtung, in an article in 1969, there is institutional violence in this country. He coined the phrase structural violence, which can be defined as society preventing some people from meeting their basic needs. Examples of structural violence include ethnocentrism, racism, sexism and ageism. Author James Gilligan defines structural violence as the increased suffering of those occupying the lower rungs of society, including disability and death.

* Next week's article will continue a discussion of contemporary cultural violence.

Judy Caprez is an associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.

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