Crime and Human Rights (2): Violence, Types and Numbers

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horror / human rights and crime / war

entertained by it

(copyright Ric Stultz, source)

Violence is the aggressive exertion of force so as to injure or abuse, physically or mentally. Injury and abuse are inflicted on fellow human beings in order to achieve a certain goal, e.g. profit, pleasure, political gain, revenge, recognition, respect, honor, destruction, exploitation, fear, oppression etc.

In some cases, there doesn’t seem to be a goal and violence is committed just for the sake of violence. This, however, is exceptional. Most violence is instrumental, and the goals which have to be achieved can be:

It’s apparent from this that the concept of “violence” can be broken down into different types of violence, but it can be done according to different kinds of distinctions. The distinction above is only one possibility. Below I will use the distinction between interpersonal violence and collective violence. Others have used other classifications, for example:

  • Violence classified by its causes: genetic causes, psychiatric disorders, economic causes (e.g. poverty), ideological causes, political causes, cultural or religious causes (for example female genital mutilation), social causes (e.g. dehumanization)…
  • Violence classified according to its effects: e.g. direct or indirect effects. Pornography for example is often called an indirect form of violence because it is violence which is said to cause other violence. Some kinds of violence have more indirect effects than others. Violence in general places a massive burden on national economies, costing countries billions of US dollars each year in health care, law enforcement and lost productivity. But war obviously causes a heavier burden than assault.
  • Violence classified according to the type of victims: racial violence, gender violence, ethnic violence, religious violence, domestic violence…

Some numbers

Worldwide, an estimated 1,6 million people lost their lives to violence in 2000. About half were suicides, one-third were homicides, and one-fifth were casualties of armed conflict (World Report on Violence and Health, World Health Organization, 2002).

Violence is among the leading causes of death for people aged 15–44 years worldwide, accounting for 14% of deaths among males and 7% of deaths among females.

Interpersonal violence

Fatal interpersonal violence, i.e. homicide

Here’s a world map with the number of murders or homicides per 100.000 inhabitants during the last years:

map world murder rate


And here are the same data for some selected countries:

homicide rate by country


And this is how the homicide rate in the U.S. evolved during the last decades:

homicide rate us


All in all, this is still almost 20.000 murders a year in the U.S. (more data on crime in the US. here). On the level of the World, an estimated 520.000 people were killed in 2000 as a result of interpersonal violence worldwide – a rate of 8,8 per 100.000 population. (source)

Non-fatal interpersonal violence

For every person who dies as a result of violence, many more are injured and suffer other harms (psychological, financial etc.). One example is rape. The following graph shows the number of attempted and completed cases of rape in the U.S.:

rape us


non fatal violence us


Self-inflicted violence; suicide

Globally, an estimated 815.000 people killed themselves in 2000. (source)

Collective violence and war

This includes armed conflicts within or between states, and state-perpetrated violence such as genocide, torture, repression, some kinds of famine and poverty, and other abuses of human rights.

Since the beginning of recorded history, around 3600 BC, over 14.500 major wars have killed close to four billion people.

During the 20th century, one of the most violent periods in human history, an estimated 191 million people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of armed conflict, and well over half of them were civilians. In 2000, about 310 000 people died as a direct result of conflict-related injuries – the majority of them in the poorer parts of the world. (source)

war deaths

Terrorist violence also falls under this header:

deaths due to terrorism

More on violence.


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