What is a Crime of Violence?

Dale Marshall

A crime of violence is a violation of the law in which physical harm is inflicted on one person by another. In some cases, the act of violence itself is the crime, such as assault. In other cases, though, the violence, or its threat, is used in the commission of another crime, such as robbery. Different countries have different definitions and standards for the definition of a crime of violence, making comparisons of statistics among various countries difficult.

Clearance of a crime simply means that an arrest has been made.
Clearance of a crime simply means that an arrest has been made.

In the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers four offenses to be violent crimes: aggravated assault, robbery, forcible rape, and murder (including non-negligent manslaughter). Crimes of violence account for around 12½% of all crimes committed in the United States, but it should be noted that since the early 1990s, the crime rate for all crimes in the United States has been steadily declining. In 1991, the crime rate was 5,897.8 (crimes annually per 100,000 population); of those, 758.1 were violent. By 2000, the overall crime rate had fallen to 4,124.8, of which 506.5 were violent. In fact, despite a population increase of almost 30 million, not only had the rate fallen, but the absolute number of crimes of all types had declined as well.

Crimes of violence can be perpetrated against children.
Crimes of violence can be perpetrated against children.

Crimes of violence often accompany other crimes as well. For example, kidnapping is not considered a crime of violence in the United States, but when kidnappers employ force in the commission of their crime, they're generally charged with that violent crime, as well as with kidnapping. In addition, the threat of violence is often employed in the commission of a crime. Extortion, for example, is defined as the unlawful taking of money or services of property by coercion, which often involves physical violence.

About half of the violent crimes in the United States are “cleared.” Clearance of a crime doesn't necessarily mean that the crime has been solved and the offender found guilty in court, but simply that an arrest has been made. About 12% of the cleared violent crimes involved only juveniles; in these cases, arrests generally aren't made, but the juvenile is cited to appear in juvenile or family court.

The term “crime of violence” means different things in different countries. Canada, for example, recognizes the American-defined violent crimes and also includes abduction, sexual offenses, and attempted murder. England and Wales simply define any violence at all against a person as a violent crime. Some nations also recognize property damage as a crime of violence. This is why it's so difficult to compare rates of violent crime among different nations.

One type of comparison is available: the homicide rate. The basic definition of homicide — the killing of a human by another human — is essentially the same worldwide. Statistics show that the region with the lowest homicide rate is Western and Central Europe, with 1.5 per 100,000 population; the rate for the entire European continent is 5.4. The continent with the highest murder rate is Africa, with 20, and Asia is the lowest at 3.2. North America's homicide rate is 6.5.

Examination and analysis of violent crime rates is important for many reasons. Governments may make decisions about the allocation of law enforcement funding based on comparative crime statistics, and individuals may consider crime rates when relocating. Insurance companies also take crime rates into account when setting some premium rates.

A violent crime involves the infliction of physical harm on one person by another.
A violent crime involves the infliction of physical harm on one person by another.

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Discussion Comments


State definitions of violence are often nonsensical compared to sociological ones (perhaps, in part, attributable to the fact that the former is defined by its monopoly on the legitimate use of).

Such state definitions often render long-held and consistent beliefs such as pacifism unintelligible. For centuries, pacifists have not even believed in the validity of self-defense, let alone kidnapping, theft, or vandalism. But suddenly we have the WHO defining violence according to outcomes and intentions rather than objective standards of action.

The fact that these whimsical definitions thrive speaks of the unfortunate linguistic careless of the population of our post-1984 world.

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