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Youth Violence: Definitions

Interpersonal violence is defined as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against another person or against a group or community that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation."1 Research and programs addressing youth violence typically include persons between the ages of 10 and 24, although patterns of youth violence can begin in early childhood.

This definition associates intent with committing the act-no matter the outcome. In other words, intent to use force does not necessarily mean intent to cause damage. Indeed, there may be a considerable disparity between intended behavior and intended consequence. A perpetrator may commit a seemingly dangerous act that will likely result in adverse health effects, but the perpetrator may not perceive it as such. For example, a youth may get in a physical fight with another youth. The use of a fist against the head or the use of a weapon in the dispute certainly increases the risk of serious injury or death, though neither outcome may be intended.

Other aspects of violence are implied in this definition. For example, it includes all acts of violence, whether public or private, reactive (in response to previous events such as provocation), proactive (instrumental for or anticipating more self-serving outcomes), or criminal or noncriminal. Each of these aspects is important to understanding the causes of violence and in designing prevention programs.

Why is a Consistent Definition Important?

A consistent definition is needed to

  • monitor the incidence of youth violence,
  • examine trends over time,
  • determine the magnitude of youth violence, and compare youth violence across jurisdictions.

Such consistency also helps researchers uniformly measure risk and protective factors for victimization and perpetration. Ultimately, these measurements inform prevention and intervention efforts.


  1. Dahlberg LL, Krug EG. Violence: a global public health problem. In: Krug EG, Dahlberg LL, Mercy JA, Zwi AB, Lozano R, editors. World report on violence and health. Geneva (Switzerland): World Health Organization; 2002. p. 1-21.