Violence: risk factors

No single risk factor can be taken in isolation to explain why individuals engage in violent behaviour. The WHO’s World Report on Violence and Health (2002) uses an ecological model to explain the complex nature of violence and identifies risk factors at 4 levels: individual, relationship, community and society. Risk factors within each level of the model can interact in different ways to make it more or less likely that an individual will engage in violence. For example, deprivation, poverty, poor educational attainment, substance misuse and history of exposure have all been identified as risk factors. Additionally, exposure to violence is linked with changes in neurological functioning in children and older adults (Bellis et al 2014).

Examples of risk factors across the different levels of the ecological model are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Examples of shared risk factors of violence at each ecological level*
  Ecological level
Individual Relationship Community Society





Victim of child abuse Poor parenting practices Poverty Economic inequality
Psychological / personality disorder Marital discord High unemployment Gender inequality
Delinquent behaviour Violent parental conflict High crime levels Cultural norms that support violence
Alcohol consumption / drug use Low socioeconomic household Local illicit drug trade High firearm availability
  Delinquent peers Inadequate victim care services Weak economic safety nets

Source: Conaglen and Gallimore, 2014, page 16 (1.1Mb), adapted from Bellis et al and WHO

* Please note that the table columns read downwards for each ecological level.