Violence comes in many different forms. As a basic classification, it can be either physical or mental. Violence can involve hitting or kicking or, for example, hurting someone with words or otherwise causing mental stress and suffering. Both types hurt others and can cause substantial damage.

Also becoming discriminated because of a certain characteristic or feature is violence. This includes racism. Also actions whereby a person is abused by, for example, conning them for money, is called violence. Likewise, being left without attention as well as neglect are forms of violence. Not caring for a child or an elderly who depends on you is neglect, and unauthorised spending of family funds is financial neglect.

Becoming a victim of violence is a traumatic experience. Besides emotional trauma, physical violence can cause severe physical damage. What is common for all types of violence is that it hurts and often makes the victim feel bad and worthless. Also the following feelings, amongst others, may be connected to the violence experienced:

  • Insecurity and fears
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt and shame
  • Worthlessness
  • Helplessness and powerlessness
  • Anger and aggression
  • Bitterness and desire for revenge
  • Depression, for example, and self-destructive behaviour
  • Physical symptoms such as headache, sleep problems or stomach aches

Keeping violence hidden is typical. Regardless of the type of violence, the victim may try to cover up the situation and their injuries or make excuses for the behaviour of the offender. A victim of a sudden violent act may find it difficult to believe what happened and only seek help a long time later. In case of violent crimes, people are not always aware that an action is a crime and do not report it to the authorities.

Becoming the victim of violence often goes together with feelings of guilt and shame that prevent them from seeking help. Also fear for the offender or a belief that the situation will get better, may prevent people from seeking help. Continued assaults and mental violence undermine the feeling of self-esteem and may make it feel like seeking help is impossible.

For information on sexual violence and abuse, see the sites of Tukinainen rape crisis centre or Family Federation (Väestöliitto), for example.

Lots of additional information on violence and its different forms:
The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters
Nettiturvakoti (In Finnish)
National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)

Help for violence

The background of violence may vary, but help is available both in cases of individual experiences of violence as well as recurring abuse. The cycle of violence can be broken. Help is available both for victims of violence and those committing violent acts, and it is always worth seeking help.

If you have become or see someone else becoming the victim of violence, immediately call the emergency number 112. Intervention is always required in cases of violence. Read the Police's instructions on how to react to violence. If you have sustained physical injuries, go to the nearest emergency room or call 112 for help. Seek emotional support from Victim Support Finland, for example, that provides support and information on what to do.

Help in cases of domestic violence is available in shelters that you can go to any time of the day, also with children. Read more on the shelters of the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters. Children can also go to a shelter by themselves. The Finnish Red Cross maintains Youth Emergency Shelters in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Turku and Tampere. Help is also available at the Nettiturvakoti Internet shelter.

Getting a restraining order against the person responsible for violence is possible, also within a family. See the Police's website for information on restraining orders and legislation concerning domestic violence.

What should I do if I am afraid that I am violent?

Other sources of help:

Children and young people have to be protected from violence. Even witnessing violence may cause trauma to a child.

Help for people from other countries:

Don't be left alone with violence!

A violent crime affects the sense of security

A crime is a punishable act defined in the law. In addition to assault and homicide, violent crimes also include sexual crimes, such as rape or coercion to intercourse. Also a robbery is considered a violent crime. Assault is the most common form of violence. Also coercion and threatening behaviour are punishable even when no physical violence is used.

Basically anyone can become the victim of a crime. There is little one can do to prevent becoming the victim of a sudden violent crime. If you have become the victim of a crime, contact the Police as soon as possible.

The general emergency number is 112.

Victim support Finland offers help and support to victims of crimes. Also witnesses of crimes get help from Victim support Finland.

Becoming a victim of a crime usually causes a traumatic crisis. Therefore, recovery progresses in a way similar to other crises. People can survive from very difficult experiences, and everyone has means of coping that they utilise. In case of certain crimes and for some people, the need for professional help is more likely than for others. Do not hesitate to seek help.

“I was attacked in the street without any reason and completely against my will. I was in a shock for a long time and wasn't really able to understand any of it. I couldn't believe this had happened to me, as I'd lived my whole life in that town.”

Depending on the nature of the crime and the unique reaction models of the individual, experiencing a crime can cause many kinds of feelings and reactions. Both the victim themselves as well as a person who has witnessed a crime may experience a traumatic crisis. People who have experienced a crime often

  • fear the person who committed the crime or that the event will repeat itself. Distrust of different kinds of situations and people may increase.
  • feel insecure and helpless. Anything can happen. After the event, a person can in a way become sensitised to violence or “expect the worst” in every situation.
  • feel anxiety and may be confused and scared by their reactions – “Am I going mad”. Also the experience itself causes anxiety.
  • feel shame and guilt. They keep thinking about what they could have done to prevent what happened. Questions from others may feel like blaming. Constant experiences of shame may increase chances of depression. Shame may prevent them seeking help.
  • have difficulties with memory and attention. The event itself may seem unrealistic and nightmarish, or images of what happened may later come to mind unintentionally. Carrying out everyday tasks may become more difficult.

Also those close to the person in question should know that experiencing crime may change one's personality and emotional and social life. Great swings in emotions, for example, may influence behaviour, and loved ones may find it difficult to cope with this.

A crime victim may want to be alone, but on the other hand, they also need the support of loved ones. Changes are not necessarily a sign of mental illness, but a part of normal reactions. If they persist, however, you should always seek help.

Some crime victims also have physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches even if the actual crime was not physically violent. In the case of sexual crime, physical symptoms such as pain, breathing difficulties or a tight feeling in the throat or troubles sleeping are typical.

Rape victims often feel powerful contempt for their own body that may present itself as lack of appetite or excessive eating, possibly leading to an eating disorder or otherwise harming one's body. Also victims of other crimes may present self-destructive behaviour or suicidal thoughts or attempts.

If you experience continuous anxiety or depression, you have ideas of suicide, trouble sleeping or focusing or if you notice that you pay too much attention to signs possibly indicative of a crime, it is a good idea and very necessary to seek help.

Help is available, for example, from SOS Crisis Centre's crisis clinic, regional crisis centre or national crisis hotline: 01019 5202. Victims of rape can find help from Tukinainen rape crisis centre, for example. Talking to a psychologist is also possible via occupational health care, for example. Also talking to a psychiatric nurse at the local health centre may also be a good idea.

Help for violence
Victim support Finland: Violent crimes

Also used as reference:
Rikoksella loukattu. Rikoksen uhrin käsikirja (Kjällman, ed., 2004) [Hurt by crime. Manual for crime victims; in Finnish]. Victim support Finland & Finnish Association for Mental Health.

Emotional violence hurts from the inside

Emotional or mental violence refers to violence that has no physical form. People don't always seek help for emotional violence since it may be difficult to recognise or they don't think it's actual violence. It is a kind of hidden violence as it eats a person from the inside, not leaving any external signs, such as bruises or cuts.

Emotional violence may be encountered in many different places, and it comes at different levels. Emotional violence may, for example, express itself as indifferent treatment and name-calling or as threats of violence and intimidation. The results of emotional violence are psychological. Fear of those committing violent acts, anxiety and feelings of worthlessness and guilt are typical. Emotional violence may deeply harm the victim's self-esteem and self-respect and cause depression.

“It wasn't really so bad that he hit me, it was that he constantly kept telling me how bad I was. That was what hurt the most. The bruises disappeared in a week.”

Emotional violence is often linked to domestic violence. In addition to physical abuse, the spouse may call their partner names, criticise and humiliate them. Also workplace bullying and school bullying are usually emotional violence. School bullying may, however, also involve pushing a person around or hitting them. These are acts of physical violence that should be taken seriously.

Characteristics of emotional violence:

  • Humiliating treatment, such as
    • blaming
    • criticising or underestimating
    • trashing or name-calling
    • hurting in other ways
  • Indifferent treatment
    • Indifference towards the feelings of the victim of violence.
    • Your rights to equal treatment are not honoured.
  • Controlling behaviour, such as
    • threats, blackmailing or intimidation. In a family, a spouse may, for example, treat your children badly to make you do what they want. Emotional violence in a family also harms children.
    • controlling and restricting activities. In a family, you may be expected to account for your whereabouts and actions to your spouse, for example, and you may not decide for yourself.
    • claims or being forced to act as the other party wants, by means of threats of violence, for example.
    • exclusion, by means of affecting personal relationships or prohibiting them, for example.

"By blaming me, he made me believe I was responsible for the situation and thereby made me believe that being treated badly was justified. He also isolated me at home by means of threats, so that I could not seek help from my friends. This way, he could easily control me. I felt alone and abandoned.”

What emotional violence is not?

Emotional violence may sometimes overlap with bad or inappropriate behaviour. It is normal that we are sometimes offended by what other people do, and we also sometimes hurt others. We don't, however, always mean what the other person thinks by what we do or say.

If you feel hurt, it is a good idea to talk and find out what the other person meant by their actions and explain you felt about it. An open discussion may help us learn to know each other better. Unclear, unclarified issues may easily cause problems in the future. A person who has hurt someone else by accident and who respects other people often understands that it is possible to interpret things in different ways and may, for example, be willing to talk about the situation and clear things up.

On the other hand, behaviour that can be interpreted in various ways or that seems inappropriate may also be intentional. Emotional violence is often recurring, both in the workplace and in relationships. A person committing emotional violence does not necessarily feel guilty about their actions or consider the feelings and emotions of others.

They may behave pleasantly with other people, making it hard to believe the story of the victim. Such situations are very difficult, but it's still worth talking about things. If this cannot be done with the party committing emotional violence, you should seek help for yourself elsewhere by means of talking about the situation and processing it with a person you trust, for example.

Domestic violence

Violence inside a family or any relationship can be called domestic violence. Besides physical violence, domestic violence often includes emotional or mental violence. When referring to domestic violence, most people mean violence between parents or parties of a couple. Any member of the family may, however, be the one committing violence, such as an adult or a child. There may also be violence between small children that may be let pass, as it is considered “normal” squabbling.

“Only a fraction of domestic violence is reported to the authorities. People who have lived in a violent relationship for a long time often belittle what they have experienced and the effects of violence.”

Domestic violence often recurs, progresses in waves and becomes increasingly cruel over time. Violence in close relationships is often periodical. Such a period starts with an act of violence causing strong fear and despair, but the offender often downplays the act or tries to explain that it happened because of the victim. The victim starts to believe they are to blame for the violence and, in a way, accepts that the mistreatment is caused by their inferiority.

At some point, the offender often apologises or promises never to do the same again. You want to believe the person you love and hope that they will change. However, a more stable phase often ends with a new act of violence, preceded by a tense atmosphere or increased nervousness in the offender.

Continuous domestic violence commonly results in a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Feelings of threat and fear may lead to trauma and cause depression, amongst other things. There seems to be no way out of the situation and talking about it may feel impossible. Shame and threats may make a person keep silent about even the most serious assaults. They may believe that the spouse or other loved one will change, even after years. Remember that the feeling of inferiority and guilt is caused by humiliating acts of violence, not by you!

For more information on domestic violence, see the website of the Federation of Mother and Child and Shelters.
Read more on the classification of violence.
Publication of the Police and Ministry of the Interior on domestic violence.

Sari, 35, tells her story:

“I came home from work fearing that he would be awake. I turned the key in the lock very quietly so that he wouldn't hear and went inside. He was sitting half asleep on the living room couch, drunk as usual. Again.

I slipped into the bedroom and heard him stagger up from the couch and call me. I didn't want to answer, so he started yelling and rumbled into the bedroom, banging on the walls. He tried to hug me, mumbling that he'd never want to hit me again. However, a sore bruise in my arm reminded me even after a week that I'd heard that promise before.

“I've heard that lots of times before”, I said. That made him angry. It usually only took a word or two. Sometimes not even that. He was so quick, I didn't even move before he swung his hand at my cheek. I felt being shaken strongly and was slammed against the wall. Several times. I screamed in agony but didn't have the strength to fight back, so I eventually blacked out. Luckily the neighbour called the police.

Thinking back, I wonder how I kept up with it for so long. After every assault, I sank deeper into shame. I drowned myself and my feelings in overtime and was tired, probably also depressed.

After that most violent and luckily also the last event, the emergency nurse asked me if I'd sought help. A broken arm was a bit difficult to cover up or just explain away. That was how things started to unravel and I got help for dealing with what I had experienced. Also my abusive partner later sought help, which was good. Nevertheless, the relationship between the two of us broke up with a broken collar bone.”

Children must be protected from violence

The possibility of mental and physical damage also applies to the children in the family. Children have to live with violence and may be seriously affected by it. Domestic violence is a traumatic experience for a child even if they are not the direct target of violence. Report domestic violence to child protection authorities in your municipality. They will arrange for help for your family.

The atmosphere of the relationship between parents is often reflected in how the parents act, and through their emotions also in the child. Violence and threat thereof cause insecurity and fear in a child. A parent may be depressed, for example, which affects the way they interact with the child. A child may find the parent absent and interpret that they are not willing to spend time with them.

Violence may have the following effects on children, amongst others:

  • developmental delays and learning difficulties
  • problems with self-esteem
  • trouble trusting others
  • emotional problems, such as dull or uncontrolled emotions
  • psychiatric problems, such as behavioural problems (i.e. aggression, stealing) and depression
  • continuing violent behaviour in their own life.

Protect the child from violence and offer them help:

  • Domestic violence brings fear and insecurity into a child's life. The child should feel worth protecting. They need a safe adult who understands their reactions. Listen to what the child has to say. A child should never grow up in a violent home. If necessary, file a child protection report with the social welfare authorities of the child's home town.
  • Any adult can be there to listen to the child, but professional help should be sought for processing a traumatic situation. Where to find help for children and young people?
  • Tell the child what has happened and why. Also tell that it is not the child's fault. This may prevent feelings of guilt resulting from the child not knowing why parents hit each other.
  • Make a safety plan with the child, agreeing what to do in dangerous situations.
  • Let the child know that it is not their responsibility to end the violence by getting between their fighting parents. Going to get help and going to a safe place are the right things to do. You can, for example, read together with the child or teenager some guidelines written for them: How to cope with violence?

The elderly may suffer from domestic violence silently for decades

For the elderly, domestic violence may have continued for decades without anyone being told about it. The abuser is often one's own partner. Also adult children or other relatives may abuse their elderly relatives in order to gain financial benefit, for example. Neglecting care is also considered as violence. Since the attachment to one's own children is usually strong, violence committed by them is not objected to very easily. Neglect and abuse may cause powerful feelings of loneliness and helplessness.

According to a study of the National Institute for Health and Welfare, one in four women over the age of 60 are victims of violence. Emotional violence is the most common. Mistreatment strongly affects the quality of life.

Violence experienced by the elderly is usually not seen by the police or healthcare professionals, because it is not shared or easily sought help for. You should talk about your situation to the home help service or home hospital staff, for example. Those working with the elderly should guide the victim towards help if they suspect or notice that the person is experiencing domestic violence.

Also read the article: “Iäkkäisiin naisiin kohdistuva väkivalta on arka asia” [Violence experienced by elderly women is a sensitive issue; in Finnish]. The article was published in Tesso magazine 8/2010. You can find it in the THL archives.

Don't stay alone – get help!

Even when the situation seems impossible, tell someone about it. This person can be a friend or a social worker, for example. In acute cases of violence, call the emergency number or the police. Do not accept violence. You have the right to live safely without the threat of violence or fear for the safety and future of yourself or loved ones.

Remember that violence is never an acceptable way of dealing with problems and that being the victim of violence is not your fault. Help is available both for you and the person responsible for violence. In some cases, a restraining order may be a good option.

Read the article about breaking away from a violent relationship written by a psychotherapist. The article is written from the point of view of someone close to a person with a narcissistic personality disorder, but it also discusses the unnecessary feeling of guilt that is typical for people in violent relationships.