Learn how violence affects teens, violent crimes and their consequences, and what teens can do about violence.
Why should teens be concerned about violence?
Young people are disproportionately affected by violent crime. They commit a larger share of violent crimes and are more frequently the victims than those in other age groups.
In 2020, 15,684 total violent-crime incidents and 18,136 offenses were reported to Virginia law enforcement agencies. (Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Crime Data Explorer, 2020, https://crime-data-explorer.app.cloud.gov/pages/explorer/crime/crime-trend).
Of the total 15,684 violent crime incidents in Virginia, 3,067 young people aged 10 to 19 were murdered in 2020. However, 2,704 young people aged 10-19 were the offenders. (Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Crime Data Explorer, 2020, https://crime-data-explorer.app.cloud.gov/pages/explorer/crime/crime-trend).
In 2019, homicide was the third leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 years old in the United States. Within that group, homicide is the leading cause of death for non- Hispanic Black or African American youth. (See https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/ pdf/yv/YV-factsheet_2022.pdf).
In 2019, more than 1,000 young people were treated in emergency departments for physical assault-related injuries each day. (See https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/yv/YV-factsheet_2022.pdf).
According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, youth violence is linked to negative health and well-being outcomes and disproportionately impacts communities of color. Violence increases the risk for behavioral and mental health difficulties which include: (1) future violence perpetration, (2) future violence victimization, (3) smoking, (4) substance abuse, (5) obesity, (6) high-risk sexual behavior, (7) depression, (8) academic difficulties/school dropouts, and (9) suicide.
What can teens do about violence?
Because violence results from conflicts between people, it may be prevented by learning nonviolent ways to solve problems and control anger. Violence is never an acceptable form of behavior. Some steps you can take to avoid violence or injury are:
- Make a commitment not to contribute to violence in any way. Do not bully, tease, or spread negative gossip about others. Respect others and value differences. Try to broaden your social circle to include others who are different from you.
- Get involved in your school and community. Volunteer with a community group, play sports, write a play or poem, play a musical instrument, or join a club or after-school program.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Stay away from alcohol and drugs as well as people who use them. There is a strong link between the use of alcohol and drugs and violence.
- Learn about ways to resolve arguments and fights without violence, and encourage your friends to do the same. Listen carefully to others’ opinions. Many schools, churches, and after-school programs offer training in conflict resolution skills.
- If someone is threatening you and you feel that you are in serious danger, do not take matters into your own hands. Find an adult you can trust and discuss your fears, or contact school administrators or the police. Take precautions for your safety, such as avoiding being alone and staying with a group of friends if possible.
- If you know someone is planning to harm someone else, report him or her. We may have heard childhood criticisms of “tattling” but reporting potential violence is the most courageous thing you can do. Tell a trusted adult, such as a teacher, guidance counselor, principal, or parent. If you are afraid and believe that confiding in an adult will put you in danger or lead to retaliation, find a way to anonymously contact the authorities.
- Take the initiative to make your school or community safer. Join an existing group that is promoting non-violence in your school or community, or launch your own effort.
Are there laws against violence in Virginia?
Yes. There are numerous laws related to violence in Virginia. Violent crimes range in seriousness from murder (defined as killing that is willful, deliberate, and premeditated) to simple assault (defined as an attempt or offer to do bodily injury with force and violence).
What are the consequences of violent acts?
Crimes are organized into two main classifications: felonies and misdemeanors.
A felony is a serious crime punishable by life imprisonment or a term of imprisonment in a state or federal prison for at least one year and a possible fine.
A misdemeanor is a lesser crime punishable by local jail time of not more than one year and/ or a possible fine. Some offenses may either be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances surrounding the crime and the degree of the criminal act.
Felonies are classified into categories called classes for the purpose of sentencing. Felony classifications are listed below in order of the seriousness of the punishment.
Class 1 felony: Imprisonment for life; and a possible fine of not more than $100,000. It is important to know that someone as young as 14 may be tried as an adult and sentenced to life imprisonment. (Code of Virginia § 16.1-269.1(A)). However, any person sentenced to life imprisonment for one or multiple felonies committed while the person was a juvenile and who served 20 years in prison is eligible for parole. (Code of Virginia § 53.1-165.1(E)).
Class 2 felony: Imprisonment for 20 years to life, and a possible fine of not more than $100,000.
Class 3 felony: Imprisonment for five to 20 years, and a possible fine of not more than $100,000.
Class 4 felony: Imprisonment for two to 10 years, and a possible fine of not more than $100,000.
Class 5 felony: Imprisonment for one to 10 years or confinement in jail for not more than 12 months, and/or a possible fine of not more than $2,500.
Class 6 felony: Imprisonment for one to five years or confinement in jail for not more than 12 months, and/or a possible fine of not more than $2,500.
(Code of Virginia § 18.2-10)
Misdemeanors are classified for the purposes of sentencing. The four classes of misdemeanors are listed below in order of the severity of the punishment.
Class 1 misdemeanor: Confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and/or a possible fine of not more than $2,500.
Class 2 misdemeanor: Confinement in jail for not more than six months and/or a possible fine of not more than $1,000.
Class 3 misdemeanor: A fine of not more than $500.
Class 4 misdemeanor: A fine of not more than $250.
(Code of Virginia § 18.2-11)
What are Homicides?
Homicide is the killing of one human being by another. Homicide offenses include murder and manslaughter. The difference between murder and manslaughter is malice, the intent to commit a wrongful act without justification or excuse.
Some murders can be punishable by a sentence of death. These are known as capital offenses.
Some murders are considered so reprehensible that they are punishable by a sentence of death. These are known as capital offenses. In 2021, Virginia became the 23rd state that eliminated capital punishment, which means that offenders cannot be executed.
Examples of capital crimes include, but are not limited to, killing a person for hire, murder of a law enforcement officer, murder by a prisoner, multiple murders, murder arising from a drug distribution crime, and murdering a person as an act of terrorism.
Aggravated murder is the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a person (1) in the commission of abduction, robbery, rape, sodomy, (2) for hire, (3) by a prisoner, (4) killing of a law-enforcement officer, etc. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-31(A)). Aggravated murder is a Class 1 felony punishable by no less than life in prison and a possible fine of not more than $100,000.
All other murder not defined as either aggravated murder or first-degree murder is second-degree murder, and is punishable by anywhere from five to 40 years in prison. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-32).
First degree murder is a Class 2 felony in Virginia. It is first degree murder to commit murder, other than capital murder, by poison, lying in wait, imprisonment, starving, or by any willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or in the commission of, or attempt to commit, arson, rape, forcible sodomy, inanimate or animate object sexual penetration, robbery, burglary, or abduction. All other murder, other than aggravated murder and first degree murder is of the second degree. (Code of Virginia §§ 18.2-10(b) and 18.2-32).
Manslaughter is also the killing of one human being by another but is not premeditated. Involuntary manslaughter is a killing that is unintentional, such as when the person is driving or operating a watercraft under the influence of drugs and alcohol. (Code of Virginia §§ 18.2-36.1 and 18.2-36.2).
Voluntary manslaughter is a killing that is intentional but not premeditated, such as a killing committed during mutual combat or a killing committed after being provoked by the victim. (Code of Virginia §§ 18.2-35 and 18.2-36).
Both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are punishable as Class 5 felonies.
It is a felony to use or attempt to use any pistol, shotgun, rifle, or other firearm or display such weapon in a threatening manner while committing or attempting to commit certain felonies such as murder, rape, robbery, carjacking, malicious wounding, and abduction. This is punishable by mandatory imprisonment of three years for a first conviction and five years for a second or subsequent conviction. This punishment is in addition to any punishment for the primary felony. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-53.1).
Also, it is a felony to intentionally discharge a firearm with a reckless disregard to human life, when this discharge results in a serious injury to another person. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-56.1(A1)).
It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to engage in stalking (including cyber-stalking), which is conduct directed at another person with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death, criminal sexual assault, or bodily injury to that person or that person’s family. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-60.3).
Assault: assault and battery
It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to commit a simple assault or assault and battery against another person. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-57). Added penalties may apply under certain circumstances:
- It is a Class 1 misdemeanor and hate crime to intentionally select a victim because of race, religious conviction, gender/gender identity/sexual orientation, disability, color, or national origin. Mandatory six months in jail.
- It is a Class 6 felony to intentionally select a victim because of race, religious conviction, gender/gender identity/sexual orientation, disability, color, or national origin if the assault results in bodily injury. Mandatory six months in jail.
- It is a Class 6 felony to commit an assault or assault and battery against a law enforcement or correctional officer, person/employee involved in the care or supervision of the correctional facility, firefighter, or rescue squad member engaged in the performance of his or her public duties. Mandatory six months in jail.
- It is a Class 1 misdemeanor to commit an assault or assault and battery against any full-time or part-time school employee engaged in the performance of his or her duties. Sentence of 15 days in jail, mandatory 2 days in jail. If the offense is committed by using a firearm or other weapon on school property, there is a mandatory six months in jail. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-57(A)-(D)).
In general, a threat is a communication of intent to kill or do bodily injury to another person or any member of that person’s family, when that communication places the other person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury to himself or herself or his or her family. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-60). Threats can be written or verbal.
Written Threats: If the threat is written, the person is guilty of a Class 6 felony, which can result in imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years or confinement in a jail for not more than 12 months and a possible fine of not more than $2,500. (Code of Virginia § 18.2- 60(A)(1)).
If a written threat is made on school premises, at a school-sponsored event, or on a school bus, it is a Class 6 felony, even if the person who is the target of the threat doesn’t receive the threat. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-60(A)(2)).
Verbal Threats: A verbal threat to kill or do bodily injury to (1) any school employee while on school property, at a school-sponsored activity, or while on a school bus; or (2) any healthcare provider, is a Class 1 misdemeanor. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-60(B)).
In addition, any verbal threats, or the use of obscene or indecent language with the intent to coerce, intimidate, or harass another person, made using a telephone or a citizens band radio, is a Class 1 misdemeanor. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-427).
Malicious wounding is a Class 3 felony and is defined as maliciously shooting, stabbing, cutting, or wounding another person or causing bodily harm, with the intent to maim, disfigure, disable, or kill. If the wounding is done unlawfully, but without malice, the unlawful wounding is a Class 6 felony. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-51).
It is a Class 2 felony if the victim of the malicious wounding is severely injured and is caused to suffer permanent and significant physical impairment; this is called aggravated malicious wounding. It is a Class 2 felony also if the victim is pregnant and she is severely injured or caused to suffer permanent and significant physical impairment, including the involuntary termination of her pregnancy. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-51.2).
Robbery with assault
It is a felony to commit robbery by (1) causing serious bodily injury or death of a person, (2) using or displaying a firearm in a threatening manner, (3) using physical force that does not result in serious bodily injury or displaying a deadly weapon that is not a firearm in a threatening manner, or (4) using threat or intimidation or other means not involving a deadly weapon. This is punishable by imprisonment for life or any term not less than one year. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-58(B)).
It is a Class 5 felony to seize, take, transport, detain, or secrete another person by force, intimidation, or deception, and without legal justification or excuse, with the intent to deprive such other person of his or her personal liberty or to withhold or conceal him or her from any person, authority, or institution lawfully entitled to his or her charge. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-47).
- This is a Class 1 misdemeanor if committed by a parent or guardian.
- This is a Class 6 felony if committed by a parent and the child is removed from the Commonwealth of Virginia.