Violence at Work (UK)


An assault is defined in English law as:`any act of the defendant which directly and either intentionally or negligently causes the plaintiff immediately to apprehend a contact with his person'.


A threat can amount to a crime of assault

A threat (by act or gesture) of an application of force can amount to a crime of assault - but only if the person doing the threatening either has the ability to immediately put into effect the application of force threatened, or they cause the subject being threatened to believe that they have.



Battery is defined in English law as`any act of the defendant which directly and intentionally or negligently causes some physical contact with the plaintiff without the plaintiff's consent'. (Brazier, 1989).

(Caressing, kissing and spitting can constitute a 'battery'.)


Criminal Assault

Crimes of assault are covered by the "Offences Against the Person Act 1861" and are graded in terms of their seriousness from Common Assault through assault occasioning actual bodily harm (A.B.H.Section 47) to unlawful wounding (Section 20) and inflicting grievous bodily harm (G.B.H. Section 18).


Assaults are usually launched when the victim is most vulnerable ( i.e. in range and distracted / looking away)

When violence erupts things generally happen and conclude very quickly indeed. So quickly that even people in the close vicinity are usually unable to intervene. The assailant normally explodes into action, rushing at the opponent with a flurry of blows and kicks. Generally the main target will be the face/ head.


The ‘victim' usually responds in one of three way :

  • they back off trying to get out of range and away

  • they react defensively to protect and shield themselves

  • they grab hold of the attacker and begin to wrestle and grapple

If the action chosen is to run, or back away, or to protect defensively, the assault will usually be over very quickly and the parties will generally disengage. This is particularly true where other people are present.

If the option chosen is to retaliate by fighting then the struggle could become more prolonged, with hair pulling, scratching, gouging and biting. This is likely to add to the severity of the outcome.


The most predominant form of assault is the overarm ‘hammer' blow

In studies of nursery children, the fighting behaviour almost completely mirrors that of adults. A rapid assault and it is all over. The attack may take the form of hair pulling, pushing, pulling, kicking or biting, but it is most commonly the overarm blow where the palm-side of the hand (maybe as a fist) beats down on to the victim. It may seem very primitive but it is effective. This style of assault occurs in widely different cultures around the world, and could even be regarded as an ‘inborn' attack pattern.

Where a violent person picks up a big object to be used as a weapon it is likely (although never certain) that they will resort to this mode of attack.


Some assaults seem to happen out of the blue

Some violent assaults occur without any apparent provocation by the victim (i.e. where the victim has been selected at random and attacked without warning). But, most assaults are preceeded by some form of communication between the parties (verbal or non verbal) which stimulates hostility and aggression.