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Physical assault, in this instance, refers to non-domestic attacks that may occur during muggings, home invasions, car-jackings, riots, or even within the workplace.  The assault may not result in bodily harm, even if a weapon such as a gun or knife is used in the attack, violence can be verbally threatened, or victims may be spat at or insulted.  Victims may know their attackers, but the majority will have had no known connection prior to the attack.  Physical assault can leave the victim shaken, fearful, and severely injured.


The following are examples of physical assault.

  • Provocation: insults, death threats.
  • Intimidation: making a fist, pushing, stalking, stealing/throwing objects.
  • Brutality: attacks, rape, struggles, fights.
  • Punches and injuries: bites, bruises, injuries, dislocations, fractures.
  • Assault with a weapon.
  • Armed robbery (with a firearm or using force or the threat of force)

Information on physical assault can also be found in our fact sheets on domestic violence, sexual violence, and child victimization.

Assault can be defined as:
 an intentional act by one person that creates an apprehension in another of an imminent harmful or offensive contact.”.

Any act which causes physical harm because of unlawful physical force. Physical violence can take the form of, among others, serious and minor assault, deprivation of liberty and manslaughter.

It’s estimated that 15% of Europeans or 75 million people in the European Union fall victim to crime.  According to Eurostat, levels in physical assault and homicide have been on the decrease between 2012 and 2017 – updates to these figures are due to be published in July 2020.  “The number of police-recorded assaults varies widely across the EU, even relative to population size. Different laws, reporting rate and recording practices affect comparisons. For instance, in addition to serious assault, some national figures include threats, minor assault, lethal assault (manslaughter, murder, etc.) or sexual assault (which usually is counted separately).”

Victims’ rights in the EU are established under The Victim’s Rights Directive. The directive sets out the 6 key rights available to all victims of all types of crime that take place in any member state.  The following link will allow you to familiarize yourself with your rights as a victim of crime:

Member states each have their own legal code that will apply to the crime of physical assault.  Punishment, whether custodial or financial, will depend on the severity of the crime and on the outcome of any court case.  However, all victims of crime in Europe are entitled to compensation and restitution under the Victim’s Rights Directive.


As physical assault covers a broad range of attacks, advice on self-protection must necessarily be just as broad.  Here are some ‘common sense’ tips to help you stay safe while you’re on the streets:

  • Be alert to your surroundings – don’t wear your headphones when walking alone
  • Be confident and pay attention – don’t look like a tourist
  • Avoid dangerous people and situations – keep to well-lit populated areas
  • Don’t keep your valuables in one place – if a thief wants your handbag, wallet, phone let them take it
  • Keep sober – don’t get drawn into situations you can’t control because of alcohol or drug intoxication
  • Only use registered taxis – don’t accept lifts from strangers
  • Tell friends of your plans – use a buddy system so someone knows where you are
  • Take self-defense classes – keep yourself fit and aware.


If the assault becomes physical, you should defend yourself:

  • Attract attention – scream and shout for help
  • Get yourself to a public area – run and don’t look back
  • Use what comes to hand to protect yourself – keys, umbrella, handbag, books, etc.
  • Aim for weak points – knees, arch of foot, eyes
  • Use your elbow – it’s stronger than your fist
  • Call the police


If the assault happens in the workplace, you should report the attack to your supervisor and your HR department.

Being a victim of assault, whether verbal or physical, will leave you feeling vulnerable and emotionally distressed.  If you have been physically injured, you will have to cope with the additional concerns of your wounds and receiving treatment.  It may be hard to come to terms with what has happened, and you may have problems coping with the aftermath of the attack.  Whether or not you knew your attacker, you will question why you were attacked and how you could have prevented the situation, you will question your actions before, during and after the event – your questions can be overwhelming and cause you to withdraw from family, friends and those who can assist you.

Many victims of assault don’t report their attack – they may be afraid of reprisals, they may feel the attack was their fault, they may fear going to the police, or they may not know how to make the report.  However, it is important that you report the assault as soon as you can as this will assist the police in apprehending your attacker.

You should contact the police either by phone or in person.  If the crime is under way, you should use the emergency number, otherwise use the non-emergency number to file your complaint.  If you decide not to report the crime immediately, you can do so later – contact your local Victim Support organization for assistance.

You will need to give details of the assault, such as:

  • Date, time, place of the attack
  • Who carried out the attack
  • What was your response
  • What happened during the attack
  • Were you injured, if so did you go to the hospital or see a doctor
  • Was property stolen
  • Were there any witnesses, who were they


You will be given a crime report number and a police investigator will be allocated your complaint.  The officer will handle the progress of your file up to and including the trial stage, assuming your attacker is apprehended and brought to justice.  You will be expected to provide statements detailing the assault and its effect on you, these will be used at any trial that takes place.  You will be informed of your rights as a victim and you will be told what to expect if your case is brought before a jury.  Importantly, you have the right to legal assistance in all EU member states and the right to an interpreter if the trial takes place outside your own country.


Being a victim of assault is an emotional experience, you will be stressed and worried about your personal safety.  It is important to reach out for help: there are many organizations ready to support you when you are ready to ask for assistance. Victim Support offers free, confidential advice and help to all crime victims and its staff will work with you in the aftermath of your attack.

If you’ve been affected by assault, there are a number of ways you can contact support services to get assistance or information.

  1. Get support locally from your nearest Victim Support team
  2. Report the attack at your local police station
  3. Seek help from your local citizen’s advice center

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