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Lateral Violence

“Know who you are – you are a reflection on your family”

Universal Alaska Native Value

Last updated May 2021

What is Lateral Violence?

Lateral violence- also called internalized colonialism or horizontal violence- happens when people who have been oppressed for a long time feel so powerless that rather than fighting back against their oppressor, they unleash their fear, anger, and frustration against their own community members. For Indigenous communities, lateral violence is a part of a larger cycle of hurt that has its roots in colonization, trauma, racism, and discrimination.

Sometimes those who hurt others with lateral violence may not be 100% aware of their actions or the suffering their actions cause. This might be because lateral violence often provides individuals who hurt others with a false sense of power or influence. [2]

What Does Lateral Violence Look Like?

Like other forms of violence, lateral violence is a learned behavior that can take on different forms. The first step in addressing lateral violence is to recognize it. Lateral violence includes, but is not limited to the following behaviors in the workplace, home, school, and community:

  • Bullying (making fun of or embarrassing others, making snide comments and remarks, and using putdowns)
  • Social exclusion (not letting someone in a social group, gossiping, ignoring, or freezing out people)
  • Nonverbal intimation (raising eyebrows, making faces, eye rolling, setting up situations so a person will fail)
  • Cyber-bullying (using the internet to spread rumors about someone, treating someone unkindly online)
  • Physical violence (physically attacking a person)

Lateral violence is not healthy, and the best practice is to address it sooner, rather than later. [1]

Lateral Violence in Indigenous Communities

The effects of lateral violence are felt deeply throughout many communities worldwide, including Indigenous communities. Lateral violence can reduce our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. It can drain our self-confidence, motivation, and desire to contribute to our communities. Lateral violence undermines safety and trust, and it makes us feel alone.

Combatting Lateral Violence

Although many individuals who commit lateral violence are often survivors of abusive behaviors themselves, it is not appropriate for them to take out their unhealed issues on others.

To combat lateral violence, we must remember to be respectful of one another and to name lateral violence when we see it.

If you are experiencing lateral violence, you can:

• Report the behavior – for example, if you are at school, you can report it to a teacher

• Keep a record of the negative behaviors- make notes about the time, date, location, and any witnesses who may have seen the incidents

• If you feel safe, address your concerns with the aggressor and ask them to stop

• Speak with others in a similar situation and share advice

• Seek help and advice at work or in the community- in the workplace, you may have a human resources manager, or manager who can assist you in resolving the situation

• Seek the support of friends and family or a behavioral health counselor

• Speak to an Elder or other trusted adult about lateral violence and how you can help your community address lateral violence. [3] 

[1] Korff, J. (2020). Bullying & Lateral Violence. People. Reference: https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/people/bullying-lateral-violence

[2] Native Women’s Association of Canada. (2011). Aboriginal Lateral Violence: What is It? Fact Sheet on Aboriginal Lateral Violence: https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2011-Aboriginal-Lateral-Violence.pdf?utm_content=buffera968d&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[3] SafeWork. (2021). Lateral Violence. Culturally safe workplaces. Reference: https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/safety-starts-here/our-aboriginal-program/culturally-safe-workplaces/lateral-violence

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