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Intimidation is to "make timid or make fearful";[1] or to induce fear. This includes intentional behaviors of forcing another person to experience general discomfort such as humiliation, embarrassment, inferiority, limited freedom, etc and the victim might be targeted based on multiple factors like gender, race, class, skin color, competency, knowledge, wealth, temperament, etc. Intimidation is done for making the other person submissive (also known as cowing), to destabilize/undermine the other, to force compliance, to hide one's insecurities, to socially valorize oneself, etc. There are active and passive coping mechanisms against intimidation that include, and not limited to not letting the intimidator cross your personal space, addressing their behavior directly, avoiding the person, being gingerly around them, honing breakaway skills, etc. Victims of intimidation would reasonably develop apprehension, experience fear of injury or harm, etc from the unwanted behaviors or tools of intimidation that include, and not limited to, condescending, rudeness, sarcasm, disrespecting, patronizing, degrading, disparaging, etc. However, it is not legally necessary to prove that the behavior caused the victim to experience terror or panic.[2]

Intimidation as a political process is done through national level threats to compel or deter another country to operate in ways the intimidating country wants it to be, an example of political intimidation is putting an embargo on items that the target country depends through import for forcing their compliance.[3][4] Certain second and third world countries use terrorism as an intimidation tactic. "A terroristic threat is a crime generally involving a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize other."[5] Personal intimidation is considered to be a management strategy to signal/inform potential rivals that they may face significant consequences if they act against the person in charge/management or to get workers in line.[6] Certain forms of intimidation like sexual and racial ones are considered as criminal offense in several civilized countries.


Intimidation is derived from the verb intimidate, and it comes from the Latin word intimidat, it means to "make timid." Intimidation is defined as an interaction style that emphasizes on "bullying, exploiting, or manipulating others, solely for one's own advantage."[7] Intimidation may be employed consciously or unconsciously, and a percentage of people who employ it consciously may do so as the result of selfishly rationalized notions of its appropriation, utility or self-empowerment. Intimidation related to prejudice and discrimination may include conduct "which annoys, threatens, intimidates, alarms, or puts a person in fear of their safety...because of a belief or perception regarding such person's race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct."[8]

Intimidation may manifest into coercion or threat with physical contacts, glowering countenance or in its own manner as emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, making someone feel lower than you, purposeful embarrassment and/or actual physical assault. "Behavior may become harassment in forms of epithets, derogatory comments or slurs and lewd propositions, assault, impeding or blocking movement, offensive touching or any physical interference with normal work or movement, and visual insults, such as derogatory posters or cartoons."[8]

Threatening behaviors may be conceptualized as a maladaptive outgrowth of normal competitive urge for interrelational dominance generally seen in animals. Alternatively, intimidation may result from the type of society in which individuals are socialized, as human beings are generally reluctant to engage in confrontation or threaten violence.[9]

Like all behavioral traits, it exists in greater or lesser manifestation in each individual person over time, but may be a more significant "compensatory behavior" for some as opposed to others. Behavioral theorists often see threatening behaviours as a consequence of being threatened by others, including parents, authority figures, playmates and siblings. For self-defense, use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it the force is necessary to defend themself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force.[10]

As a criminal offense

United States

"Intimidation" is the name of a criminal offence in several U.S. states. The definitions of the crime of Intimidation differ by state.

In Montana, Intimidation is defined as follows:[11]

45-5-203. Intimidation.

(1) A person commits the offence of intimidation when, with the purpose to cause another to perform or to omit the performance of any act, the person communicates to another, under circumstances that reasonably tend to produce a fear that it will be carried out, a threat to perform without lawful authority any of the following acts:
(a) inflict physical harm on the person threatened or any other person;
(b) subject any person to physical confinement or restraint; or
(c) commit any felony.
(2) A person commits the offence of intimidation if the person knowingly communicates a threat or false report of a pending fire, explosion, or disaster that would endanger life or property.
(3) A person convicted of the offence of intimidation shall be imprisoned in the state prison for any term not to exceed 10 years or be fined an amount not to exceed $50,000, or both.

Several states have a crime called "ethnic intimidation". For instance, the law of the state of Michigan reads:[12]

750.147b Ethnic intimidation.

Sec. 147b.

(1) A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person maliciously, and with the specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's race, colour, religion, gender, or national origin, does any of the following:
(a) Causes physical contact with another person.
(b) Damages, destroys or defaces any real or personal property of another person.
(c) Threatens, by word or act, to do any act described in subdivision (a) or (b), if there is reasonable cause to believe that an act described in subdivision (a) or (b) will occur.
(2) Ethnic intimidation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years, or by a fine of not more than $5,000.00, or both.
(3) Regardless of the existence or outcome of any criminal prosecution, a person who suffers an injury to his or her person or damage to his or her property as a result of ethnic intimidation may bring a civil cause of action against the person who commits the offence to secure an injunction, actual damages, including damages for emotional distress, or other appropriate relief. A plaintiff who prevails in a civil action brought according to this section may recover both of the following:
(a) Damages in the amount of 3 times the actual damages described in this subsection or $2,000.00, whichever is greater.
(b) Reasonable attorney fees and costs.

Crimes closely related to intimidation are menacing, coercion, terrorizing,[13] and assault.[notes 1]

In California, making criminal threats is a wobbler and may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under California Penal Code 422.[14] A felony criminal threat is a strike under California's three strikes law.

As a civil offense

United States

Intimidation can also be a civil offense, in addition to a criminal offense, in some U.S. states. For example, in Oregon a violation of the state criminal statute for intimidation results in a civil violation.[15] The plaintiff in the civil suit for intimidation may then secure remedies including an injunction or special and general damages.[15]

See also


  1. ^ The traditional common law definition of assault of putting the victim in fear/apprehension of harm is maintained in many states; in other states, assault is now defined as the contact itself, having replaced the traditional common law crime of battery. Further, in other states, assault may encompass both the threat and the contact. For more details, see the Assault and battery articles.

Further reading


  1. ^ "Definition of INTIMIDATE". Retrieved November 18, 2022.
  2. ^ Black's law dictionary (9th ed.). St. Paul, MN: West. 2009. p. 737. ISBN 9780314199508.
  3. ^ Spykman, Nicholas J. (July 12, 2017). America's Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-53208-2. It is not only possible to break the will of a nation by depriving it of essential imports; it is also possible to force a state to surrender...
  4. ^ Wegren, Stephen K. (November 16, 2018). Putin's Russia: Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 285. ISBN 978-1-5381-1427-8.
  5. ^ "Terroristic Threat Law and Legal Definition". USLegal.
  6. ^ Bolino, Mark C.; Turnley, William H. (2003). "Counternormative impression management, likeability, and performance ratings: the use of intimidation in an organizational setting". Journal of Organizational Behavior. 24 (2): 237–250. doi:10.1002/job.185. ISSN 0894-3796.
  7. ^ Morrison, Eileen F. (1992). "A coercive interactional style as an antecedent to aggression in psychiatric patients". Research in Nursing & Health. 15 (6): 421–431. doi:10.1002/nur.4770150604.
  8. ^ a b "Harassment Law and Legal Definition". USLegal.
  9. ^ Randall Collins, Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory (2009)
  10. ^ Simons, Kenneth W. (January 1, 2008). "Self-Defense: Reasonable Beliefs or Reasonable Self-Control?". New Criminal Law Review. 11 (1): 51–90. doi:10.1525/nclr.2008.11.1.51.
  11. ^ Services, Dale Matheson, Montana Legislative. "45-5-203. Intimidation". Archived from the original on August 10, 2020. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  12. ^ "Michigan Legislature - Section 750.147b".
  13. ^ "Title 17-A, §210: Terrorizing".
  14. ^ "California Penal Code 422". Archived from the original on November 8, 2016.
  15. ^ a b "ORS 30.198 - Civil action for intimidation - 2017 Oregon Revised Statutes". Retrieved August 8, 2019.