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Intimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that "would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" to fear injury or harm. It is not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause mean terror or that the victim was actually frightened.
Threat, criminal threatening (or threatening behavior) is the crime of intentionally or knowingly putting another person in fear of bodily injury. "Threat of harm generally involves a perception of injury...physical or mental damage...act or instance of injury, or a material and detriment or loss to a person." "A terroristic threat is a crime generally involving a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize other."
"Intimidation" is the name of a criminal offense in several U.S. states.
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.
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. "Use of force is justified when a person reasonably believes that it is necessary for the defense of oneself or another against the immediate use of unlawful force."
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."
Intimidation may be manifested in such manner as physical contacts, glowering countenance, emotional manipulation, verbal abuse, making someone feel lower than you, purposeful embarrassment and/or actual physical assault. "Behavior may include, but is not limited to, 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."
As a criminal offense
"Intimidation" is the name of a criminal offense in several U.S. states. The definitions of the crime of Intimidation differ by state.
In Montana, Intimidation is defined as follows:
(1) A person commits the offense 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 offense 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 offense 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:
750.147b Ethnic intimidation.
(1) A person is guilty of ethnic intimidation if that person maliciously, and with specific intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's race, color, 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 an 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 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 offense to secure an injunction, actual damages, including damages for emotional distress, or other appropriate relief. A plaintiff who prevails in a civil action brought pursuant 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.
In California, making criminal threats is a wobbler and may be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony under California Penal Code 422. A felony criminal threat is a strike under California's three strikes law.
As a civil offense
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. The plaintiff in the civil suit for intimidation may then secure remedies including an injunction or special and general damages.
^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.