When a space is violated, it is intruded upon. When a law is violated, someone is breaking it. You can violate a religious place by desecrating it. Violating a person is synonymous with raping that person. But what do people mean when they say "I felt violated (by)" or "I feel violated"?

To me, it sounds like someone's feelings might have been hurt severely by somebody else, with the result of that someone being very upset (i.e. "p*ssed off") - but I can't back that up with any of these dictionaries:

Am I completely wrong with my assumption of feeling hurt? If not, can someone substantiate that assumption with a reference?

Only Your Dictionary seems to go in that direction:

to offend, insult, or outrage: to violate one's sense of decency

but to me, that sentence, "I felt violated", is more a reaction of how one was treated (overall, e.g. the manner in which one was talked to), rather than an individual offensive act... Is "feeling violated" used in that sense/nuance?

When would you say "I felt violated"?


3 Answers 3


You are correct in thinking that the original use of "violate", when applied to a person, is "rape". The use of violate to describe feelings is much more recent https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=feel+violated&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cfeel%20violated%3B%2Cc0 enter image description here

I agree that online dictionaries don't seem to cover the issue. There are two aspects which seem clear. The first is that feeling violated refers to emotional distress caused by the inappropriate acts of others towards the speaker (one does not feel violated by seeing pictures of starving children, for instance - unless, perhaps, one is forced to look at them). The other is that there is no fixed threshold of offense. That is, there is no easy way to locate the transition between offended and violated. What is common is that the offense intrudes on the victim's sense of self, privacy or safety, just as rape intrudes upon the physical self.


It could refer to an individual act, or a continued habit. For example, some people consider invasion of privacy a "violating" act, and many websites seem to want too much personal information. So one coud gradually (after many instances of sites wanting too much info) come to feel "violated". Especially if your personal information was suddenly "hacked" and you know criminals got ahold of it. But I think that usually, an individual instance would need to be more physical, personal and intrusive to count as "violation"; for example, a workmate getting too close or touching you inappropriately. Or if your boss asks you about your sex life. In the workplace, these are likely to also be an actual violation of a company's harassment policy. (You can feel "violated" by one such incident, but you might need to speak up against that behavior, and see if the perpetrator quits it or repeats it, before the company would consider it harassment.)

So basically, I would say you got it right, regardless what the dictionaries say. Certainly actual violence, including rape, are included, but smaller offenses could lead one to say "I feel violated".

  • 2
    I also have heard many people say they felt violated after their home was robbed while they were away. I think it has to do with when explicit or implicit personal boundaries are crossed against a person's wishes whether those boundaries are physical or figurative.
    – Jim
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 3:08
  • Quite well put, Jim. Commented Feb 14, 2015 at 10:06

In simple terms , it means someone is very upset with someone's action. He got something which was not expected and the person deserves better.

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