As conflict escalates, one or both of the parties involved may become increasingly aggressive and threatening towards the other. Violent escalations of a dispute and other forms of anti-social behaviour should ideally be prevented through support from trusted community members, social workers, or mediators. In practice however, they can be difficult to anticipate and contain. Failing to do so, or doing so in a way that exacerbates the issues underlying the conflict, can cause harm to the parties involved as well as the broader community.
Containing is necessary to reduce the risk of violent escalation. When proactive efforts to prevent anti-social or violent behaviour have failed, or when an immediate threat is posed to a person or community, more active measures to contain harm are needed.
These are necessary for maintaining people’s basic sense of security and belief that past violence can and will be prevented in the future. Containment can take very different forms depending on the specific situation. Minimally disruptive interventions such as therapy or community supervision should take priority to more punitive interventions, such as ankle monitoring or incapacitation.
The goal of proactive monitoring is to detect early warning signs of violent or anti-social behaviour.
One of the best known evidence-based practices for preventing harmful behaviour and deterring crime is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)1,2 Mediation can also help prevent conflict from spiralling out of control and causing long-term damage.
Parties to conflict can become entrapped by their decision to pursue a particular course of argument or action, even when it is clearly not working. This means that rather than abandoning a clearly misguided strategy, they double down in the hopes of justifying the sacrifices they have already made. This is sometimes called a “sacrifice trap” and can prolong or escalate the conflict in a way that makes it more difficult to contain.