The pyramid of violence

Why this article? 

  • We strongly believe that gender violence (and any other discrimination-based violence) expresses a cultural, historical, and material context. Our manual aims to take charge of every level of gender violence and discrimination. 
  • Our manual aims to modify and give theoretical and practical tools to deconstruct the cultural and historical apparatus that sustains - explicitly and implicitly - gender-based violence and to rethink cultural and social values more equally. 
  • We strongly believe in the power of education instead of punishment.  

The idea of the pyramid of violence summarises one of the essential premises of our work: 

  • It shows how we conceive the interweaving of all those levels in which gender-based violence occurs 
  • It shows us how important it is to act to modify the very first level of the pyramid and spread awareness and educate ourselves. 

The Patterns of Abuses  

This pyramid represents a continuum of abuse – the further up we go, the less socially acceptable the behaviours are. But we can’t measure harm to a victim by what ‘category’ it falls into – apart from death, right at the top. Everyone’s experience is different.  

The Pyramid of Violence

Stage 1: Attitudes and Beliefs 

All forms of violence directed at someone because of their identity starts with established attitudes and beliefs about other people, whether or not those attitudes or beliefs make sense. These include prejudices such as racism, sexism, and transphobia. As offenders cultivated these beliefs through exposure and repeated reinforcement by those around them, they strengthen their dogmatic belief that certain types of people are not equal to them, moving them up the pyramid.  

Stage 2: Cultural Microaggressions 

They are called ‘microaggressions’ not because they are insignificant (they aren’t!) but because they are all around and normalised as part of our culture. These represent the daily indignities experienced by people with less power in society.  

Stage 3: Verbal Expression 

Soon, people with discriminatory attitudes begin verbally expressing these feelings of difference and superiority with jokes or stereotypical statements about others, even beginning to harass or boast about how they verbally or physically marginalised others. Once this type of  behaviour begins, it may remain at this level, or there may be an internalisation of a grossly invalid sense of entitlement. Offenders may then start to normalise the dehumanisation of others (and begin to treat others as less than human).  

Stage 4 and 5: Physical Expression 

As offenders move up through the pyramid, they feed off the power they have gained. For instance, this is where a sense of sexual entitlement can begin to manifest itself as sexual violence. Offenders believe that it is their right and within their power to use sex as a means to control the  individuals they do not see as equals. They can often justify the pain inflicted on others because they believe the victim/survivor has done something to deserve the assault. They do not feel responsible for the crime they’ve committed and may not even recognise their actions as an  assault. 

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