To understand the violence pyramid, we must first understand rape culture. In rape culture, survivors perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. Within this culture (and often times in our own culture), both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. However, much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can evolve.
The Pyramid is a representation of this continuum.
Stage 1: Beliefs & Attitudes
Sexual violence isn’t something an offender simply chooses to commit impulsively out of the blue. Sexual violence starts with established attitudes & beliefs about other people, whether or not they make sense. These include things like racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia. As offenders cultivate these beliefs through exposure and repeated reinforcement by those around them, they strengthen their dogmatic belief that certain types of people are simply not equal to them, moving them up the base of the Pyramid.
Stage 2: Verbal Expression
Soon, offenders begin verbally expressing these feelings of superiority, testing the waters with jokes or stereotypical statements about others; even beginning to harass others sexually, or brag about times they verbally or physically marginalized others.
Once this type of behaviour begins, the offender can either stagnate at this level or internalize a grossly invalid sense of entitlement and slide up to the third and final stage of violence. Offenders begin to normalize the dehumanization of others. They actually begin to treat others as less than human.
That’s a huge Red Flag!
Stage 3: Physical Expression
This is where sexual violence happens. As offenders move upward through the pyramid, they feed off the power they have gained through their unvalidated sense of entitlement. This is where that sense of sexual entitlement begins 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 they inflict on others because they believe the survivor has done something to deserve the assault. They do not feel responsible for the crime they’ve committed, and may not even recognize their actions as an assault.