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Categories of violence against women

The War Against Women and Girls in the UK

Adam Herriott / Deep Green Resistance UK


Many men have asked me why Deep Green Resistance is a radical feminist organisation. “Doesn’t it distract you from your main goal?” they ask, as though the fight against ecocide is unconnected to the fight against patriarchy and its cult of toxic masculinity, which dominates most women in the same way it dominates the natural world. “There are so many other problems to focus on! And anyway, I heard that one in three victims of domestic violence in the UK is male, so shouldn’t we also be talking about men as victims of female violence? Isn’t focusing on men as perpetrators in itself sexist…?”

The frustration I felt from questions such as these prompted me to write this post. I wanted to compile a catalogue of male violence against women and to debunk some of the most common myths used to derail discussions around male violence against women and girls. My post is aimed primarily at all those who question the need for radical feminism within DGR, wonder why we as men would wish to identify as pro-feminist, become defensive and argue that they have never been violent against women and so are not part of the problem, refuse to listen when women speak of their experiences, argue that men are just as much victims as women, believe a gender-neutral approach is a suitable solution to dealing with violence against women…

The following gives some indication of the scale of what we mean when we talk about the war on women. There are simply no comparable statistics for female violence against men. My focus is the United Kingdom, and while there are regional variations in how women are treated in society, there is not a single country in which women are able to live free from the control of patriarchy, for it truly is a global system.

Categories of Violence Against Women and Girls

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) can be broken down into the following categories: femicide; domestic violence; stalking and harassment; rape and sexual assault; forced marriage, honour based violence and female genital mutilation; child abuse; human trafficking, with a focus on trafficking for sexual exploitation; prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation; and pornography.

Under international human rights law, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) defines VAWG as “violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately,” thereby underlining that violence against women is not something occurring to women randomly, but rather an issue affecting them because of their sex.


The killing of females by males because they are female.

Current or former male partners killed seven women per month in England and Wales[1]. Men are known or suspected of killing 126 women in 2015; this is one woman dead every 2.9 days. Men are known or suspected of killing 150 women in 2014; this is one woman dead every 2.43 days. Men are known or suspected of killing 140 women in 2013; this is one woman killed every 2.53 days. That’s more women killed through male violence in 2013 than British troops killed in Afghanistan in 3 years of war.

Do women commit murders? Of course. Official figures for the UK show that, between 2002 and 2012, 6.1% of adults who were convicted of murder were women. Which leaves 93.9% of those convicted of murder as men.

And what about male victims? We know that about two-thirds of murder victims are male. But we also know that both female and male murder victims are most likely to have been killed by men. In both cases, the problem is male violence.

Domestic violence

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional abuse.

An analysis of 10 separate domestic violence prevalence studies found consistent findings: 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and between 6-10% of women suffer domestic violence in a given year.

Prevalence and administrative data based on single incidents fail to capture the pattern of violence women experience. This has resulted in the numbers of female and male victims increasingly seen as equal by policy makers, local social workers, the police, and other professionals who come into contact with victims. So a woman who is battered many times is likely to be seen as the same as a man who is a victim of violence from a female partner once. The figures of 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experiencing domestic violence fail to identify patterns of abuse over time and the coercive control which typifies intimate partner violence. Using these statistics to establish a picture of the prevalence of intimate partner violence is therefore not recommended.

Notable statistics:

  • One in five people think it would be acceptable in certain circumstances for a man to hit or slap his female partner in response to her being dressed in sexy or revealing clothing in public.
  • 43% of teenage girls believe that it is acceptable for a boyfriend to be aggressive towards his partner.
  • 1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls believe that there are some circumstances when it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex.
  • Domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisation than any other crime. Every minute police in the UK receive a domestic violence call – yet only 35% of domestic violence incidents are reported to the police. On average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before her first call to the police.
  • The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) have found a statistical link between the economic downturn and an increase in domestic violence. Domestic violence has increased by 17% over the period of the recession.
  • 33% of girls in an intimate relationship aged 13-17 have experienced some form of sexual violence from a partner.

What about men suffering from domestic abuse by women? The Government’s Office for National Statistics says “Women were also more likely to be a victim of domestic abuse, with 8.5% of women and 4.5% of men having experienced domestic abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.4 million female victims and 700,000 male victims.”

Men may be living with women who hit, punch, slap, and bully them, but they are very unlikely to be living with women who rape and murder them. Not to ignore that women abuse men, but one cannot always draw clear parallels between the violence that men and women endure. We know from reliable data that women in abusive relationships are more likely to experience serious physical harm than men in abusive relationships – and domestic abuse against women is more often repeated, frequently begins in pregnancy, and is a significant cause of maternal death.

Stalking and harassment

Repeated (i.e. on at least two occasions) harassment causing fear, alarm or distress. It can include threatening phone calls, texts or letters; damaging property; spying on and following the victim.

20% of women say they have experienced stalking at some point since the age of 16.

Rape and sexual assault

Rape: A person commits rape if they intentionally penetrate the vagina, anus or mouth of another person with their penis without consent.
Sexual assault: A person commits sexual assault if they intentionally touch another person, the touching is sexual and the person does not consent.

  • According to a 2013 joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence, approximately 85,000 women and 9,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year.
  • A 2009 Home Office survey found that 36% of people believe that a woman should be held wholly or partly responsible for being sexually assaulted or raped if she was drunk, and 26% if she was in public wearing sexy or revealing clothes.
  • An Amnesty International survey found that over 1 in 4 respondents thought a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing, and more than 1 in 5 held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners.
  • It is estimated that only 10% of rapes are reported to the police.
  • Only 22% of serious sexual violence offences are brought to justice. The rape conviction rate in England and Wales is 6.5%. This is the second lowest conviction rate in Europe after Scotland. The police remain unaware of 87% of serious sexual assault victims. London Ambulance Service is called to approximately 450 rape/sexual assault incidents per year.
  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year.
  • Marital rape was only criminalised in the UK in 1991!
  • Almost one in three girls have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school.
  • A significant minority of young women aged 17 to 21 (13%) say that a boy/girlfriend has made them feel frightened or threatened, with one in ten staying in a relationship in which their partner has made them feel unsafe (11%).

What about the common myth that many women make false claims of rape against men? The Crown Prosecution Service revealed that during a 17 month test period in 2011-12, there were 5,651 prosecutions for rape and 111,891 for domestic violence in England and Wales. Over the same time period, there were only 35 prosecutions for making false allegations of rape, six for false allegations of domestic violence and three that involved false allegations of both rape and domestic violence. That’s about 161 rapes for every false claim of rape, and 18,648 incidences of domestic violence for every false claim.

Forced marriage

Marriage conducted without valid consent of one or both parties, where duress is a factor.

  • The Forced Marriage Unit recorded 1,485 cases of forced marriage across the UK in 2012. Of these cases, 21% were identified in London. In 2012/13 there were 50 forced marriages offences reported to the London Met Police.
  • In 2015 the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support in 1220 cases of possible forced marriage, with 80% of the cases involving female victims.
  • A study done in 2009 highlighted that there were between 5,000 to 8,000 forced marriages reported in England. It is also acknowledged that the actual numbers may be higher due to the ‘hidden’ aspect of this issue.

Honour Based Violence

Violence committed to protect or defend the ‘honour’ of a family and/or community. Women, especially young women, are the most common targets, often where they have acted outside community boundaries of perceived acceptable feminine/sexual behaviour. In extreme cases the woman may be killed.

  • The police estimate that nationally, there are around 12 so-called ‘honour’ murders each year. The Metropolitan Police recorded 256 incidents linked to ‘honour’ in the year 2008/09, of which 132 were criminal offences. This is a 60% rise for the year to April 2009.
  • 29 cases were reported in the media to have taken place within the UK from 2010-2014, with 11 attempted killings and 18 actual killings.
  • In 2012/13 there were 180 ‘honour’-based violence offences reported to the London Met Police.

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C)

The complete or partial removal or alteration of external genitalia.

FGM is thought to ensure virginity before marriage and fidelity afterward, and to increase male sexual pleasure. It is mostly carried out on young girls at some time between infancy and the age of 15. Unlike male circumcision, which is legal in many countries, it is now illegal across much of the globe, and its extensive harmful health consequences are widely recognised.

  • At least 66,000 women and girls in England and Wales have undergone FGM, in the main prior to arrival in the UK, with a further 33,000 girls and young women at high risk.
  • There have been no convictions for FGM since it was outlawed in 1985, compared to 100 in France. The London Met Police investigated 46 allegations of FGM in 2008/09 and 58 in 2009/10.

Human trafficking for sexual exploitation

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

  • Human trafficking is the second largest criminal enterprise in the world, earning exploiters more than $150 billion each year, according to a report released by the International Labor Organization in May 2014.
  • 600,000-800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. Approximately 80% are women and girls for sexual exploitation or domestic servitude. Up to 50% are minors. Men are trafficked to work on farms or in factories for no or little pay.
  • Between 1,000 and 10,000 women and girls are trafficked into the UK each year for sexual exploitation[2]. Many are trafficked to or through London. Around 6,000 of the estimated 8,000 women involved in off-street prostitution in London’s brothels, “saunas” and “massage parlours” are foreign nationals. It is believed that a significant number of them have been trafficked[3].
  • It is estimated that of 17,000 migrant women involved in off-street prostitution in England and Wales, 2,600 have been trafficked and 9,200 are vulnerable migrants who may be further victims of trafficking.
  • For 2012/13, there were 447 trafficking for sexual exploitation offences reported, up from 32 offences in 2007/8. In 2012, 1,186 potential victims of trafficking were referred to the National Referral Mechanism of whom 786 were female. Project Acumen identified 2,600 female victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in England and Wales and 9,600 who are considered to be vulnerable.
  • A person does not have to cross a border to have been trafficked. There are known cases of women and men trafficked within the UK.

Prostitution and Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Prostitution: The practice or occupation of engaging in sexual activity with someone for payment.
Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Achieving sexual gratification, financial gain or advancement through the abuse or exploitation of a person’s sexuality by abrogating that person’s human right to dignity, equality, autonomy, and physical and mental well-being; i.e. prostitution (on streets, in house, flats, brothels; escort agencies; massage parlours/saunas,) pornography and adult entertainment (stripping, pole dancing, lap dancing), phone sex lines, internet sex chat rooms, mail order brides, sex tourism.

  • 80,000 women work in “on-street” prostitution in the UK, with a female to male ratio of four to one.
  • Up to 5,000 children may be involved in prostitution at any one time. According to evidence submitted to the UK Government, between 50-75% of women entered prostitution before they were 18, with 15 years being the average age of entry. Up to 75% of women involved in prostitution began when they were under 18 years of age and most teenage prostitutes are involved in street prostitution, which is estimated to be ten times more dangerous than working from houses or flats.
  • 70% of those involved in street prostitution have a history of social services care. As many as 85% of women in prostitution report physical abuse in the family, with 45% reporting familial sexual abuse.
  • Women in street prostitution have a mortality rate 12 times the national average, and are 18 times more likely to be murdered than the general population. People are much less likely to be convicted of murdering a prostitute than of any other murder. The conviction rate of 75% for murder drops to 26% when it comes to killings of women in prostitution. More than half of women in prostitution have been raped and or seriously assaulted and at least 75% have been physically assaulted at the hands of the pimps and Johns.


Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.

There are abundant studies on the effects of pornography on those who view it. Researchers of a Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) for the Children’s Commissioner concluded that “Pornography has been linked to unrealistic attitudes about sex, beliefs that women are sex objects, more frequent thoughts about sex, and children and young people who view pornography tend to hold less progressive gender role attitudes.”

Another REA, by the Ministry of Justice in 2007, found:

“The REA supports the existence of some harmful effects from extreme pornography on some who access it. These included increased risk of developing pro-rape attitudes, beliefs and behaviours, and committing sexual offences. Although this was also true of some pornography which did not meet the extreme pornography threshold, it showed that the effects of extreme pornography were more serious.
Men who are predisposed to aggression, or have a history of sexual and other aggression were more susceptible to the influence of extreme pornographic material. This was corroborated by a number of different studies using different methods and different samples.

The REA found no formal research studies of the effects on those who participate in making extreme pornography.”

Pornography is addictive like alcohol and drugs.


After reading all of the above, anyone still thinking that this culture is not at war with women and young people needs to think again, to put it mildly.

I share the anger, shame and need for men to do something about this appalling state of affairs that Kourtney Mitchell describes in “Escalate the Fight to End Male Violence“. An important way to start is by practicing the Feminist Solidarity Guidelines, developed by men in DGR with guidance from the Women’s Caucus. These guidelines help males change their behavior and better ally themselves with women.


1. ONS (2015), Crime Survey England and Wales 2013-14. London: Office for National Statistics
2. (page 16)
3. (page 17)

Deep Green Resistance UK Autumn 2014 Newsletter

Dear friends,

Deep Green Resistance UK would like to invite you to a free day of talks and workshops on Sat 22 November in Willesden, NW London. This will give people the chance to hear more about and discuss our radical analysis, to learn about our strategy and to talk about the kind of tactics we think are necessary to save life on earth. For more information see the event flyer or the facebook event page. Please share with your networks.

DGR is requesting support for a documentary promoting strategic, effective resistance. Please visit the fundraiser page for ‘On the Side of the Living’ to learn more and help fund or promote the project.

DGR UK members have had a busy summer.

Adam and Dee ran a stall and a workshop at the Green Gathering at the end July. Read Dee’s report-back. The Artist Taxi Driver interviewed Adam at the stall. Watch the video and visit the Deep Green Resistance youtube channel for many more videos.

In August, DGR members helped with organising the Reclaim the Power gathering that resulted in thirteen actions against the fracking industry. Adam was part of the Earth First Summer Gathering collective and, with DGR supporter Helen Moore, ran a workshop on building a culture of resistance. We will be running this workshop again at the DGR London event on November 22nd.

Adam presented on the DGR analysis/strategy at the Green Party Conference at the start of September as part of a Resisting Together event. Ben and Adam ran a DGR UK stall at the London Anarchist Bookfair on Saturday 18th October.

A number of us will be meeting for a Resisting Together camping gathering near Frome on October 31st to November 2nd.

Love and rage,
DGR UK team

DGR UK Summer 2014 Newsletter

Its been a while since the last DGR UK newsletter in Autumn 2013.

In Decmber DGR member from across Europe met in London and formed the DGR EUMENA (EU, Middle East, North Africa) regional group.

In January, we posted an Open Letter to the UK Environmental Movement from Deep Green Resistance UK on our blog. Please share with your networks.

The Land Magazine published a piece about DGR UK in its January edition. The Ecologist Online republished this in April: Deep Green Resistance in the UK

DGR UK members and Keith Farnish organised a Resisting Together event in Edinburgh on March 29th. A Resisting Together facebook discussion group has just been set up.

Adam ran a workshop at the Power Shift UK conference at 3pm on May 3rd in London. The workshop was titled ‘Diversity of Tactics’ and looked at the need for the environmental movement to start being more strategic.

DGR UK members met up for a camping weekend in Nottinghamshire from June 13-15th. A broader anti civ wild camping week is planned for the end of September in Skye, Scotland.

Adam gave a DGR talk with Q+A on June 21st as part of Bristol Big Green Week.

There will be a DGR UK stall at the Green Gathering in Chepstow from July 31st to August 3rd. Adam will run the Diversity of Tactic workshop on Friday at the Green Gathering in the Off Grid College.

Finally, DGR UK now has a new email address –

In solidarity,
The DGR UK team

Responses to Oppression: Legal Remedies

This is the first follow on blog post from the previous Oppression post that looks at legal remedies as a response to oppression.

Most activists groups are centred around legal remedies to address specific harm. This is for a very good reason. As Catharine MacKinnon points out, “Law organises power.” To be clear, when we talk about legal tactics, we’re not referring to tactics that simply obey the law, rather we’re talking about tactics that intend to use the law as a means towards achieving a goal. Legal tactics can look like anything from passing new legislation, bringing lawsuits against corrupt industry, voting, or lobbying those in power. Historically, they have run the gamut from being extremely effective to necessarily restricting and piecemeal. Most in the contemporary environmental movement have sanctioned legal tactics as the only legitimate way to engage in activism, many radicals have written off legal means altogether. Well, it’s important to note that legal tactics aren’t just for liberals.

Through the course of history, there have been legislative victories and court rulings that have substantially changed people’s lives and redirected the flow of power. If we’re going to try to reorganise power, we are going to have to grapple with the law in one way or another. The trick is to learn how to utilise the law as radicals, or in such a way that employs the law as a tool for creating material change. So let’s take a look at some of the legal tactics that have been used in the contemporary environmental movement.

The law has commonly been used to regulate, or to check unjust activities on the part of individuals or corporate entities. The most common subject of regulation is egregious industrial waste, in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air and water, as well as solid waste disposed on land. In the UK we have the Clean Air Act 1993, Water Resources Act 1991, and the various pesticide and herbicide regulations which all set standards for “acceptable” amounts of toxins released into the environment. This legislation has been considered radical by some, and have indeed been extremely effective in at least reducing the amount of toxins released, especially in comparison to the state of things before these acts were in existence. However, these kinds of regulatory acts are only effective insofar as those who are in charge of doing the regulating actually do their job. This doesn’t exactly work when those who are in charge of regulation are most always the same entities who profit from the very destruction that should be regulated—the government or the corporations themselves! The result of this is a plethora of loopholes made to accommodate profitable industry that doesn’t quite attend to the toxic limits.

The latest figures indicate that 29,000 people die prematurely from air pollution every year in Britain, twice as many as from road traffic, obesity and alcohol combined, and that air pollution is now second only to smoking as a cause of death. I don’t think anyone reading this would truly argue that this is “acceptable.”

So while most liberal activists are left wondering how to tighten regulation around industrial pollution, logging and sexual violence, as radicals, our job is to be asking the deeper questions. When did it become acceptable to drink and breathe in any level of synthetic poisons? How is clear cutting any percentage of living, breathing ecosystems justifiable? As radicals, we should recognise that no level of destruction and oppression is acceptable and we should be working to stop it, not merely lessen its blows.

Aside from creating new legislation, legal tactics are often concerned with putting pressure on people in power through methods such as lobbying, petitioning, calling or writing. One big problem with this is that, as many of us know, you can’t convince insane people.

To get more to the point though, you can’t convince people to stop destroying the natural world if they are directly responsible for upholding a system which necessitates that destruction. The current political structure is predicated on the material condition of infinite growth, meaning a necessity for continued resource consumption and imperialistic expansion. So we’re never going to simply convince them to stop burning fossil fuels or tearing apart forests because they simply cannot undermine the economic and political system they are responsible for running. It goes against their job description.

The Coalition Government looks to have little interest in meeting the legal obligations necessary to ensure the Climate Act (2008) targets are met. Read more here and here. In July the UK Government announced large tax incentives for fracking companies and it just so happens that senior energy sector bosses sit at the heart of Government.

In the same vein, voting new people into the same corrupt positions of power is not really going to get us anywhere. Hopefully we all know that the current environmental crisis won’t be solved by electing a new Prime Minister. Last year leaked documents indicated that the Coalition Government was trying to water down new EU targets on renewable energy and energy efficiency. So rather than expending so much energy trying to convince those in power to change or vying to put someone new in their place, radical legal tactics are concerned with giving people more control over their own lives, or redistributing power back to the people.

Whether it be giving marginalised classes more political leverage, The Representation of the People Act 1928 gave all women over 30 the vote or giving individuals more control over their own bodies and lives, the Slave Abolition Act in 1833, radical legislation seeks to empower oppressed classes, individuals and communities.

Of course, there are many circumstances where those in power have the control over legislation and we do have to convince them to wield that power in less destructive ways. It’s important to say though, that this pressure doesn’t always have to come in the form of supplicant pleading.

For instance, the suffragettes had to convince those in power to give them the vote. For generations they tried asking nicely, and when that didn’t work, they turned to tactics such as civil disobedience, hunger strikes and finally arson before finally winning the vote.

The moral of the story is, if you have no political leverage, then your best bet at winning is to engage in disruption, or moving the terrain of conflict outside of electoral politics or bureaucratic process. We will get more into these kinds of disruptive tactics in a later post, but for now we can simply note that legislative battles don’t always have to be won through legal means.

The final way that we can measure the effectiveness of legal tactics is by looking at the grander picture and considering whether the tactic supports a larger campaign or resistance movement. So this would be one of the circumstances in which our categories of tactics overlap in crucial ways. If a legal tactic can’t be a decisive action on its own, it can aim to support other tactics or the larger resistance movement.

The work that Green and Black Cross does is a great example of this kind of support. They provide legal observers on the ground, a 24/7 arrestee support line and follow-up advice for defendants and claimants. We need people who know how to navigate the legal system because whether we like it or not, the legal system is what many of us end up wrapped up in when we necessarily break the law to achieve justice. If we don’t have organisations like Green and Black Cross to support activists, then we won’t have anyone doing the work that needs to be done.

One of the key questions DGR aims to ask environmentalists is to consider approaches beyond the usual legal response. But if we would like to organise power in a egalitarian distribution, we need to grapple with the laws. The trick is to do this as radicals, which means asking the questions:

  • Does this initiative redistribute power, not just change who is at the top of the pyramid?
  • Does it take away the rights of the oppressors and reestablish the rights of the dispossessed?
  • Does it let people control more of the material conditions of their lives?
  • Does it name and redress a specific harm?
  • Does this legal effort support a larger resistance movement?

We can stand on the sidelines with a more-radical-than-thou attitude, but this attitude will not help a single gasping salmon or starving child. A transition toward direct democracy built on a foundation of both human rights and human participation in the life of the planet is not conceptually difficult. Law is not just for liberals. The question is, what actions will get us from here to there? Neither sneering nor despairing has ever proven to be effective. It’s easy for nothing to be radical enough, but an interior state of rage is also not enough. Structural change needs to happen. A radical analysis starts from that fact. How best to force that change is a strategic question.

This is not a call to behave and ask nicely. The UK State upholds a corrupt arrangement of power. It was written by white men who owned white women as chattel and black men and women as slaves. It was written by white men who feel entitled to plunder the planet for their own profit and and whose primary interest is to protect that disgusting arrangement of power. We have no moral obligation to respect it, quite the opposite: we need to bring it down.

The next post in this series looking at responses to oppression will focus on direct action.


It is likely that oppression has existed since the start of civilisation about 10,000 years ago when agriculture took hold. Once humans were settled in one place tending crops instead of hunter gathering, they would store any excess for low harvest years. As groups got larger these stores would need to be guarded resulting in a hierarchy and therefore oppression. It has evolved since so that many in the West are not aware of its affects on them. Oppression has resulted in many not believing that ‘the people’ can radically change the systems we find ourselves in. DGR believes in resistance and that changes can be made with the right strategy and tactics (see the DGR Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy) but first we must recognise that we are all oppressed in some way. This is the first of five blog posts on oppression and our responses to it.

In the past Britain had a very clear hierarchy which is similar to any civilisation. There is God at the top that chooses both the kings and the religious leaders. Underneath them are the nobles, the priests, and the military. Next are the merchants, traders, and skilled craftsmen. At the bottom of the pyramid are the bulk of the population, people in slavery or serfdom. All of this is accepted as God’s will which makes resistance that much more difficult psychologically. Standing up to an abuser-whether an individual or a vast system of power-is never easy. Standing up to GOD requires an entirely different level of courage, when the punishment was normally a slow and unpleasant end. This may explain why this arrangement appears consistently across otherwise diverse civilisations and why it is so intransigent.

The first blow against the Divine Right of Kings was in 1215, when some of the landed aristocracy forced King John to sign Magna Carta. It required the king to renounce some privileges and to respect legal procedures. It established habeas corpus and due process. Most important was the principles it claimed: the king and the church are bound by the law, not above it, and citizens have rights against their government. Magna Carta plunged England into civil war, the First Baron’s War. Pope Innocent got involved as well, absolving the king from having to enforce Magna Carta-not because he’d been forced to sign it, but because it was blasphemous. It was a crime against God to suggest that people could question or make demands on the king.

The West has had market economies for thousands of years, they are essential for feeding civilisations. Goods have to be traded, first from the countryside, then from the colonies to fill the ever-growing needs of the bloated power base. These market economies were nestled inside a moral economy informed by community networks of care, concern, and responsibilities. Property owners and moneylenders were restricted by community norms and the influence of extralegal leaders like elders, healers, and religious officers. This social world was held together by personal bonds of affection and mutual obligation.

As capitalism started to take hold, its cheerleaders started to break these bonds. To them freedom meant freedom from those obligations and responsibilities. In their view individuals should be free from traditional moral and community values, as well as from the king and landed gentry, to pursue their own financial interests. This new social order did not need bonds of affection and obligation, but impersonal contracts-and impersonal contracts that favoured the rich, the employers, the landlords, the owners, and the creditors while dispossessing the poor, the employees, the tenants, the slaves, and the debtors.

One of the most well known attempts to directly stop the progress of technology and capitalism in Britain is the Luddites. This group of English textile artisans were being replaced by less-skilled, low-wage workers following the introduction of new wide-framed automated looms. The movement started in Nottinghamshire in 1811 and then spread through the country to Yorkshire in 1812 and Lancashire in 1813. Mills and pieces of factory machinery were burned by handloom weavers. The movement grew so large that at one point it battled with the British Army. In January 1813 the British government found sixty men guilty of charges related to Luddite activities even though many had no involvement. Harsh punishments including execution or penal transports quickly ended the movement (1).

Even though we are oppressed in the West, we live in relative luxury compared to many in the world. Most of us in richer nations do not want to contemplate living without the comforts we are used to and it is highly likely that when the systems of oppression that provide these luxuries are threatened many will fight to maintain them. Capitalism is oppressing millions of people in developing nations as they are effectively slaves working to produce the items which we Westerners consume. We are all complicit in this arrangement.

Our centralised national government is needed to coercively suppress internal dissent, regulate trade, protect private property,and subsidise infrastructure essential to so called economic growth. This idea appealed to the wealthy for the obvious reason: they want to keep and expand upon their wealth. It looks very different from the perspective of the poor. The rich are able to accumulate wealth by taking the labour of the poor and by turning the commons into privately owned commodities. Therefore, defending the accumulation of wealth in a system that has no other moral constraints is in effect defending theft, not protecting against it. That’s the trajectory this culture has been on for 10,000 years, since the beginning of agriculture.

Unless born into a wealthy family in the UK most people have little option but to become wage slaves and are convinced this is what they should or want to do. It is near impossible to live outside the societal framework that exists requiring many to work long hours in jobs they don’t like; to live in urban areas in box houses where there is no choice but to pay for utilities instead of providing for yourself. Should you want to live on the land in the UK significant amounts of capital to buy or rent are required. Long gone are the days when a farm labourer’s wage is enough to rent a smallholding.

Western culture has resulted in the majority of oppression we live under becoming utterly consensual. As Florynce Kennedy wrote, “There can be no really pervasive system of oppression…without the consent of the oppressed”(2). The powerful capitalists, white supremacists, colonialists, masculinists can’t stand over vast numbers of people twenty-four hours a day with guns. Luckily for them and depressingly for the rest of us, they don’t have to. This does not mean that it is our fault; that the system will crumble if we withdraw consent; or that the oppressed are responsible for their own oppression. But it does mean that there will be no solution to this problem without an extensive and wilful cultural shift away from human domestication.

People withstand oppression using three psychological methods: denial, accommodation, and consent. Anyone on the receiving end of domination learns early in life to stay in line or risk the consequences. Those consequences only have to applied once in a while to be effective: the traumatized psyche will then police itself. In the battered women’s movement, it’s generally acknowledged that one beating a year will keep a woman down.

There are few better definitions of oppression than the one Marilyn Frye offers in her groundbreaking book, The Politics of Reality. In it she writes, “Oppression is a system of interrelated barriers and forces which reduce, immobilise and mold people who belong to a certain group, and effect their subordination to another group.”(3) One of the greatest injuries of subordination is that it creates not only injustice, exploitation, and abuse, but also consent.

Andrea Dworkin has defined subordination for us and listed four elements: (4)

1. Hierarchy – Hierarchy means there is “a group on top and a group on the bottom.” The “bottom” group has fewer rights, fewer resources, and is “held to be inferior.”

2. Objectification – “Objectification occurs when a human being, through social means, is made less than human, turned into a thing or commodity, bought and sold…those who can be used as if they are not fully human are no longer fully human in social terms.”

3. Submission – “In a condition of inferiority and objectification, submission is usually essential for survival… The submission forced on inferior, objectified groups precisely by hierarchy and objectification is taken to be the proof of inherent inferiority and subhuman capacities.”

4. Violence – Committed by members of the group on top, violence is “systematic, endemic enough to be unremarkable and normative, usually taken as an implicit right of the one committing the violence.”

All four of these elements work together to create an almost hermetically sealed world, psychologically and politically, where oppression is as normal and necessary as air. Any show of resistance is met with a continuum that starts with derision and ends in violent force. Yet resistance happens somehow. Despite everything, people will insist on their humanity.

Coming to a political consciousness is not a painless task. To overcome denial means facing the everyday, normative cruelty of a whole society. A society made up of millions of people who are participating in that cruelty; if not directly, then as bystanders with benefits. Knowledge of oppression starts from the bedrock that subordination is wrong and resistance is possible. The acquired skill of analysis can be psychologically and even spiritually freeing. Once an understanding of oppression is gained, most people are called to action is some way.

There are four broad categories of action: legal remedies, direct action, withdrawal, and spirituality. These categories can overlap and can be helpful or even crucial to resistance movements, but they can also be diversions that dead-end in despair. Four blog posts will follow that look at each of these responses to oppression.



2. Kennedy, “Institutionalized Oppression,” p. 492.

3. Frye, The Politics of Reality, p. 33.

4. Dworkin, Letters from a War Zone, p.266