content warning for triggering material, including violence against women, sexual violence, misogyny, child abuse, racism, ableism, transphobia, patriarchy, & violence against animals.
this article was written based on my professional and unpaid experience working in the areas of family, poverty & disability law, as well as my independent research and participation in local community organizing.
this is an article attempting to explain the systemic patterns of violence committed against animals.
this is not an article for equating animal abuse to violence against women and/or sexual violence against humans.
this is not an article for prioritizing animal cruelty above other experiences of abuse and harm between humans.
this is not an article intended to appropriate the work and legitimacy of campaigns to end gender-based violence for the purposes of discussing violence against animals.
this disclaimer is really important to acknowledge right at the beginning because there are countless examples of historic & ongoing efforts of animal advocacy that completely disrespect, tokenize and perpetuate efforts to end violence against women.
while this should not discourage folks from still trying to unpack the complexities of violence against animals, this should mean these conversations need to be approached in a manner that is actively accounting for its unfortunate reputation of consistently co-opting with oppressive patriarchal ideals.
in attempts to overcome the problem of appropriating language and ideas from another community effort (ahem, intersectionality, ahem), we need to respect and credit folks whenever we share, apply, and rework something. to neglect this is to steal and dilute the work of others for self-serving priorities, which collectively fails both the communities that you take from and the communities you attempt to help.
instead, remember to constantly check-in with yourself, questioning your motives and assumptions, to assess if you are using your privileges and your new-found knowledge to empower or to silence.
so in creating this term, species-based violence (sbv), which will be explained further below, it needs to be fully understood that any and almost all the mental labour for understanding sbv comes from the radical efforts of those who have and continue to organize to end gender-based violence, which will also be explained further below.
finally, please remember that despite the fact that we have all been born into the same violent world, the lived experiences of harm, abuse and oppression are not the same for every community. what that means is that the ways in which violence is created-normalized-defended will always be practised differently depending on the community it is being perpetrated against.
so – violence against women with disabilities (see more at We Can Tell and We Will!) is different than violence against women of color (see more at INCITE!), and different too than violence against trans women (see more at The Trans Women’s Healing Justice Project), which is different than violence against indigenous women (see more at It Starts With Us and see this for more on murdered and missing indigenous women).
acknowledging these differences does not take anything away from anyone. instead, it makes clear that while we share common struggles (ending gender-based violence), there still requires different solutions according to changing sets of circumstances (ending cis-patriarchy is one, and ending white-supremacist-patriarchy is another).
and the same applies to this talk here about violence against animals: it is a part of the common struggle to end exploitation and abuse, but because it is wholly unique from other oppressions it, therefore, requires wholly unique solutions.
by drawing upon the term of speciesism – discrimination based upon species – the intent here is to articulate the ways in which violence occurs between the human species against non-human species.
okay, to understand species-based violence, we need to understand first gender-based violence.
also called “gender violence”, it has been defined as
- violence often serv[ing] to maintain structural gender inequalities and includes all types of violence against men, women, children, adolescents, gay, transgender people and gender non conforming. 
- a violence that occurs as a result of the normative role expectations associated with each gender, along with the unequal power relationships between … genders, within the context of a specific society. [a]
the difference between these 2 definitions is that the first articulate how there is violence in our world that is created & enacted by others specifically to uphold oppressive dynamics surrounding identities & genders.
the second emphasizes instead how there is violence in our world that manifests itself in reaction to the hierarchies of privilege existing within our different societies, and so is not solely a preceding cause to oppressive versions of gender.
(for more information on understanding the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex and sexual orientation, click here).
what does the “gender-based” part mean?
the primary targets of gender-based violence are women and children, both:
- as a community – institutionalized gender discriminations and lower socioeconomic status, meaning fewer options and resources to sexual & reproductive health, to avoid abusive situations, and to access justice to hold perpetrators accountable. [b]
- within a community – routine situations where physical, sexual, and verbal assault occur and/or are threatened to occur, and at much higher risks to women and children as compared to men. 
and this does not mean that gender-based violence against men does not exist, because male-identified people can become targets of physical & verbal attacks for “transgressing predominant concepts of masculinity, for example, because they have sex with men.” [a]
so while some men can be victims of assault & rape, men are also almost always the perpetrators of the violence.
saying this is not saying that all male-identified people are violent, or that women cannot perpetrate such violence. rather, gender-based violence is highlighting the:
- prevalent violence committed most often but not always by men, often motivated by aggression, revenge, competition, and entitlement, and includes sexual and other violence against women, partners and children. 
okay, but what kind of “violence” are we talking about?
when we say “gender-based violence”, this can mean “acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.” 
violence is a means of control and oppression through various means, happening as, or ranging from:
- emotional to social to economic harm,
- overtly (assaulting someone) or covertly (pressuring someone),
- in one instance or repeated acts,
- in varying duration of a minute or a lifetime,
- between one or multiple victims & survivors,
- between one or multiple perpetrators. 
as well, the context of the violence can happen:
- within families – where the perpetrator is known by the survivor or victim, and so violence comes from spouses, parents, grandparents, children, siblings, extended blood relations – all of which can range from “domestic” emotional-physical-sexual violence, to forced abortions/forced pregnancies, to economic dependency, to enforcing gender stereotypes, etc.;
- within communities – where the perpetrator is usually unknown by the survivor or victim, and so violence comes in form of public intimidation, sexual harassment, rape, forced prostitution, trafficking, etc.
- within borders – where the perpetrator is a government that condones and/or commits the violence through schools, the police, prisons, refugee laws, migrant detention, border patrol, the military and other examples where systemic violence is used as a tool for repression and control. 
essentially, the violence here is the kind used to compel another (individual or a whole group) to behave as expected against their will, out of fear.
and within conversations around human rights and feminism,“gender-based violence” is often used interchangeably with the terms “sexual violence” and “violence against women”.
however, it is more accurate to understand that “sexual violence” and “violence against women” as specific forms of gender-based violence.
sexual violence is a lived experience for many, many of us.
it is a daily reality within the patriarchy, where rape culture is defended and sexual violence exists as a tool of power to exploit and dominate.
sexual violence can occur anywhere between anyone. it most commonly happens within the survivor’s home (or in the perpetrator’s home), but it also takes place elsewhere such as the workplace, at school, in prisons, in cars and public transportation, on the streets or in open spaces like parks.
perpetrators of a sexual violence are often someone known to the survivor or victim, such as a romantic date, an acquaintance, a friend, a family member, a coworker, an intimate partner or former intimate partner, or sometimes a complete stranger. whatever the relationship, there is no stereotypical perpetrator and they may be persons in positions of authority who are respected and trusted (and thus less likely to be suspected of sexual violence). 
examples of sexual violence include :
- rape and attempted rape – the invasion of any part of the body of the victim, or of the perpetrator, with a sexual organ or any object by force, coercion, or against a person incapable of giving genuine consent.
- child abuse – any act where a child is used for sexual gratification, often including incest.
- sexual abuse -any actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, including inappropriate touching, by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.
- sexual exploitation – any abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes (including profiting momentarily, socially or politically).
- sexual harassment – any unwelcome, non-reciprocated sexual advance, unsolicited sexual attention, demand for sexual access or favours, within the context of interfering with work, conditions of employment and/or creating a hostile or offensive work environment.
violence against women
violence against women is defined by the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993 as a:
manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and to the prevention of the full advancement of women… violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men. 
as already mentioned, not all sexual or violent acts against a woman are gender-based, and not all victims of gender-based violence are female.
male-identified people can be harassed, assaulted or killed because they do not conform to patriarchal standards of masculinity. 
but as stated above, while some men can be victims of assault & rape, men are also almost always the perpetrators of the violence.
examples of violence against women include :
- domestic violence – not an isolated, individual event, but rather a pattern of abusive acts, occurring in multiple episodes over the course of a relationship.
- physical violence – including grabbing, shaking, shoving, pushing, restraining, throwing, twisting, slapping, punching, choking, burning, and/or use of weapons (e.g., household objects, knives, guns) against the survivor, which may or may not cause injuries.
- psychological violence – mental abuse including
- threats of harm – directed against the survivor or others important to the survivor, or threats of suicide.
- emotional violence – verbal attacks and humiliations directed at survivor’s worth as an individual (or role as a parent, family member, friend, co-worker, and/or community member).
- control and isolation – controlling survivors’ time, activities and contact with others through a combination of manipulation and disinformation, thereby increasing psychological control to the point where they determine reality for the survivors (e.g., lying to survivors about legal or medical rights).
- use of children – abusive acts directed against or involving children to control and/or punish the adult victim (e.g., physical attacks against a child, sexual use of children, forcing children to watch abuse of the survivor, engaging children in the abuse of the survivor).
as well, perpetrators may use children to maintain control over his partner by not paying child support, creating long legal fights over custody, and threatening to kidnap children to force compliance.
- economic violence – where perpetrators control access to all family resources (e.g., time, transportation, food, clothing, shelter, insurance, and money) by actively inhibiting the survivor to become financially independent (including perpetrator refusing to work). 
species-based violence (sbv)
so, with gender-based violence understood (and with it, sexual violence and violence against women), we can now examine the practice of violence based upon species.
sbv is essentially the violence resulting from speciesism, a discrimination based upon species due to prejudices of inferiority and/or dislike.
however, whereas speciesism is only psychological (in that it exists only as acquired opinions and assumptions within the mind of an individual), sbv exists as a collective social-economical-political culture.
for the purposes of this article, understand species-based violence as:
- violence committed against different animal species specifically because they are not apart of the human species community.
so while speciesism can be an attitude, learned or unlearned, by someone (such as a human who believes dogs to be non-edible but pigs to be edible, or an animal advocate who believes the rights of a chimp are a priority above that of a human or a cat), sbv operates upon existing structural systems that violently uphold ideals of anthropocentrism, human supremacy, and other speciesist privileges.
or in other words, sbv is speciesism within contexts of power.
the power to commit violence – abuse (through neglect), physical assault (through beatings and electric shocking to punish), emotional & psychological assault (bullying and manipulation for training),
commercial exploitation (fur and meat trade for financial profit), captivity (for entertainment via marine parks, zoos and rodeos), sexual assault (through forcible breeding), experimentation (for so-called science), etc. – with impunity from wider society.
similarly, with capitalism – an economy of violence in and of itself – there exist whole systems of organized poverty where peoples are forced to produce and consume cash-cheap activities, products and foods that have harmed and/or killed an animal.
to better illustrate, read Stokely Carmichael’s (Kwame Ture) words when explaining how the problems of racism and sexism are really about problems of power.
“I think the problem is that many people in America think that racism is an attitude. And this is encouraged by the capitalist system. So they think that what people think is what makes them a racist.
Racism is not an attitude. If a white man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he’s got the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.
Racism gets its power from capitalism.
Thus, if you’re anti-racist, whether you know it or not, you must be anti-capitalist. The power for racism, the power for sexism, comes from capitalism, not an attitude.
You cannot be a racist without power. You cannot be a sexist without power. Even men who beat their wives get this power from the society which allows it, condones it, encourages it.
One cannot be against racism, one cannot be against sexism, unless one is against capitalism.”
species-based violence is about the power to violently enforce the attitudes of entitlement and status inherent to speciesism.
species-based violence is about the power to enjoy the privileges that come at the expense of animals within a speciesist culture.
species-based violence is about the power to ignore, deny and silence the lived experiences of non-human victims.
regarding the “species-based” element, it is important to understand that different species of animals experience sbv differently.
the violence itself can be inflicted in different ways (chimps and mice are more likely to be abused through animal testing experiments, while lions and bears are more often assaulted with guns through hunting and poaching), in different places (parts of east asia consume dolphins, cats and dogs, while north amerika largely consume pigs, chickens and cows), for different reasons (female animals are primarily farmed to take their breast milk, their menstrual eggs, and to reproduce more animals to sustain future exploitation, while male animals are primarily farmed for consumption of their muscle meat, skin/leather/fur, their sperm, or are otherwise murdered in infancy (e.g., male chickens are ground alive after hatching)) and with different justifications (done to support economies, to support health, to accommodate population growth/expansion, to progress knowledge, to save humyn lives, to entertain, to educate, to help animals).
the “violence” element is, regardless of whomever the victim is or whatever species membership they hold, a means of domination.
the violence represents unequal power relationships where humans use positions of authority (afforded by evolution and technology) to abuse animals in positions of vulnerability.
the violence is always accomplished for the purposes of compelling an animal to behave as desired, despite being against the animal’s will (e.g., sbv is state-sponsored hunting of wild rats and wolves – labelled as vermin and predators, respectively – because they invade communities due to human-caused habitat loss) (e.g., sbv is assaulting pigs when they resist being ushered out of transport trucks and down alleys to kill-floors) (e.g., sbv is genetically breeding hens to produce larger breasts for higher financial profits through consumerism).
in other words, an animal’s consent is never given or capable of being given in these situations of sbv, and so these interactions warrant non-consensual assaults on animal bodies.
although this violence can manifest itself in all types of forms against non-humans, the common theme is that it is violence normalized as natural and necessary (albeit unpleasant to those too “sensitive”).
sbv is regarded as a defining ritual of human societies, and the abuse of animals to be an expected, unavoidable reality between human-masters and animal-objects. similar to how some harmful cultural practices of all communities around the world serve to perpetuate some form of other structural oppressions (e.g. xenophobia) [e], so too do cultural-religious-social-political institutions justify violence against animals.
sbv is simultaneously enacted because of, and justified thereafter, because animals are “only animals”.
solutions to species-based violence
with sbv better understood, there needs as much attention devoted to imagining solutions to this problem.
currently, there are already multiple solutions happening (intentionally or not) to end species-based violence, including:
- challenging colonial-settler politics and law,
- survivor-led advancement of both human and animal rights,
- community-specific health and nutrition education,
- affordable and accessible food programs,
- ecological defense and sustainable, organic plant farming,
- relearning forgotten practices to live off the land,
- making space for new cultural traditions and new economies
but to truly address sbv, there requires focus not solely on the animals being abused, but also on those who abuse. and this is not an appeal to the prison industrial complex to criminalize more communities, but simply for us to recognize that there is no single individual, no single product, no single corporation, no single community that is responsible.
instead, we need to explore and engage with all the elements of our cultures that encourage and enable sbv.
but instead of blaming and shaming, we must approach each as opportunities for creative intervention, to grow radical solutions to old problems.
and we need to hold ourselves accountable.
we need constructive communication and empowering actions.
we need to be considering not only the immediate effects of sbv (e.g., extinct species, abused animals, and traumatized humans) but also in examining the effects of sbv on the land and water, restoring the human-animal bond, and transforming the human spiritual psyche.
we, as the human species, need to also heal from the [self-inflicted] trauma of species-based violence.
other ways to help stop sbv
- use your privilege and be an ally to other struggles among humans, but do so in ways that you drop expectations of reciprocation (e.g., no “go vegan”) and instead respect that you can learn a great deal about the complex legacies of oppression.
don’t know where to start?
- check out university/college campus-based women’s groups to see how you can help.
- show up and shut up for public events and rallies like “Take Back the Night” and “Black Lives Matter” and “Idle No More”.
- raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and women in crisis shelters.
- remember that we are all complicit in species-based violence. no one individual, age, gender, ethnicity or continent is more responsible than another. so stop tripping on your moral high-ground ego.
- don’t forget that while you indeed have privileges as a direct result of sbv, you are still capable of starting and joining community organizing efforts that inspire and empower us to confront speciesism and sbv.
- if you suspect an animal with legal rights (e.g., dogs in kanada) is being abused, contact your local animal welfare watchdog.
if you suspect an animal without much legal rights (e.g., pigs in kanada) is being abused, collect thorough evidence and witnesses before contacting authorities, then prepare for an uphill battle.
- find courage to do introspection. this means questioning your own assumptions and expectations. actively try to consider how your words, actions and intentions may in fact inadvertently be perpetuating speciesism. then make the necessary changes. then repeat.
- attend programs and events, read books and watch films/documentaries about animals, humanity, the Earth, about speciesism, and about oppression in all its nasty forms.
get educated so you can educate.
- focus on redefining your identity if it is bound up in an oppressive idealization of “humanity” so that you can relate to yourself, others, nature and non-humans in new, honest and gentle ways.
- don’t fund speciesism. stop paying money and attention to media and any other content portraying speciesism as desirable, or that which portrays animals in degrading or abusive ways.
- do fund non-speciesism. show support for animals and their advocates by giving your cash, your time and your attention to efforts that promote the well-being of the ecology, animals and humans in accountable, anti-oppressive campaigns.
- mentor and teach children about how to not stop seeing animals and nature with wonder and respect. educate them about life in ways that does not engage with speciesism.
Other Additional Readings
(and more available upon request)
- “Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons”
UNHCR, May 2003
- “Its in our hands Stop the Violence Against Women”, Amnesty International publication, 2004
[a] Bloom, Shelah S. 2008. “Violence Against Women and Girls: A Compendium of Monitoring and Evaluation Indicators.” Carolina Population Center, MEASURE Evaluation, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, page 14
[b] “Women are also much more likely than men to be sexually assaulted as children, adolescents or adults, and the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are male, as are virtually all perpetrators of rape.” Heise L, Ellsberg M, Gottemoeller M., 1999. Ending violence against women. Population Reports. Series L, No. 11. Baltimore, Maryland: Population Information Program, Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health