Crimes of the Powerful

Module code: CR3006

Module co-ordinator: Dr Clare Gunby

This module is designed to provide a thought provoking examination of what we mean by ‘Crimes of the Powerful’. We will interpret 'power' broadly to include within it interesting discussions of ‘classic’ power exploitations at the state and organisational level (including lectures on war crime, organised crime and corporate crime), as well as addressing the often neglected gender-based power offences (including lectures on rape, domestic abuse and ‘honour’ violence).

Abuses of power can be wide-ranging both in content and extent and presents a constant challenge to those who seek to defend rights. Indeed, not all of those who abuse power are illegitimate actors and it is also those in high status positions who can wreak the most damage on society. Violent activities by powerful actors are often defined as ‘legitimate’, despite clear evidence indicating that legitimate behaviours can cause extreme harm and are often reinforced via illegitimate means.

In this module you will be encouraged to take a critical eye when considering the extent of a wide range of power-based offences (both ‘classic’ and gender-focused), their nature, the factors that cause them and an analysis of how we do (and should) police them – at the individual, national and international level. Throughout the module the adequacy of the all-powerful criminal justice response in these areas will be considered. 

Topics covered

  • Critical examination of what we mean by ‘Crime’ and ‘Power’
  • Domestic abuse
  • Rape
  • The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church
  • ‘Honour’ based violence
  • War crime
  • Corporate crime
  • Organised crime


  • 9 two-hour weekly lectures
  • 9 one-hour weekly seminars


  • Essay, 3,000 words (90%)
  • Presentation, 10 minutes (10%)