Why are some violent acts more galvanizing than others? Examining two cases—the gang rape of a twenty-three-year-old student in New Delhi in 2012 and the disappearance of forty-three students in Mexico in September 2014—this article builds a theoretical model that explains how violent acts can trigger mobilization in defense of groups suppressed by structural violence. Such transformative events differ from the cycles of contentious politics that explain mobilization patterns for most social movements. By process-tracing mobilization in both cases, I identify three conditions that must be in place for an act of violence to become transformative: (1) the victims are identifiable as members of a group of known statistical victims; (2) the violence occurs within pre-existing interpretive frameworks; and (3) both an image and narrative of violence are available. Transformative violence helps consolidate existing activist networks and institutional structures, political opportunities, historical memory, and interpretive frames.

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