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(Updated 8/7/01)

RSPCA says cruelty is so deep-rooted


Recent research conducted in Britain at the Manchester Metropolitan University on behalf of the RSPCA, has shown that like in the USA, where abuse is better researched, cruelty is rife and ‘deep rooted’.

More than half the sample had first-hand experience of animal abuse

The worrying conclusion is the result of research carried out by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) on behalf of the RSPCA. The research itself reveals what similar studies conducted in previous years in the United States clearly show - the reasons people harm animals are complex and that educating children about animals may hold the key to preventing cruelty. The study amongst 1,000 children and 100 adults focussed mainly on young people, since research indicates that attitudes towards animals are formed in youth.

The MMU research team found the main reasons for deliberate animal cruelty were retaliation - because an animal had harmed a person or because they were jealous of it - for fun and to experiment. Peer pressure and the influence of adult behaviour on young people were also identified as significant factors. Alarmingly, some respondents had indicated that deliberate cruelty to animals was a normal stage in the process of growing up.
Animal abuse appears to be more of a male phenomenon. At all stages of the research the perpetrators of animal abuse were generally described as “he”.

Scope of Research

This six-month study was conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) between August 2000 and January 2001. It consisted of:
- 840 survey returns by young people at a range of different schools
- 28 group interviews involving 270 young people
- 10 individual interviews with young people who had harmed animals
- interviews with child welfare professionals (eg. teachers, psychiatrists, child care agencies)
- interviews with adults who had harmed animals as children
- review of police prosecutions of young people who had harmed animals
- research among children with known behavioural problems
- literature review of subject area.

Main Findings

* Cruelty to animals occurs in all sectors of society. It is higher than is generally understood to be the case. It was discovered that:
- more than half of young people surveyed had first-hand knowledge of harming animals (they had either harmed animals themselves or knew an adult or child who had)
- young people in nearly every group interview had first-hand experience of harming animals

* Incidents of known animal abuse included shooting cats, strangling ducks, dropping a concrete slab on a cat’s head, juggling mice, kicking cats, beating animals up for fun, tying fireworks to cats’ tails, blowing up frogs and toads with straws. Cats and dogs were the animals most commonly referred to as victims of abuse

* Young people perceive boys to be more likely than girls to harm animals - throughout the research animal abusers were commonly referred to as ‘he’

* Retaliation and fun were the top reasons given by young people for animal abuse. Peer pressure was also identified as a significant factor

* Animal abuse was regarded by some respondents as normal behaviour and part of growing up

* Schoolchildren see inherent contradictions in what constitutes animal abuse in society eg. factory farming and fox-hunting

* Some adults confessed to having taken part in incidents of animal abuse as children

* Children with known behavioural problems are not more likely to be involved in abusing animals. They are under closer scrutiny and more likely to get caught

* Links between violence to animals and future behaviour patterns apply only to a small minority of individuals at the severe end of the spectrum.

Recommendations

* Education was identified by young people as the best way of preventing animal cruelty

* It is important for young people to be encouraged to debate the inherent contradictions in what constitutes animal abuse. For example, some felt it was contradictory that it’s acceptable for people to kill and eat chickens but not for foxes to do the same.

* Young people understand animals’ needs better when put in terms of their own needs eg. to eat, drink, exercise.