Animal Cruelty: the loop of abuse
by Nick Mays
CRUELTY TO animals is often part of a loop of abuse which has its
roots in an individuals personal history, often as part of a culture of
abuse within the family unit. These are the stark conclusions reached by the
accumulated research published in the Scottish SPCAs shocking leaflet
Animal Cruelty: Family Violence, published in conjunction with their
FIRST STRIKE campaign to seek the causes of animal abuse and to set up procedures
between multi agencies to deal with such cruelty (see
OUR DOGS July 13th).
The campaign began just over five years ago. Veterinary pathologist Helen Munro approached the Scottish SPCA. Munro was already working on a study, examining the clinical features and the pathology of what she terms the Battered Pet - the animal which has suffered a non-accidental injury - also known as physical abuse.
It is important that the four types of abuse are recognised. Whether the word is being used in relation to child or animal abuse the definition has to be clear. The four types are:
physical abuse - also known as non-accidental injury or NAI for short - or the Battered Child or Pet Syndrome
sexual abuse - we also use this term in relation to sexual abuse of animals. Bestiality has mediaeval connotations.
Emotional abuse and neglect are self explanatory.
Helen Munro used information from the Society case-files and other sources and
with her other research with the American Humane Association, the only organisation
in the world to have child and animal protection divisions, the features of
cases of animal abuse and child abuse were remarkably similar.
There is some debate about what constitutes animal cruelty, as such definitions are affected by religious, cultural and societal norms. The SSPCAs research indicates that, although any form of cruelty inflicted on an animal is worrying, it is of particular concern if the actions include the following criteria:
Direct involvement in cruelty, rather than witnessing the act.
Lack of self-restraint.
Lack of remorse.
A variety of cruel acts.
A variety of species victimised.
Actions directed at socially valuable animals (for example dogs, not rats)
(Felthouse and Kellet, 1987).
A few studies have sought to discover if children who are cruel to animals have been victims of cruelty and neglect themselves:
- Tapia (1971) noted that an animal abusing child was more likely to have a history of gross parental neglect, brutality, hostility and rejection.
- Friedrich et al (1986) found that 35 per cent of boys who were sexually abused, abused animals; 5 per cent of boys who were not abused, abused animals; 28 per cent of girls who were sexually abused, abused animals, and 3 per cent of girls who were not abused, abused animals.
A great deal of research, many of it dating back to the late 1970s have explored the extent to which individuals who are cruel to animals are also cruel to their children and/or partners.
- Walker (1979) examined the records of families who had been reported to child protection agencies and those who had been reported to animal protection agencies in Pennsylvania, USA and discovered that 9 per cent of the families had been reported to both agencies.
- Huttons (1981) study in the UK focussed on 23 families who were investigated by the RSPCA for animal cruelty and found that 82 per cent of these families were known to social services for having children at risk.
- Deviney et al (1983) conducted a study in New Jersey, USA of 53 families where abuse or neglect of children and been substantiate and who had pets. They discovered that 88 per cent of these families had abused pets. They also found that two-thirds of the abusers were adult males and one-third of the abusers were children.
In relation to domestic violence and animal cruelty, many different studies have shown clear proof of a definite link between the two:
- In Arklows (1995) study, 24 per cent of battered women seeking refuge, and 11 per cent of 1,175 women seeking restraining orders or counselling because of domestic violence had observed cruelty to animals in the home by their abusers.
- Quinslik (1995) found that of 72 women in a refuge, 86 per cent had animals in the home and in 80 per cent of these homes the reported abuser had been violent to pets.
- Ascione (1996) discovered that 71 per cent of 38 women in a refuge who had pets at home had observed male partners threatening or actually harming and killing pets.
Finally, in relation to the effect of cruelty to animals on children and partners, the following statistics make grim reading:
- Finkelhor et al (1988) note that violence or the threat of violence to animals is used as a corrective technique, to make adult of child victims stay silent or to force victims to do something against their will.
- Adams (1998) reports that survivors of child sexual abuse reveal that threats and abuse of their pets were often use to establish control over them, while also to ensure their silence, by forcing them to decide between their own victimisation or their pets death.
- Vachss (1993) notes that children are threatened with huge, child-orientated consequences if they tell. For example, the molester kills a kitten and says the same thing will happen to the child.
- Ascione (1993) suggest that some women do not leave violent partners because of fears that the partner will harm or kill a pet once they have left the home.
- Boat et al (1996), described the traumatic effect that having a pet hurt or killed had on young people.
Amongst 35 adolescents in an in-patient adolescent psychiatry unit, losing a favourite pet was cited as very difficult by 66 per cent of respondents and was amongst the six top trauma events in frequency.
- Boat (1998) notes that in some family settings where abuse occurs, pets seldom reach the age of two years.
Excerpts taken from Animal Cruelty: Family Violence, (c) SSPCA. To obtain a copy, contact the SSCPA at: 603 Queensferry Road, Edinburgh, EH4 6EA. Tel: 0131 339 0222, Fax: 0131 339 4777. Website: www.scottishspca.org.