Whenever I hear that someone has brutalized an animal (not neglect, but actual harm and torture), I know that there is something in their past where either they were harmed or they grew up where violence was normalized. We are not born abusers, we are made abusers. It’s called the cycle of violence.
Children who grow up exposed to chronic violence develop beliefs that harming an animal, bullying, misbehaving and other criminal activity is the norm . It’s not the norm. When we see children behaving this way, we need to contact the proper authorities (police or child protection) so that they can intervene to rehabilitate that behavior.
Children are witnessing violence at alarming rates. That’s also not normal because it desensitizes them to harm. How many times do we need to see a child kill someone with a gun or harm an animal before we actually do something to stop future incidents?
People like to talk about the serial killers and how some of them started by torturing animals. While it’s true, it sensationalizes the documented link between harming animals and harming people. The research is solid that everyday crimes of violence towards animals has a likelihood of connecting to violence towards people.
Harm to an animal should be enough for communities and criminal justice professionals to take action, but people often don’t care until they think it will lead to crimes against people. So this is where I spend most of my time … educating human protection professionals, police and prosecutors on why animal abuse is a serious public safety issue. Here’s why:
- Animal abuse presents a risk of child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse
- Animal abuse may be an indicator of other violence in the home
- Animal violence may be a predictor of future violence in the home
- Animal abuse may be used to threaten victims in the home to remain silent and compliant
- 62-76% of animal cruelty in the home occurs in front of children
- Up t0 48% of domestic violence victims will delay or refusing leaving the abusive home because they do not want to leave their pets behind.
- Animal abuse has been connected to: child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, murder, rape, arson, and more
I am often asked why animals are abused because for many of us, we cannot fathom harming an animal. Here are some of the reasons why (from a 2012 study):
- to normalize other violence going on in the home
- to gain perverse satisfaction and instill fear in humans in the home
- punish the animals for a person’s misbehavior
- jealousy of the pet
- to demonstrate intolerance for rules being broken (if I can do this to the dog, I can do it to you)
- threats to keep the woman from leaving as collateral violence (not the target)
Research is also verifying at alarming rates that children who witness abuse in the home, particularly animal abuse, are at increased risk of becoming a violent offender against people and animals.
- One study found that children who witnessed animal abuse at home were more than 8 times more likely to become an offender;
- Children who are frequently physically punished are more likely to abuse animals;
- Frequent spanking of 3 years old led to aggression as a 5 year old, against animals;
- Bullying by children has been connected with animal abuse;
- Children who witness DV are 3 times more likely to abuse animals.
In simple terms, when children and youth are allowed to grow up witnessing violence (whether that is violence in the home or violence on television/movies) their brains are not developed sufficiently to process it. Therefore, they grow up de-sensitized to violence and may become violent themselves.
So what can you do? Report violence when you see it (especially against animals). No longer can we say “it’s not my responsibility”, when we are all responsible for how our society evolves. Neighbors are in a fantastic position to often see abuse (because the abuse of animals often happens publicly, outdoors). If you see something, say something. If you fear retaliation, make an anonymous report.
I have dedicated the past decade to educating criminal justice professionals on the importance of taking animal abuse seriously as it is directly tied to community safety. Want to learn more about this topic? Click here then click on “please fill out this form” at the top of the page to gain free access to a one hour webinar that I conducted on this topic (I will send you the password within 72 hours). The more we all know about how animal abuse impacts community safety, the safer our communities will be!
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