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Domestic Violence and Animal Cruelty

June 28, 2010
Dog (Image mine)

Dog (Image mine)

The correlation between animal cruelty and homicidal violence is one with which most of us are familiar. Many infamous serial killers first showed signs of violence against animals: generally small animals easy to catch and subdue like house pets. The connection between anti-animal and anti-human violence is not a new one, but a recent article in the New York Times magazine explored the specific connection between violence against animals and domestic violence. Rather than a linear progression from animals to strangers, as with serial killers, inter-familial violence, including violence against animals, is a cyclical and ever-expanding mushroom cloud that starts with one abuser and spreads out to engulf the entire family.

At the center of domestic violence is the dynamic of power and control. (See the Duluth Model Power & Control Wheel.) This dynamic is completely tilted in favor of one person or one entity (a parent versus a child, an extended family versus a new bride, etc.) Animals inevitably find themselves at the losing end of these relationships as they are easy prey for someone who needs to dominate and control. Abuse against animals can be used as a form of control over the animal or another human; demonstrating animal abuse in front of another family member is an effective method of terrorizing and threatening. An animal’s well-being may also be used as a bargaining chip in order to elicit more submissive behavior from a family member. As anyone with a healthy relationship with a pet knows, a pet’s well-being can be considered as important as other family members’.

The most frequent question asked of domestic violence survivors, and those of us who provide services to them, is “Why doesn’t she just leave?” This article mentioned, without mockery or judgment, the fact that many women feel that they cannot leave a relationship because they will not be able to take their pet with them or find a suitable home for it. I appreciated the author’s objective tone, as it is often surprisingly challenging for people to reserve their judgments of DV survivors.

Searching as someone might who was looking for help understanding the relationship between animal violence in the home and domestic violence, I found most information from animal rights’ organization such as The Humane Society and the ASPCA. (The National DV Hotline linked to ASPCA’s article.) The readers’ comments on the NYT article mostly scoffed at the idea that a correlation between violence against animals and violence against humans was a new idea. As someone who works in the anti-violence field and tries to read extensively on the subject, I must say that this is the first non-academic article I have read specifically discussing the connection between animal abuse and inter-familial violence and not just the cat-torturing tendencies of Ted Bundy. I was interested in investigating the correlation between those who work in animal slaughter and rates of domestic violence, but could not find any conclusive statistics. (If you know of any please leave a link in the comments.) I have only discussed this topic with animal-rights activists, who must often use statistics about human violence to garner support, as violence against animals in itself is often not enough to provoke a supportive response.

For those who are interested in reading more on the subject, the following books look helpful:

Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse by Frank R. Ascione

Just a Dog: Animal Cruelty, Self and Society by Arnold Arluke

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