The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence

Animals play a wide range of roles in our society, from comforting family pets to helping law enforcement track down missing people to providing service animals that provide critical assistance. Animals play a role in nearly everyone’s lives. As we have seen in the case of children, animals without their voices are some of the most vulnerable members of society. They are at high risk of animal cruelty, intentionally harming behavior like neglecting or killing an animal.

Animal cruelty was once considered an isolated crime. However, recent research has shown that animal abuse is often a precursor or co-occurring offense with violent crimes against humans, including violence towards intimate partners, children, and elders. It is also associated with other forms of violent crimes. This linkage is better understood and reduced by a collaborative investigation approach.

Over time, the concept of animal cruelty has evolved. Child abuse and animal welfare programs were closely linked in the late nineteenth century. During the 20th century, the government took over child protection and animal welfare, while private humane societies handled animal welfare. This separation prevented recognizing the relationship between domestic violence and animal cruelty. In recent years, a growing number of fields has acknowledged the seriousness and correlation of domestic violence and animal cruelty. 2

The Impact of Interpersonal Violence

People often assume that people start by hurting animals and then move on to humans. This may be the case in some cases, but not all offenders. In one study, 16% of criminals began abusing animals before committing violent crimes against people. Criminals often begin by harming humans before moving on to animals.

Companion animals are a great source of comfort for victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, abusers often use this bond to control and manipulate victims. The abuser can threaten, harm, or even kill the animal to create fear and control. Cruelty towards the animal can be used to control or manipulate the victim. It may also get them to stay in a violent relationship. The offender can also physically hurt the animal to punish the victim psychologically or to remind them that they can use physical force to maintain control and dominance.

Seventy-five percent of women with companion animals who are abused report that their partner has threatened or intentionally hurt their animal. Children were present in 90% of cases and witnessed the violence.

8 Children exposed to IPV at home are more than 60 times more likely to experience emotional maltreatment, physical abuse, or neglect. Children exposed to interpersonal violence (IPV) at home are 60 times more likely to suffer emotional maltreatment and physical abuse or neglect.

Animal cruelty predicts current and future violence, including assault, rape, or murder. It can also be a precursor to other violent crimes. Animal cruelty can expect future violence, including assault, rape, and murder. It also increases the risk of domestic violence and child sexual abuse.

Animal cruelty can be a sign of other crimes in the home.

Significant Legislation

Fear that their pets will be hurt or killed keeps victims in the violence cycle. In December 2018, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act became law to remove this barrier. The PAWS Act is designed to provide housing assistance for domestic violence shelters and human victims.

This law empowers IPV victims by allowing them to protect their pets. It also covers interstate stalking of animals, violations of protection orders, restitution, and allowing victims to include their pets in protection orders. The PAWS Act increases the capacity and number of safe havens for domestic violence survivors.

The Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010 banned the distribution and sale of videos showing the torture and death of animals. Crush videos feature provocatively-dressed women crushing, stomping, or impaling animals for the sexual enjoyment of viewers. The act itself did not criminalize the cruelty. In November 2019, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT Act) was passed.

The PACT Act, a federal statute, prohibits the intentional crushing, burning, or suffocation of animals. It also allows prosecution for crimes committed under national jurisdictions or that impact interstate commerce. This is the nation’s first federal law on animal cruelty, giving law enforcement a new tool to combat brutality. It builds upon existing state-level animal cruelty laws.

The laws governing animal cruelty vary by state. However, the definition and penalties of violent crimes are the same. These laws primarily focus on companion animals such as cats and dogs, although some states also include horses and birds.

Animal Fighting

Animal cruelty has many facets, and there are many potential crimes. One of the most notable is animal fighting. Law enforcement leaders must raise awareness of the different dynamics that animal cruelty and action can take. To do this, law enforcement leaders should make sure officers are aware of the broad scope of animal cruelty cases, and they should engage specific entities who work on crimes that may be associated with animal abuse (e.g., drugs, money laundering, and weapons violations).

Dogfighting in the United States is considered one of the worst forms of animal abuse. A typical dogfight can last between 1 and 2 hours. It ends when one of both dogs cannot continue. The majority of dogs that are used for fighting are pitbull terriers. They can be bred to have stamina and to fight other dogs. Most breeds stop fighting when they become exhausted. This breed is also not aggressive toward humans, and it is loyal. These traits make them able to tolerate abuse and neglect.

The “gaffs” or razor-sharp blades are attached to each bird’s leg before the fight. The edges can be so dangerous and sharp that even bird handlers were accidentally killed by their birds. Gamecocks will be placed in a pit for fighting in a cockfight until one, or both birds die. The average domesticated or free-range bird will fight for food, but these fights are rarely severe. In cockfighting, the birds are bred for aggression and made to fight. 19

Nearly every dogfighting raid involves the discovery and seizure of illegal drugs. Two-thirds of cases involve the seizure of illicit weapons. Almost all dogfighting attacks involve the discovery and confiscation of illegal drugs. Two-thirds of the patients also involve the seizure and destruction of prohibited weapons.

Animal fighting and possessing animals for fighting purposes are illegal in every state.

The Farm Bill 2014 amended the law to include the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act. This act targets those who organize the fights and the spectators. The show made it illegal to attend a dispute involving animals anywhere in the United States. It also imposed additional charges for children under 16 years old.

Dogfighting is often a result of financial gain. Law enforcement has confiscated more than $5000 during major dogfight raids. It is not uncommon for up to $20,000-$30,000 in one fight.

When faced with defeat, the owner loses money and social status. This often leads to aggression being taken out on the losing dog. In the face of failure, owners lose money and social standing, which leads them to take their anger out on the dog.

National Incident-Based Reporting System Data

The FBI defines animal cruelty as a group A offense.

The act of intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly mistreating or killing any animal without a justifiable cause. This includes torturing, tormenting or mutilating, maiming, or poisoning. This includes instances where the animal is deprived of shelter, food, or water; or has to be transported or contained in a way that could cause harm or death. It also includes situations in which an animal is forced to fight another animal; or suffers excessive pain. This definition excludes the proper care of animals used for sport or show and animals used for food or lawful hunting, fisheries, and trapping.

Animal cruelty is defined as a separate category in NIBRS. It includes four types of crimes: animal abuse, neglect, and abuse. The definition of animal abuse and the classes are intended to cover all state laws. However, if a local incident meets the criteria and definition for animal cruelty, it should be reported to NIBRS.

The data may take several more years but will give law enforcement and stakeholders valuable insight. The data can be used to identify who is committing the animal cruelty crimes, which jurisdictions are most commonly involved, and whether there is any association with other types of crime. Answering these questions will allow stakeholders to identify where resources should be spent and how law enforcement training can be improved. 34

According to a preliminary analysis of NIBRS 2018 data, there were 4,43 animal abuse incidents per 100,000 people in the United States. This compares to 106.68 assaults, 65.77 robberies, and 799.40 drug offenses. However, not all law enforcement agencies report data to NIBRS. Animal control agencies and humane organizations that are not recognized as police agencies investigate animal cruelty, resulting in unreported information. Law enforcement agencies should establish relationships with these organizations to ensure that NIBRS has the most accurate data. To help law enforcement build these relationships, the National Council on Violence Against Animals offers a sample memorandum.

NIBRS data will be essential in studying animal cruelty, but current research studies have used other sources. Researchers, for example, examined the criminal and demographic characteristics of 150 male adult arrestees for animal cruelty. The average age of offenders in this study was 37. Of those arrested, 41% were for interpersonal violence. 18% had committed a sexual offense. And 28% for other interpersonal crimes, such as harassment or violating a court order.

Knowing the connection between animal abuse and violence will make a significant difference to an investigation. … “

Investigational Considerations

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a study in 2010 that focused on the role of law enforcement in investigating animal cruelty. The study found that approximately one-fifth of law enforcement officers had received training on animal cruelty. Only one-third of respondents knew what penalties apply to animal cruelty laws. The study also identified three obstacles law enforcement officers face when dealing with animal cruelty cases.

  1. Animal cruelty: a lack of information
  2. Animal cruelty is a low priority for leaders
  3. Evidence of lack of housing facilities for animals 38

The ASPCA also conducted a study on dogfighting in 2015. It found that more than half of the officers surveyed said they had not received any training in the investigation of dogfighting cases, and 40% stated limited resources were a factor.

Multidisciplinary and Cross-Reporting Approach

Understanding animal cruelty, its investigations, and applicable codes is essential, not just for animal cruelty cases but others. Officers who suspect animal abuse or other crimes that indicate animal cruelty may encounter multiple moving pieces and overlapping investigations. The opportunity to save lives is created by a multidisciplinary approach that includes reporting other crimes, including animal cruelty.

To achieve this, several agencies can form a multidisciplinary team and work together to gain background knowledge about the relationship between animal cruelty and violent crimes. Children’s services, animal protection organizations, veterinarians, and domestic violence shelters can all work together to develop a holistic approach to investigating the link. Establishing relationships can help educate each other, be proactive, and identify resources.

Multidisciplinary task forces have been formed in several states to combat animal fighting. Several states have created interdisciplinary task forces to combat animal fights. 41 Both the ASPCA and the University of California Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory developed canine CODIS systems to help identify and connect DNA evidence to strengthen dogfighting cases.

Animal cruelty claims must be investigated by agencies because, if they are not taken seriously enough, there could be a negative ripple effect. Often, the employees of child protection services and law enforcement first notice animals or children being neglected. There are cross-reporting legislations in place across the country that allow anyone to report suspected abuse. 43 Some states even have laws that require adult and child protection services to report animal cruelty. These laws allow law enforcement to share information about animal or human abuse with social services and animal care providers.

Asking about the animals and their welfare allows those who interact with abuse victims to learn more about other forms of violence in families. Victims may not want to discuss their abuse. They may, however, be willing to discuss their pets’ abuse. 45 Officers should ask specific questions when talking with abuse victims, such as, “How are animals treated?” or “What happens if an animal gets into trouble?” Officers must observe the way the family interacts with pets and the behavior of the pets. They should also ask children indirect questions regarding their experiences with animals.

Veterinary Considerations

Law enforcement agencies should build relationships with veterinarians, as they are in the unique position of seeing neglect and abuse in animals and clients who bring their animals in for evaluation. Veterinarians will know who to call within the law enforcement agency when they witness animal cruelty. They may also be able alert authorities to specific situations within the family.

Veterinarians can see signs of abuse in animal patients. For example, a client may explain that the fractures are healing differently. The veterinarian must determine if this injury is consistent with the client’s explanation. Veterinarians assess animals while considering family dynamics, home environment, and client concerns. They can identify red flags and implement protocols to help those in need, whether animals or humans. Not all practices have protocols for these situations.

Currently, 20 states have laws requiring mandatory reporting of animal cruelty. The rest of the states recognize this as a moral obligation within the Code of Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics. Most states have a mandatory reporting law. This voluntary reporting statute allows veterinarians to violate patient confidentiality or companion immunity protection against civil and criminal liability for reporting animal cruelty.

The conclusion of the article is:

Law enforcement can strengthen its investigations by establishing and maintaining relationships with various disciplines. A multidisciplinary team enables law enforcement to look at situations from multiple perspectives, essential in identifying, stopping, and preventing animal cruelty and criminal activities. Law enforcement can save the lives of animals and people by understanding the relationship between animal abuse and violence.


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