Philosophy of AR > Abuse-Index
National Town Hall Addresses Link Between Children and Animal Cruelty

July 10, 2008

Each year, pets face the grim reality that they will be victims of domestic abuse. Individuals who abuse animals rarely stop there. Human victims--adults and children alike--often feel they have no choice but to remain in violent households in order to avoid harm to their pets.

This year, an organization committed to the protection of children and animals, American Humane, held a National Town Meeting and Summit with leaders in community action, domestic violence prevention, and other animal protection organizations. Their goal is to shed light on the link between violence toward animals and violence toward human beings.

Participants included groups such as the American Psychological Association/Ahimsa House, Partners for Violence Prevention, the ASPCA, and the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Together they produced a vision statement: "It is understood that there is a link between violence against humans and violence against animals. Through the recognition and integration of this understanding into policies and practices nationwide, people and animals are measurably safer."

The link between violence toward people and animals has now been well-established. Child and animal protection professionals have recognized that abuse of both animals and children can be a self-perpetuating cycle. Statistics nationwide indicate that this link is a problem of national concern, and breaking this cycle of violence has become a top priority for thousands of communities nationwide.

In one study, 88 percent of 57 families being treated for incidents of child abuse also abused animals. Of 38 women seeking shelter at a safe house, 74 percent reported having a pet, and 71 percent reported that their pet had been threatened or harmed--one third of the time by the children. Children often use their pets as a scapegoat for their anger.

Animal abuse issues can have implications for therapy as a possible predictor of violence toward humans. In surveys of 174 therapists, they found that 28 percent of therapists encountered animal abuse issues in the past five years and 87 percent viewed animal abuse as a mental health issue.

In Maine, Governor John Balducci signed a new law, LD 2171, on April 25 which amends the Animal Welfare Act to include neglect and domestic violence as crimes against animals. The new law prohibits assault, threatening, reckless conduct, and terrorizing an animal in a domestic violence situation.

In New Jersey, Assemblymen Matthew Milan and Nelson Albano have introduced a bill (AB 2979) which would make it a crime to commit animal cruelty, abandonment, or animal fighting in the presence of a child. The state of Georgia now requires potential adoptive or foster parents with pets to list the name and species of each pet. They are also given a foster parent manual including sections on how children can be safe around dogs and the need for pets to have rabies vaccinations.

Some states have strengthened their animal-cruelty legislation and taken other measures to help pets. For example:

There are now felony-level penalties for animal cruelty in nearly all states.

Several states require veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse and offer veterinarians who report cruelty immunity from civil and criminal liability.

Some states require animal control officers to report suspected child abuse or neglect and receive training in recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect.

A few states permit child and adult protection workers to report suspected animal abuse or receive training on identifying and reporting animal cruelty, abuse and neglect.

Nearly half the states call for psychological counseling for individuals convicted of animal cruelty.

More and more research has revealed that acts of cruelty to animals often leads to acts of cruelty to children and other people. The participants of this year's Town Hall and Summit, organized by American Humane, hope to elevate the plight of children and animals in domestic violence situations.

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