Domestic Violence And Animal Abuse: An Overview
Increasingly, researchers are examining the relationship between domestic violence and the abuse of animals. These are problems that cause intense suffering for many people and animals around the world, and recent evidence has made clear that the two problems are closely intertwined.
According to a broad body of literature, the majority of victims of domestic violence report that their violent partner also abuses animals; Various estimates put the exact percentage between 25% and 86%, mostly depending on if verbal and emotional forms of abuse are measured or not. One survey of domestic violence shelters in the US found that 94% of shelters report clients discussing incidents of animal abuse. Another study discovered that animal abuse rates are more than ten times higher than average in households with domestic violence.
Psychologists argue that abuses of many kinds come from the same root cause: the abuser wants control, and uses violence to get it. Second, surveys of victims find that abusers often attack a victim’s beloved companion animals in order to emotionally scar the victim. Given these two factors, animal abuse and domestic violence are bound to occur together.
What’s more, one survey found that 74% of domestic violence shelters know women who are choosing not to escape abuse to come to the shelter only because the shelter doesn’t accept animals. Thankfully, though most domestic violence shelters don’t allow victims to bring companion animals with them to the shelters, this is changing.
When two extremely important problems are so deeply connected to each other, any successful response must take both into account. Therefore, in order to combat both domestic violence and animal abuse, it’s critical that we further understand the relationship between them.
This study set out to thoroughly describe the interplay of domestic violence and animal abuse, through a survey of 23 shelters across Canada. The authors deliberately included shelters that took in victims from sometimes isolated communities, including immigrant and Canadian Aboriginal communities.
The study separated respondents into three groups of roughly equal size: domestic violence victims with no animals in the house; victims with animals in the house who witnessed little to no animal abuse; and victims who witnessed moderate to severe animal abuse. The study then reported the survey data these respondents provided and attempted to find patterns and differences across the groups.
Key Survey Findings
First, animal abuse is extremely common in households with domestic violence. 89% of victims who had companion animals in the house reported that these animals had been abused by their partner. The abuses ranged from smacking these animals (65% of abusers) to refusing to feed them (42%) to even killing the animal (15%).
Second, animal abuse is rarely reported to the police. Only 16% of victims said that these incidents were reported to police often, and over half said the incidents were never reported to police.
Third, domestic abuse victims often risk their own safety to protect companion animals. 56% of victims with companion animals reporting delaying leaving their abusive partner out of concern for their companion animal’s safety. One in three shelter residents with companion animals said they were considering returning to their abusive partner to protect the animal.
Fourth, efforts to stop animal abuse are often inadequate. 47.5% of victims said they had not been counseled by shelter staff on ways to care for their companion animals, including the possibility of animal shelters. Of those who were advised, half were only given that information after they had left home for the shelter, leaving their companion animals behind them.
Differences Across Groups
The authors argue that animal abuse can often serve as an indicator of present or future domestic violence. The study found that households with animals see roughly average levels of domestic violence, meaning that the presence of animals don’t change domestic violence rates. Instead, animal abuse is more likely when domestic violence is exceptionally intense. Less intense domestic violence, on the other hand, might leave nearby animals unscathed. This insight can be useful to shelters, police, and potential abuse victims: when animal abuse is observed, domestic violence might soon follow.
The authors suggest that two policy responses are necessary in response to their findings.
First, domestic violence shelters should provide and publicize ways for victims of domestic violence to protect their beloved companion animals. This will keep the animals safe and free the victims to leave their abuser without fearing for the safety of the animal.
Second, animal abuse should broadly be seen as more worrying, a potential sign of abusive tendencies that could possibly result in domestic violence. Potential victims can observe animal abuse in potential abusers; police can investigate reports of intense animal abuse as possible cases of domestic violence; and support counselors and everyday citizens can draw attention to incidents of animal abuse.
Together, these responses would constitute significant progress in the fight against domestic violence and animal abuse. But we also still need to know more about the problem.
Future researchers should be eager to take larger surveys, encompassing a broader spectrum of victims. They should continue this study’s practice of in-depth questioning that gives a more accurate picture of abuse. In particular, more research is necessary on places outside North America, to see if the problem changes much in different cultures.
Domestic violence and animal abuse are urgent and intertwined problems that require comprehensive responses. Research like this helps achieve the incredibly important goal of better understanding these problems, paving the way for real solutions.