Domestic Violence And Animal Abuse: An Overview
Increasingly, researchers are examining the relationship between domestic violence and animal abuse. These types of violence cause intense suffering for many people and animals around the world, and recent evidence has made it clear that the two problems closely intertwine.
According to a broad body of literature, most victims of domestic violence report that their violent partner also abuses animals. Estimates of the exact percentage vary between 25% and 86%, largely depending on if a study has measured verbal and emotional forms of abuse. One survey of domestic violence shelters in the US found that 94% of shelters have clients who have discussed incidents of animal abuse. Another study discovered that animal abuse rates are more than 10 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. Also, surveys of domestic violence victims find that abusers often attack a victim’s beloved companion animal to emotionally scar the victim. These two factors suggest that 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 by coming to the shelter only because the shelter doesn’t accept animals. Though most domestic violence shelters don’t allow victims to bring companion animals with them to the shelters, this is thankfully changing.
When two extremely important problems link so closely together, any successful response must take both into account. So, to combat both domestic violence and animal abuse, it’s critical to further understand the relationship between them. Through a survey of 23 shelters across Canada, this study set out to describe the interplay of domestic violence and animal abuse in detail. The authors deliberately included shelters that took in victims from some isolated communities such as 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 three groups of respondents.
Key Survey Findings
First, animal abuse is extremely common in households with domestic violence. As many as 89% of victims with companion animals in the house reported that their partner had abused these animals. The abuses included smacking the animals (65% of abusers), refusing to feed them (42%), and even killing them (15%).
Second, the police rarely receive reports of animal abuse. Only 16% of victims said that they often reported animal abuse incidents to the police, and over half said that they never reported such incidents to the police.
Third, domestic abuse victims often risk their own safety to protect companion animals. Over half of victims with companion animals reported 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 their companion animal.
Fourth, efforts to stop animal abuse are often inadequate. Almost half of victims said shelter staff didn’t counsel them on ways to care for their companion animals such as through using animal shelters. Of those who did receive advice, half only received that information after they had left home for the shelter and left their companion animals behind them.
Differences Across Groups
The authors argue that animal abuse can often indicate 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 doesn’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: where there is animal abuse, domestic violence might soon follow.
The authors suggest that two policy responses are necessary in light of 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 enable the victims to leave their abuser without fearing for the safety of their animal.
Second, we should see animal abuse as worrying and as 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 these problems. Future researchers should conduct larger surveys that encompass a broader spectrum of victims. They should continue this study’s practice of in-depth questioning to give a more accurate picture of abuse. In particular, further research is necessary in 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 to achieve the incredibly important goal of better understanding these problems, which can help to pave the way for real solutions to these issues.