Educating Youth About Animal Abuse And Domestic Violence
Over the years, many researchers have explored the close relationship between the problems of animal abuse and domestic violence. One study observed that animal abusers are five times more likely than average to commit acts of domestic violence. Another study examined calls to domestic violence helplines, finding that the threat or presence of animal abuse was one of the strongest risk factors for domestic homicide. In particular, researchers have argued that animal abuse can be the “tip of the iceberg,” indicating a higher chance of violent tendencies that could lead to domestic violence.
Because animal abuse and domestic violence are so deeply intertwined, a good solution must address the two problems together. Domestic violence shelters, for example, can provide more resources for victims to protect their companion animals from abusers; and veterinarians, police officers, and the general public can see animal abuse as a possible sign of domestic violence, calling for proper investigations of abuses to keep everyone safer.
That’s why it’s incredibly important to have strong public education programs about these issues. Right now, many countries are adopting school programs that teach children about animal abuse and domestic violence from a young age. By spreading awareness, these countries hope to effectively combat abuse.
Now, researchers face a pressing question: How can we best educate the public about domestic violence and animal abuse?
A New Education Program
This study set out to create and implement a curriculum for animal and domestic abuse education, hoping to serve as a model for other programs around the world. First, it aimed to increase students’ knowledge of animal and domestic abuse; second, it aimed to change students’ attitudes, making them more empathetic towards and eager to help victims of abuse.
The program was a single, hour-long event at an all-boys high school in Australia, where the authors had three local specialists speak about the problems of domestic violence and animal abuse. The speakers were:
- An animal rights advocate, who told success stories of animal rights advocacy, arguing that “every animal has a human story.”
- A police officer, specializing in animal and domestic abuse, who explained how to identify, intervene against, and report situations of abuse.
- And a veterinarian, trained in handling domestic abuse cases, who discussed healthy human-animal relationships, the abuse of animals as a means to hurt the humans who love them, and the negative impacts of violence on animals.
One of the authors of the program also spoke, providing reference and contact information for support resources. All four speakers then participated in a panel discussion, answering questions from the audience.
Key Features And Results
The paper emphasized several key features of the education program’s curricular choices:
- Positive emphasis. Rather than detail the horrors of abuse, which could possibly normalize those behaviors, this curriculum focused on the positive: it outlined healthy relationships, kept its focus on solutions, and maintained a hopeful tone.
- A gendered perspective. Abuse is a gendered problem: the US Department of Justice finds that men commit 96% of domestic violence. It is true that men constitute 26% of domestic abuse victims, but even then, their abusers tend to be other men, not women. This curriculum therefore presented abuse in a gendered light, and attempted to increase feelings of empathy towards women.
- Tracking progress. The researchers administered a questionnaire on students’ knowledge and attitudes both before and after the discussion in order to measure the impact of the program.
The authors evaluated the program as largely successful in both increasing knowledge and changing attitudes. Students reported significant learning in all areas, specifically about the relationship between abuses and about available support resources for victims. Students also reported empathizing with animals more, and 19% of students said that the program made them more likely to intervene against domestic violence and animal abuse.
The educational program and resultant study is a great first step, but more research is still necessary for developing effective methods of education on animal and domestic abuse in different contexts. This study was particularly limited by its size, being only tested in a single, all-male classroom. Further research can test this study’s pedagogical approach in different circumstances, to learn what works best where.
For policymakers and the general public, the most significant lesson is likely the importance of understanding domestic violence and animal abuse as a cohesive whole. If we continue to address these problems comprehensively, we can make strong progress against this type of suffering around the world.