Should Advocates Support Animal Abuse Registries?
Animal abuse registries (AARs) are gaining support in Australia, and are already in use in some parts of the U.S. While these plans have support from some advocacy organizations, others oppose them. How can we understand the likely effectiveness of such registries, especially because there’s little data on the existing ones? The author uses a comparison with sex offender registries (SORs) to bring up concerns over these proposals, and makes the argument that they are likely to be ineffective or even damaging to animal welfare.
First, it’s unclear that these registries are effective at reducing the rate of repeat offenses. In principle, in the case of SORs, people present on the registry would have less access to children due to requirements such as community notifications or limitations on where the person may live. Similarly, those on an AAR would be prevented from adopting companion animals. While the research isn’t completely clear, the author cites several researchers who find that the rate of reoffending is unchanged, and therefore that SORs are ineffective. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that SORs have negative effects. Mechanisms such as community, landlord, or employer notification perpetuate cycles of homelessness and joblessness. And of course, the use of such a registry will be subject to the same systemic racism or other bias as the justice system as a whole.
A second criticism relevant to AARs in particular is that the rhetoric around them in some cases depends upon the idea that animal suffering is only relevant so far as it is relevant to human suffering. In particular, there’s a narrative in popular culture that psychopaths often harm animals before they harm humans. In this case, the criticism is around the motivation rather than the ends, where it’s considered useful to care about the suffering of animals only because it might prevent an individual from going on to harm other humans.
A third criticism is that both registries have the effect of skewing public perception about who is an offender. In several cases, SORs have been established in response to particularly horrific crimes that are extensively covered in the media, but which don’t reflect the “typical” crime. In the case of SORs, cases of sexual assault of children by a stranger are highly publicized- but in reality, 93% of sexual abusers of children know their victims.
When it comes to animal abuse, there’s a deep disconnect in terms of what is considered cruelty, and AARs may further entrench this view. In the U.S. and Australia, existing anti-cruelty laws exclude animals raised for food. Since AARs are an additional penalty on top of potential prison sentences, but don’t change the scope of the law, offenders on such a registry will be people who have abused companions or wild animals. This can have the unintended effect of making it seem like laboratories and farms are places where abuse doesn’t occur, and solidifying the imagined distinction between animals who can be victims of cruelty, and those who cannot.