The Connection Between Domestic Violence And Animal Cruelty In Puerto Rico: An Anthropological Study
Domestic violence is an issue that permeates different kinds of socio-economic contexts all over the world. In some countries, there is an acknowledgement of the link between domestic violence and the abuse of animals. This study looks at the connection between domestic violence and animal cruelty in Puerto Rico, finding many of the same dynamics and problems there are in the United States. The research lays an ethnographic foundation for further work on the issue in Puerto Rico.
Domestic violence is a complex set of practices that includes not just the physical and psychological abuse of women (and men), but often involves abuse against children and animals if they live in the house as well. In Puerto Rico, researcher Nancy Y. Vazquez-Soto conducted a study, with the intent “to illustrate how violence in the home incorporates the family ‘pet’ and other animals, and how cruelty toward them is a form of intimidation that allows some men to exert power and control over women. My first-hand research with survivors of domestic violence provided crucial insight: it exposed incidents of domestic abuse that had not been recorded before, illustrating family dynamics, how violence erupts, and how animals get trapped in the tangle of abuse.” Though the link between domestic violence and animal abuse has been studied in the U.S. and elsewhere, this kind of research is new to Puerto Rico. In her work, Vazquez-Soto gave a questionnaire to 68 women living in shelters, as well as 37 shelter counsellors. From that initial group, a handful were interviewed more extensively for this ethnography.
Vazquez-Soto’s findings, in many ways, echo the kinds of dynamics that are found in situations of domestic violence in other countries: violence is often threatened towards a woman’s companion animals as a form of psychological abuse against her, and in some cases companion animals are physically hurt or killed by an abusive partner. Women are often afraid to leave situations of abuse because they fear what might happen to their animals if they go, and women’s shelters don’t usually provide facilities for these animals to come with them. In her study, Vazquez-Soto found that “none of the shelters for abused women in Puerto Rico ask about the animals women left behind on their in-take form or during counseling; even though the majority of the counselors responded that many women do talk about their animals without being asked.” In this context, it may not be surprising to hear that police are likewise not trained to deal with companion animals when investigating situations of domestic abuse.
The research makes a number of suggestions for further study. The author recommends, for example, that “men’s voices on violence against women and animals must be heard. My study does not include interviews or questionnaires with the men the participants say committed the acts of cruelty toward animals. A different study is needed to know what men have to say about the connection between cruelty toward animals and family violence.” Better understanding this particular dynamic would indeed provide fruitful insights, but it would probably be hard to get the men to participate in such a study. In the meantime, Vazquez-Soto’s research is a solid base which advocates can use to explore the topic further.
Violence against women is one of Puerto Rico’s most critical social problems and for this reason, anthropological thought is critically necessary. Some women in Puerto Rico are vulnerable to situations of violence and control through domestic violence while their animals become involved in the same tangle of abuse. Women’s voices about their animals have not been heard simply because nobody has inquired. I asked women survivors of domestic abuse whether or not their male partners had engaged in any type of animal cruelty against household and domesticated animals. My intention in conducting this research was to examine, both from an anthropological and from a gender perspective, the correlation in Puerto Rico between domestic violence and animal cruelty through ethnographic work. Interviews with professional shelter staff were conducted as well to establish whether or not women seeking shelter talk about their pets being hurt by their male partners—and if so, what consequences that abuse has for the women. My main objective was to determine whether the results of research that had been conducted in other cultures that demonstrated a link between animal abuse and domestic violence findings would be translatable to Puerto Rican culture. There is a remarkable void in this area of study in the Caribbean and Latin America that needs to be addressed and this study is a contribution toward analysis, dialogue, and change.