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Last updated: 06.01.17

How animal abuse and family violence is linked

While many people consider animal abuse and family violence to be two separate issues, studies suggest that they are actually linked.

Although animal protection agencies and social care workers often coordinate with each other to prevent various forms of abuse, generally animal abuse and family violence are considered to be two separate issues. However, professionals working in these fields will tell you that it is often the same families (or perpetrators) involved and the same overarching problems.

In the past couple of decades, official bodies have recognised a link between cruelty to animals, domestic violence and the maltreatment of children. While both the NSPCC and the RSPCA have highlighted this troubling link, the two forms of abuse are still often thought of as unconnected.

The Links Grouphas brought together representatives from the family safeguarding and animal welfare fields to end violence against people and animals. In order to spot signs of animal cruelty, which could indicate the abuse of family members, practitioners must receive the correct training. Here we take a look at how animal abuse and family violence are linked.

The warning signs

“When animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk.

Abuse of any form should be taken seriously, and sometimes the maltreatment of animals can indicate a person or family may be at risk. By understanding that these two areas are linked, agencies must fully understand their role when it comes to working together.

According to the National Link Coalition, the way animals are regarded in a family setting is a window into interpersonal relationships and family dynamics. The coalition believes that the abuse of animals is part of an inter-generational cycle of violence and those (children especially) who live in homes with domestic violence or animal abuse, often end up absorbing unhealthy attitudes and family norms.

'Animal abuse is a form of power and control used to manipulate, intimidate, and retaliate against others in domestic violence,' reports the National Link Coalition in the US.

Evidence of links

Previous research into the link between animal abuse and child maltreatment by Simon Hackett, of the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University, and Emma Uprichard, from the Department of Sociology at the University of York, gave much insight.

They found that, while the correlation between animal cruelty and family violence at the lower levels should not be exaggerated, it is often more marked where individual adults or young people are showing signs of extreme behaviour.

Other studies, mentioned in the above report, revealed that 53 per cent of women who had been victims of domestic violence said their abuser had either killed or harmed a family pet. Here, the authors argue that child welfare professionals should consider animal abuse as a possible indicator of domestic violence.

First responders

Violence towards humans and animals can take many forms of abuse, including physical violence, sexual or emotional abuse, or neglect.

Many animal cruelty investigations often involve unintentional neglect, but there are also cases that uncover intentional neglect and other forms of abuse. Professionals working in these areas must understand that all cases have the potential to be connected to other forms of violence in the home, and often, they are the first responders or first point of contact for a family in need.

We know that in family violence cases, actual or threatened animal abuse can be a way for the abuser to silence their victim about the incident or to prevent them from leaving a violent relationship. They can hurt animals to exert a power over their human victims, potentially threatening them with what could happen to them.

We have recently developed a new course which explores the link between abuse at home, and animal abuse. This course will be launched within the next few months with the aim to help safeguarding professionals identify potential situations of abuse.