The manifestations of animal maltreatment — cruelty, abuse, hoarding and neglect — and domestic violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse are many — and often not obvious. Many incidents occur behind closed doors, and victims may be unwilling or ashamed to reveal it. (Neighbors may actually be more willing to report suspected animal abuse than other forms of family violence because the incidents may occur outdoors and concerned observers recognize that the animals cannot call for help themselves.)
Often, victims who are reluctant to talk about abuse that has been inflicted on them may be more comfortable talking about abuse to their pets, which can then lead them into opening up about their own abuse. When children report having many pets that have died or disappeared, it may mean a chaotic home life with little stability or that their pets have been killed or abused and further investigation is necessary.
Abusers often brag about the animal cruelty they have perpetrated as they do not perceive animal abuse to be a serious crime. They will often admit to animal abuse, but not family violence, which can be a starting point for criminal investigations and prosecutions.
Assessing the Risk Factors of Animal Cruelty and Abuse
Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President for Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects of the ASPCA and an internationally recognized expert on the animal cruelty/human violence connection, has identified a number of risk factors to evaluate a level of dangerousness in an animal abuser who may be at risk of committing violence against others in the future. These factors can be applied in risk and lethality assessments when reviewing case histories. Determining factors include:
- The number of victims, severity of injury, and repeated injuries on individual victims. Several animals killed or injured in the same instance or infliction of multiple wounds suggest a greater potential for uncontrolled violence.
- Victim vulnerability: Violence against particularly small, harmless or non-threatening animals indicates that perpetrators gain a sense of power and control through violence against those least like to retaliate.
- The act was premeditated; the act involved overcoming obstacles to initiate or complete the abuse; the victim was bound or otherwise physically incapacitated.
- Long-term planning of violent acts suggest the possibility of psychopathic thought processes. Abuse that includes binding, securing with tape, confining to a box or otherwise rendering an animal incapable of escape is suggestive of a higher degree of intentional, premeditated violence.
- Intimacy of infliction of injury
- Abuse that involves direct physical contact or restraint and obvious opportunity to witness the victim’s response (e.g., beating, strangling, crushing) may be a more serious indicator than actions that are more remote (e.g., shooting, poisoning, hitting with a car).
- Absence of an economic motive suggests that the act itself was sufficiently rewarding to the perpetrator.
- The animal victim was sexually assaulted or mutilated, or the perpetrator indicated sexual arousal as a consequence of the abuse.
- Many serial rapists and sexual homicide perpetrators report sexual arousal through violent dominance of animals. Erotic violence toward animals should be considered a warning sign for more generalized violence.
- The perpetrator documented the incident through photos, videos, or diary entries; the perpetrator returned to the scene of the abuse to relive the experience.
- The documentation of cruelty indicates that acts of violence are a continuing source of pleasure for the perpetrator and may indicate the likelihood of re-enactment, repetition or escalation of violence to reach the same rewarding emotional state.
- The animal victim was posed or otherwise displayed
- This indicates the use of violence to gain feelings of power and domination or to alarm or intimidate others. It should be considered a serious warning sign of potential for escalated or repeated violence.