Animal Rights/Vegan Activists' Strategies Articles

How Are Animal Abuse and Family Violence Linked?

From National Link Coalition
May 2022

Animal abuse is “the tip of the iceberg”: the way animals are regarded in a family is a window into interpersonal relationships and family dynamics. Investigators who find animal cruelty, abuse or neglect are rarely surprised to see other issues lurking beneath the surface.

animal and family abuse

Animal abuse and family violence are usually perceived and treated as separate issues, handled independently by animal care & control or human services agencies that until recently have had little incentive to work together. Professionals in all these fields are not surprised when they learn that often they are dealing with the same families, the same perpetrators, and the same overarching problems.

Where animal abuse used to be trivialized by people saying, “It’s only a dog!” or “Boys will be boys!”, leaders now recognize that cruelty, abuse or neglect in any form should be taken seriously. Animal maltreatment is often “the tip of the iceberg” and the first warning sign of an individual or family in trouble. Knowing that these forms of family violence are linked, it is important that the agencies involved understand their role in communicating, collaborating, and reporting with each other.

Violence towards humans or animals can take the form of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect. While most animal cruelty investigations involve unintentional neglect, many uncover intentional neglect and abuse. All cases have the potential to be connected to other forms of violence or dysfunction in the home, and animal control officers and humane law investigators are often “first responders” and the first point of contact for a family in need of assistance.

How are animal abuse and other family violence linked?

In domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse cases, actual or threatened animal abuse can be a way for the abuser to silence victims about the incident or to prevent them from leaving a violent relationship. Abusers kill, hurt or threaten animals to exert power over the human victims and to show them what could happen to them. Killing a family pet can eliminate a source of comfort and support for the human victim. Sometimes the victims themselves abuse animals, either to protect the animal from worse harm or to displace their hostility towards their abuser.



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