Violence in the household is a terrifying phenomenon. Those who hold the most power - typically men in our patriarchal world - can use it to create and maintain an unsafe environment, one that threatens the well-being and even lives of other members of the home. In such a situation, vulnerability to violence often extends to women and children in the family, hired domestic workers, and companion animals. One step in preventing future violence in the household lies in recognising warning signs, so it’s important to discuss how these types of abuse can lead to related patterns of violence.
There is a growing body of evidence that highlights a link between domestic violence against women and the abuse of animals. Furthermore, animal abuse can be an early indicator for abuse against others too. Many women have reported witnessing abuse or threats of abuse on their pets, but are unable to take action because of lack of support services for animal abuse. To better understand this link and to help prevent future cases of domestic and animal abuse, let’s discuss how these forms of violence overlap and how survivors can ensure their future safety.
Domestic violence is abuse or violence by an intimate partner towards the other. Domestic violence also involves violence against children, teenagers, parents, or the elderly. Globally, the victims of domestic violence are overwhelmingly women, and women tend to experience more severe forms of violence. It may produce an intergenerational cycle of violence in children and other family members, who may feel that such violence is acceptable or condoned.
Animal cruelty is defined as any intentional and repeated behavior that causes physical or psychological distress in animals. This includes, but is not limited to, causing unnecessary pain, suffering, distress, or death of an animal. Animal abuse in violent homes can take many forms and can occur for many reasons. (For more information on the signs of animal abuse and appropriate action to take, please see our blog series here.)
The link between the two
Animals are the easiest target for abusers in a violent domestic relationship. They use the helpless companion animal as a means of control and power over their victims. Often, the abuser threatens to harm or kill an animal to control the victim and keep her from leaving the abusive relationship. Also, the abuser can instill fear in his victim by following through on threats to injure or kill an animal. This act shows the victim that if the abuser is willing to kill an animal, then he may also harm or kill the victim herself.
In one study of families under investigation for suspected child abuse, researchers found that pet abuse had occurred in 88 percent of the families under supervision for physical abuse of their children. Commonly cited motivations for the abuse of their pets included anger and revenge, but the majority felt that even these motivations were simply another form of control. Control was identified as the principal motivation for abuse.
Steps to prevent forms of domestic violence
- To put a stop to this pattern of violence, the Humane Society Legislative Fund supported the Pets and Women’s Safety (PAWS) Act. The PAWS Act helps victims of domestic abuse find the means to escape their abusers while keeping their companion animals safe, as many victims remain in abusive households for fear of their pets’ safety. Reach out to them.
- Make your shelter pet-friendly with SAF-T (Sheltering Animals & Families Together) plans.
- Report abuse to local law enforcement, or to whoever is responsible for cruelty investigations in your community.
- Shelter an animal in need.