"Animal abuse is potentially the tip of a much bigger ice berg"

The following is an excerpt from a report produced by Dr Robertson regarding the conference held in the UK on "The Relationship between Animal Abuse and Human Violence":

During the last 30 years, evidence has been accumulating of a link between animal abuse and violence to humans, or anti-social behavior. The conference held in Oxford, England recently was introduced as Britain�s first major academic conference on the subject of the relationship between animal abuse and human violence. The conference was intended to document and explore the meaning of this link, and the implications that should follow for the making of social and legal policy. In particular, the conference was designed to enable people to better understand the nature of animal abuse, the motivation that leads to cruel acts, and the implications for human and animal welfare.

The conference was described by Dr Robertson, who attended and spoke at the conference, as being very �raw�. �The reason for describing it as �raw� he said, �is because the conference dealt directly with issues of personalized violence and abuse to humans and animals�. He continued by saying �Although there are many issues involving animals and animal welfare that receive attention primarily because of the related human interests; the human interest in this conference entered areas that in yester-year were largely considered private. It is one thing, for example, to consider human interests of trade, and health; but quite another to discuss animal welfare in it�s relation to physical and mental violence behind the closed doors of peoples homes and lives�.

The Conference included participants from a wide variety of disciplines, who came from over ten countries around the world.

One of the keynote speakers was Frank Anscione, Professor of Psychology, Utah State University, USA; who is arguably one of the four leading academic experts in the world on the subject of animal abuse and interpersonal violence. He provided an overview of past research in the field and illustrated areas which needed future study. He referred to one study of human violence which identified that in over 80% of cases where there had been physical abuse to human beings; there had also been evidence of abuse to animals in the perpetrator�s history. Another study reports that, of women who have been battered who also have pets in the home, approximately 50% will report that the animals has been abused and/or killed. Animal cruelty is also recognized as one of the indicator behaviors of children who have been exposed to domestic violence. �It�s important to recognize that animal abuse is potentially the tip of a much bigger ice berg� he said.
He also referred to the plight of women who �wouldn�t go to a shelter because the shelter wouldn�t take the dog�. He continued by referring to a number of women�s shelters who are now allowing the pets to accompany families who seeking protection so that concerns for the pet�s safety did not pose a problem for victims of violence, or result in them delaying seeking help. Frank Ascione suggested that battered wives have suffered as a result of legislation which had failed to take account of the pet�s safety in situations of domestic violence. However, in recognizing the role of pets, particularly in these situations, the law is gradually moving to address this problem and in the last 2 years, 6 states in the USA have allowed pets to be included in protection orders.

However, there are concerns and barriers that can reduce the effectiveness of reporting suspected abuse. Alan C Brantley, Former FBI Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI�s National Centre for the Analysis of Violent Crime also spoke at the conference, has compiled a checklist of 16 factors for use in assessing levels of dangerousness in individuals. One of the factors on that list is the presence of animal abuse. However, recognizing a potential problem, and reporting it so that appropriately trained experts can deal with matters, are two different issues. �Good people sometimes fail to act even though they know about, or suspect, animal abuse and cruelty�. Fear for personal safety, and professional concerns including, for example, where the person believes they won�t be supported, also contribute to a lack of reporting.

Research studies have identified similar concerns amongst a number of professional groups, including, for example, veterinarians. Fear of retaliation, financial repercussions, and questions about breaching client confidentiality are some of the concerns that have been expressed . A recent study by the New Zealand Veterinary Association�s representative, indicated that 63 percent of the veterinarians who responded had seen cases of deliberate abuse. Dr Robertson said that the key question in terms of efficient reporting and this issue, is how many of those cases were appropriately reported to enable support services to help. At least one study has shown that an ethical duty to report may not be sufficient to motivate veterinarians to report suspicions of animal abuse, where 88% of veterinarians surveyed felt they had seen non-accidental trauma in their patients, but only 27% had ever filed a report. Dr Robertson referred to the comments of Professor Bernard Rollin in pointing out that a mandatory duty to report makes it easier for the practitioner because it removes the moral dilemma for the veterinarian of whether to report or not. This simplifies the veterinarian's decision process significantly from a series of subjective judgments to one of if abuse is suspected, then it must be reported�. Effective and efficient reporting of suspected abuse, he says, has important relevance for all those whose lives are affected by issues of abuse and violence.

Without doubt, addressing the problem has its difficulties, and is potentially contentious. Codes of best practice need to be developed, professional training and assessment will need to be implemented, policy makers will need to address how to consider how to apply effective standards of best practice, and legislation and professional bodies will need to consider how to incorporate the latest research and thinking. In spite of apparent obstacles however, the fact remains that animal abuse is an issue that has enormous implications for victims of abuse, animals and humans alike, many of whom continue to exist behind closed doors while more effective solutions are considered.

Article added: 10/2007