Campaigns

Background
Why children harm animals
Animals and family violence
The link between animal cruelty and violence
How you can help

Background

There is growing evidence that suggests children who commit acts of violence against animals have a high risk of going on to commit violence against humans. With guidance from adults, children can be taught to empathise with others. Without such intervention they may become locked into a lifelong cycle of perpetuating cruelty against those least able to defend themselves.

Recently social scientists and law enforcement agencies have begun studying the roots of violence, connecting animal cruelty with child abuse or neglect, domestic violence and community violence. Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, victim service providers, physicians, mental health providers and protective service officials are teaming up with animals control officers and veterinarians to protect the most vulnerable in the community.

Why children harm animals

Most researchers agree that animal abuse is not just the result of a personality flaw in the abuser, but a symptom of a deeply disturbed background. Perpetrators of violence against animals are predominantly adolescent males, who come from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Studies show children who abuse animals have been victims of abuse themselves, have witnessed domestic violence in the home or learn from their parents to react to anger or frustration with violence. These children perpetrate that violence against a vulnerable member of their household, usually the companion animal.

Animals and family violence

An estimated 88% of animals living in households with domestic violence are abused or killed. In the US, 57% of women in domestic violence shelters have had their companion animal killed by their abuser. Neglect of companion animals can be indicative of neglect to children.

Upon witnessing acts of violence or neglect against animals, early intervention is proving effective in preventing ongoing crime, whether the perpetrator is a child or an adult. Cases of severe or repeated violence against animals demands criminal punishment as well as psychiatric treatment.

The link between animal cruelty and violence

The majority of notorious killers around the world have been found to have a history of animal cruelty, particularly as children. The list includes The Boston Strangler, Ted Bundy, the Son of Sam and Martin Bryant. Nearly all students who have gone on shooting rampages in their schools in recent years had histories of animal cruelty in their childhoods.

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How you can help

  • Be aware of the link between violence towards animals and other types of violence, particularly in children. Early intervention can help break the cycle of violence.
  • Don’t dismiss childhood animal cruelty as ‘kids just being kids’. If a child is cruel to animals it is a warning sign that they need help.
  • If you hear or see a child or animal being abused, get help. To do nothing is to condone and participate in that abuse.