Domestic Violence and the human/ animal connection
Australia has one of the highest rates of animal ownership in the world. Sadly, we also have one of the highest rates of family/domestic violence, too. This means that many animals, who are a part of the family, also become victims when a family is subjected to family/domestic violence. For many people, leaving an animal behind to an uncertain fate is inconceivable. Many victim/survivors report that they delayed leaving a violent home, or returned to a violent home, because there was nowhere safe to care for the animal. As N Taylor and H Fraser explain, for many people who have experienced domestic and family violence, the loving relationship they share with an animal can provide victim/survivors with” the will to live, eat, sleep and keep caring for others, and in the process, maintain the will to rebuild their lives.”* An animal is often the only comfort, defender or friend a victim/survivor has.
For many victim/survivors, talking about the abuse and disclosing what’s going on can be hard. Often disclosing the abuse to the pets. vets suspecting abuse to an animal, or when children report family pets being killed or harmed is the only insight, we may have that there are people at risk of personal harm. (The Link Coalition) For this reason, Lucy’s Project works closely with vets to help support both the animals and people who may be in need of protection and for whom, the vet may be the only person able to link victim/survivors with domestic violence support services.
Lucy’s Project is deeply concerned that animal cruelty can be a powerful indicator of an at-risk family. This is an under researched area of domestic violence and we strongly advocate for and support further studies into the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty in a quest to save human and animal lives.
When we fail to address animal cruelty, we are failing to address human need too.
* N.Taylor and H.Fraser, Companion Animals and Domestic Violence, Rescuing You, Rescuing Me, Palgrave, 2019, 4.
When animals are victims, humans are victims
When an animal is being abused in the home, there are often humans at risk in the home. Witnessing animal abuse is distressing, and some perpetrators will harm an animal as a way of exerting control, punishment or threats towards a human victim/survivor. When a companion animal has been abused in a home, there’s a powerful red flag that all is not safe at home. No happy home involves animal abuse.
What if police officers are more at risk during a domestic violence call out if there is a history of animal cruelty and they have no knowledge of it? What if a history of violence toward animals is an indicator of increased chance of a perpetrator committing murder of a human victim? These questions are under researched, but US studies suggest that in fact this could well be the case and further research here in Australia is vital.
A trip to the vet, where the vet notices that the animal has a non-accidental injury, might be the only time the human victim/survivor has a chance to speak with someone who suspects abuse in the home and are able to provide support and help. We are proud to work with our veterinary partners and respect that taking animal cruelty seriously can save human lives.
All species are susceptible to domestic and family violence. Protect all species from violence because it’s never ok.
Protecting animals to protect children
From birth, children are presented with animals or representations of animals as a form of soothing comfort, companionship or as a relatable friendly face. Teddy bears, cartoon animals, the Easter Bunny to name but a few, are central to the imagination and creative world of a child. Animals play an important role in the lives of children.
For many children experiencing domestic and family violence, the family pet can be a deep comfort and support. Animals can be a source of security for a child in a turbulent home. (Taylor and Fraser 2019)
Many children who witness an animal subjected to family/domestic violence are at risk of becoming perpetrators of abuse themselves with some studies suggesting they are at higher risk of committing future criminality. (Becker and French 2004)
For children, escaping crisis with the family pet can ensure continuity in their source of comfort, security and enjoyment of life, at a time of great uncertainty, fear and change.
To protect children from domestic violence, we must also protect the animals so central to their sense of wellbeing.