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Family Violence and the Link with Animal Cruelty

Andrea Dawkins

Andrea Dawkins  -  Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Tags: Family Violence, Violence, Women, Children and Young People, Animal Welfare

Ms DAWKINS (Bass) - Mr Deputy Speaker, in 2015 one of the lessons learned is that of the breadth of family violence in our communities. We have learnt from the survivors of violence about the implicit nature of our society's acceptance of that violence. We know now that phrases like 'boys will be boys' perpetuate violence by implied acceptance. Ending the cycle of violence in our society is of the utmost importance to us all.

What we often forget is the link between violence towards women and children, and violence towards animals. Violence towards animals can take many forms and the want and neglect of animals often masks a deeper intent . That same intent, left unchecked, can manifest in violence towards people. Abusers of animals are five times more likely to harm humans. Animal abuse is often the first sign of a family in trouble.

Research undertaken since the early nineties has established a strong link between violence towards animals and people. The Victorian government has made strong statements around these links and is a forerunner in highlighting the links between animal and family abuse, with perpetrators having a higher propensity to violence in later life.

We know that women sometimes stay in abusive relationships to protect animals. Often after a violent episode there is the bond between a victim and a companion animal, which makes the relationship even stronger as the comfort a victim receives from a companion animal may be the only support they receive. This is especially true of course if a person in the abusive relationship feels they are not able to ask for help.

Women's refuges have identified this important relationship and are now incorporating animal shelters into women's refuges to allow these important relationships to continue. More needs to be done to support women and children to maintain their relationships with their companion animals through the recovery process to keep the remaining family unit together.

Much has been written about the fact that it is the women and children who most often leave the family home, the site of abuse and distress. As a community, we must ensure that those who leave violent relationships do so with as little disruption as possible. Keeping the companion animal safe and close is an important part of this process.

Eleonora Gullone, adjunct associate professor of psychology at Monash University, has written a book called Animal Cruelty, Anti-social Behaviour and Aggression in which she discusses these issues. The author noted that the reports of family violence survivors said threats were also made to harm companion animals, and it was rife. There was a report into the findings of another survey conducted as part of the Domestic Violence Intervention Project. This study involves 72 female victims of domestic violence, of whom 58 had companion animals. Of these women, 68 per cent reported violence and threats to companion animals or promises to give them away if the victim sought assistance outside the household. In 88 per cent of cases, cruelty to companion animals was committed in their presence. In 76 per cent of the cases, children had been witness to the cruelty. They found that 54 per cent of child witnesses copied behaviours they observed. Of particular note is the fact that almost identical results were reported for the additional survey involving 32 women.

These findings relate to the general assumption of people that animal suffering is far less worthy of our morale compass of concern. Since public opinion is related to the law, which in turn reflects public opinion, this attitude towards animal suffering has become stuck in a vicious cycle of discrimination.

There are many advocating for the welfare of animals. They recognise that a change is required in the laws that relegate animals as property. The legislative change, coupled with sentencing for crimes of animal cruelty which are commensurate with those crimes changes the perception in the police forces as well as in the community that crimes of cruelty are important and will be punished. The law should punish violent criminals according to the acts they perpetrate. Whether the victim is a human being or an animal, a violent crime is a crime against its intended victim, as well as a crime against society and its morals.

The notion that crimes against animals are not as important as crimes against humans is well entrenched in human societies. The growing number of plant-based eaters and vegetarians in Australia is changing. There are now over two million non-meat eaters in Australia and there is an increasing aware of the issues surrounding animal welfare.

Research has highlighted that some of the crimes against people were perpetrated by those who had also committed crimes against animals. If those concerns had been taken into consideration, the future crimes may have been avoided. Cross-reporting of crimes against animals with crimes against people can start to build a picture of a high-risk offender and vulnerable families. When considering that Tasmania is the road kill capital of Australia, with half a million animals killed on the road each year, we could also be active in the space of education around respect for native animals.

Violence in all forms is unacceptable. The physical and psychological injury to women and children is only just beginning to be understood. If we are able to turn the tables on this we must respect and project that sense of preservation towards our native animals.

As the Greens' spokesperson for animal welfare, I hear arguments which suggest that trying to stop people running over native animals for sport is just a part of our society and cannot be changed. I do not accept that . Just as we do not accept that 'boys will be boys' we must name up violence and violent perpetrators and we must changed our notion of accepted behaviour.