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Experts correlate violent crimes

By Staff | Apr 1, 2009

Is there a connection between incidents of domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty? Many experts say so, as do local officials.

According to a report put out by the American Bar Association, ACTION for Child Protection, American Humane Association, and the Humane Society of the United States, children and the society in which they live pay a high price for witnessing violence – whether the violence was directed at a parent, sibling, or pet – and too often they pay it the rest of their lives.

The report, titled “A Common Bond: Maltreated Children and Animals in the Home,” was created to provided a framework where individual agencies can work more closely to protect animals and people. Tyler County Victims Advocate Joni McCrobie says the statistics cited in the report are undeniable.

“Oh yeah, there is statistical documentation of (animal abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse),” agreed McCrobie. “They tell us that there are different types of domestic violence and it starts out with maybe some economic abuse – things like not allowing them to have the checkbook or not allowing them to have access to the finances. Then from there it will escalate. The violence with pets is one of those scenarios.”

The report found that animal abuse occurred in 88 percent of families that were under state supervision for the physical abuse of their children. State and national surveys of domestic violence victims consistently find that as many as 71 percent of battered women report that their male partners had threatened to or had, in fact, harmed or killed their pets.

The effects of such violence don’t just go away. If witnessed by young children the behavior is often passed down. Thirty-two percent of the women with children reported that one of their children also had committed acts of animal cruelty. Other studies reinforce the findings that animal abuse often is a child’s response to witnessing domestic violence and that children exposed to domestic violence are at significantly increased risk for behavior problems.

It’s becoming a bigger problem in West Virginia, so much so that domestic violence shelters often include questions about pets in their in-take procedures. McCrobie notes that most women or children fail to recognize animal cruelty as a warning sign.

“It’s not something victims think of first off, but when we sit down with a victim of domestic violence and go through this continuum of what’s happening and how the violence escalates, somewhere in that continuum there is usually animal abuse,” said McCrobie. “The adult victim doesn’t think of that at first as violence against them, but abusers will use anything or anybody who is close to the victim to get to them.”

“One of the questions is about pets,” added McCrobie. “We’re told that destruction of property and pets come in the same category. Unlike the physical or sexual battery, the destruction of property or pets takes place without attacking the victim’s body. The victim never knows when these assaults are going to turn into physical violence against them, so it escalates.”

Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee isn’t surprised by connections between violence. One form of violence is just a step up to another form.

“It’s not a big step from being cruel to an animal to being cruel to other people,” said Furbee. “I would imagine it’s similar to the correlation between juvenile fire starting and people with distinct anti-social features in their personalities.”

Furbee points out that most crimes share the same roots in hate and anger.

“It would indicate to me an inability to control one’s anger and would also be indicative of anti-social behavior, which is the root of most criminal activity,” remarked Furbee. “Our penal laws have been designed to sometimes chastise and other times correct anti-social behavior.”

Fortunately, Tyler County has access to resources to help battered women and abused children through the Family Crisis Intervention Center.

“Not only do they give a physical shelter to victims of domestic violence, but they also have supportive counseling, children’s programs, and regular victim advocacy just like I do,” said McCrobie.

While the shelters operated by the Family Crisis Intervention Center don’t allow animals, McCrobie says they work to make sure the pets of families are taken care of.

“We know it’s a problem and we have partnerships with people that we can protect most of those pets,” said McCrobie. “It is complicated, but we always find someone to take them and usually, just like the adult victim, family members will take in their pets whenever they realize how important those pets are to the victim. Pets are the crutch and they have a positive psychological connection to these pets.”

Furbee adds that victims of domestic violence and child abuse are not helping themselves by not reporting the crime

“Domestic violence is an insidious problem and a lot of it goes under-reported,” said Furbee. “In a good portion of the cases that do get reported the victim later decides they don’t want to continue with the prosecution. All of those things are a part of psychology that goes into these types of cases. It’s important for people who have become victims of domestic violence to report it. It’s also important to allow the courts to deal with the matter properly so it doesn’t become a prison for the victim.”

Victims of domestic violence or child abuse who also own pets can do several things to help those pets. Develop an emergency plan for sheltering the pets, themselves, and their children. They should establish official ownership of the pets by obtaining a license. They can also ask for assistance from law enforcement.

(The TSN will be running weekly stories in April on domestic violence and sexual assault.)