Skip to main content
Media centre

Animal abuse research cited in MP’s campaign for tougher sentences

07 November 2016


Researchers at Teesside University have uncovered a link between animal abuse and domestic violence in a study which is the first of its kind in Europe.

Professor Paul van Schaik
Professor Paul van Schaik

The research is being mentioned in Parliament tomorrow (Tuesday 8 November) by Anna Turley MP for Redcar in a debate in favour of her Private Members Bill to toughen sentencing on animal cruelty perpetrators.

In line with Anna’s Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, the Teesside University research team is calling for changes in attitudes towards animal cruelty in order to quell the progression to violence against fellow humans.

The academic study, It’s a Dog’s Life, is by Malcolm Plant, founder of the Making the Link study project and an Associate Researcher at Teesside University, along with Professor Paul van Schaik, Professor of Psychology at Teesside University.

Research into animal abuse has, in recent decades, centred on Western cultures where such behaviour is socially unacceptable, helping to identify ‘at-risk’ individuals. This new study looks at Eastern European communities, particularly those where animal abuse is endemic and socially acceptable.

A number of communities examined in the study have a large population of stray and neglected animals regularly facing violent attacks. This has created a vicious cycle of 'endorsed aggression' in which witnesses of this unchallenged abuse adopt it as the norm creating a societal cycle of abuse.

Professor van Schaik said: 'An important factor in animal abuse is empathy. We found that adolescents who possessed less empathy were more likely to abuse animals.'

Malcolm Plant said: 'We discovered that young people in Eastern Europe who had experienced domestic violence enacted aggression towards animals and went on to commit violence against individuals and society.

'Management of stray street animals in some Eastern European communities had diminished their social status and encouraged and exacerbated aggression against them, with children witnessing this unaddressed violence accepting it as normative behaviour, creating a cycle of abuse.'

He added: 'Current government policies of 'catching and killing' the stray and unwanted animals diminishes their social status, making them a soft target and outlet for aggressive and abusive behaviour. Our aim is for this issue to be taken up by major international organisations which are active in a number of global locations.'

An important factor in animal abuse is empathy. We found that adolescents who possessed less empathy were more likely to abuse animals

Professor Paul van Schaik

The research found that violence breeds violence, with individuals who have been exposed to domestic abuse having also committed cruelty against animals. In rural areas where violence against animals is seen as more socially acceptable, adolescent males were more likely to abuse animals and had higher exposure to domestic violence.

These adolescent males either showed displaced aggression against the stray animals or progressed to commit violence against family members, leading to concern that it creates a 'societal cycle of abuse' especially when the individual has their own family.

Research in America has shown that many serial killers first committed abuse against animals with much of this form of childhood violence going unexamined, until the criminal directed it at humans.

Notorious American serial killers such as Albert DeSalvo, dubbed the Boston Strangler and Jeffrey Dahmer who killed 17 men and boys, were both known to have tortured and killed animals in their youth, while more recent killers such as those involved in the Columbine High School shootings had told classmates about mutilating animals.

The Teesside University study acknowledges that while links between domestic violence as the catalyst to animal abuse are more challenging to address, cultural change is needed in societies which are accepting of animal abuse.

Malcolm Plant added: 'The ground-breaking results from this research provide reasons for politicians and authorities to have deep concern about such societies and invites urgent remedial change.

'Assuredly, animal abuse does not exist in isolation but impacts on individuals, families and, where a scale of such magnitude is identified, can permeate a whole society.'

Go to top menu