The "link" among four types of family violence
I recently had the opportunity to speak at Peel Family Mediation Service's annual domestic violence symposium, which took place in November. The topic I presented on, along with John Stevens from the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, was one that ought to be of interest to those who work with families: domestic violence and the human-animal bond. At first glance, it may seem unclear how the two issues relate. But as the graphic to the right indicates, domestic violence and animal abuse are connected. In short, four types of family violence tend to co-occur and are "linked" together: domestic violence, animal abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. Each of these types of violence tends to be just the "tip of the iceburg". For example, if a pet is being abused, then domestic violence is most likely present in the household. If a child is being abused, then the family pets are most likely being harmed as well.
In addition, the inter-generational cycle of abuse is perpetuated when children hear, see, or are forced to participate in animal abuse. The graphic to the left, provided by the National Link Coalition (USA) clearly shows that, without intervention, violence will continue to beget violence.
Domestic violence centres on the desire of the abuser to exert power and control over his or her victims, and pets are brought into this vicious cycle in a variety of ways. Feminist scholar Carol J. Adams argues that, by abusing animals, perpetrators are able to
demonstrate their power... teach submission, isolate a woman from a network of support... express rage at self-determined action by women and children... perpetuate the context of terror... launch a pre-emptive strike against a woman leaving... punish and terrorize by stalking and executing an animal... force her to be involved in the abuse... confirm their power.
(Carol J. Adams, “Women-battering and harm to animals,” 1995)
Research conducted by academics and shelter workers definitively supports Adams' conclusion. Research also indicates that many women-- over 50%-- will not leave their abuser if they cannot take their pets with them to safety. Most shelters do not accept pets, and therefore women are often forced to stay with their abuser, or leave their pets in the hands of their abuser. Perpetrators then use these pets to get their victims to return to them: by texting photos of the pet being harmed, by threatening to kill the animal if the victim does not come back, or by torturing the pet as "punishment" for the victim fleeing.
As the Executive Director of Link Coalition Toronto, I am privileged to be involved in creating pet fostering programs for domestic violence shelters in Toronto. Our SafePet Program is the first of its kind in the city, and we are quite proud to be educating family professionals about "the link" between domestic violence, animal abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. If you would like to hear an hour-long discussion of how mediators and family professionals can engage further with this issue, please listen to this podcast of my December 10th appearance on the Mediation Station (1060AM).