Recently, the RSPCA in Western Australia reported a 100% increase in deliberate animal bashings in the first half of 2014. Meanwhile, the ABC informed us that bow and arrow attacks on wildlife are on the rise. And let’s not forget that each year more than 500 million animals suffer in factory farms in Australia. A proportion of these “food animals” are also subject to non-sanctioned cruelty which is usually recorded in under-cover operations. The Aussie Farms website, for example, displays a harrowing collection of such images and video clips.
In Australia, states and territories have legislation that prohibits animal cruelty. Aggression towards animals is abhorrent and can result in fines or imprisonment. It can also tell us something about perpetrators of violent crimes against people.
Acts or threats to kill an animal companion and cruelty towards animals are commonly used to coerce, control and intimidate women, children and older people. The threat of animal cruelty prevents many women from leaving a violent relationship.
Children often witness the cruelty. An Australian study found that children who had witnessed animal cruelty committed significantly more animal abuse than children from non-violent families.
Children who abuse animals often “progress” to violence against people. For example, one study found that criminals were five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people if they had a history of abusing animals in their youth. They are also more likely to commit other, non-violent crimes such as property crimes, or drug or disorderly‐conduct offenses.
Legal violence towards animals can also
escalate into other, illegal forms of violence. A study from the U.S. found increased crime in slaughterhouse communities, in particular those communities with large, industrialised slaughterhouses. Compared with communities that had manufacturing industries and were otherwise similar, slaughterhouse employment increased total arrest rates, arrests for violent crimes, arrests for rape, and arrests for other sex offenses. The authors of the study noted that many of these offenses were perpetrated against those with less power, and they interpreted this as evidence that the work done within slaughterhouses might spill over to violence against other less powerful groups, such as women and children.
In Australia, a Queensland study compared attitudes toward animals and the propensity for aggression between farmers, meatworkers and the general community. Farmers and meatworkers showed lower pro-animal welfare attitudes compared to a geographically similar community sample. This may be an indication that workers in the primary industry have a utilitarian view toward animals, that they view animals as commodities.
The meatworkers scored substantially higher on aggression than farmers. The researchers noted that the meatworkers’ aggression and hostility scores were similar to those of prison populations. Surprisingly, female farmers and meatworkers scored significantly lower on pro-animal welfare attitudes than their male counterparts and lower than male and female community members. Among meatworkers, women were found to be more aggressive than men. Female meatworkers showed also more aggression than male and female farmers.
Some people claim that a non-violent diet affects people’s behaviour. This goes beyond the fact that many vegans have chosen a meat-free diet for ethical reasons. A prison in California offered its inmates a program comprised of a vegan diet, bible studies, occupational training and anger management. Eighty-five percent of the inmates opted for the program and over the seven years of the program’s life extraordinary changes in the prison population took place: the inmates gradually became less aggressive and racial tension and gang violence stopped. After their release, fewer than two percent were re-arrested, compared to California’s 95% recidivism rate. Inmates also reported having more energy and stamina, minimized acne, and clearer minds. However, this program had several components and it is difficult to know the extent to which the vegan diet played a role.
Yet another study compared vegetarians and meat eaters in regard to empathy towards humans and positive attitudes towards companion animals. There were no differences between vegetarian and non-vegetarian women. But vegetarian men showed more empathic concerns and were more likely to be able to consider another person’s perspective than meat eating males. They also had a more positive attitude toward companion animals.
Violence against animals comes in many shades. It is pervasive in our society. Thus, a rise in violent crimes against animals is of concern not only because it is ethically wrong to treat other sentient beings in this way. Violence against animals, as a marker of family violence and a precursor or indicator of other forms of crime, needs to be taken as seriously as violence against humans.
U.S. style ag-gag laws that intend to hide animal cruelty by making undercover footage of animal abuse in factory farms illegal are counterproductive. Violence towards animals is an act of aggression against innocent nonhuman victims. In addition, it has repercussions for us humans. We need to tackle it head-on.