Humane Aware Blog

Humane Education: Ending Cycles of Abuse?

December 4th 2019

A growing body of research and clinical evidence suggests there is an inter-relationship between the perpetration of animal abuse and violence against humans, as well as criminal behaviour more generally. Recognition of this link has recently prompted the US State of California to enact The Animal Cruelty & Violence Intervention Act of 2019 which requires convicted animal abusers to be evaluated by mental health professionals and receive appropriate counselling (ALDF, 2019). In 2016, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation started collecting reports of animal abuse in their Incident-Based Reporting System in the hope that this data could help to better target intervention efforts with respect to both animal cruelty and other crimes for which animal cruelty “serves as a marker” (FBI, 2016).

The link between animal cruelty and violence towards humans is particularly notable in the context of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, where threats of harm or actual harm to a family pet may be used as a means of coercive control. In December 2015, the UK government created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship (Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015) and included threats to hurt or physically harming a family pet as a relevant pattern of controlling or coercive behaviour (CPS, 2017).

A number of studies support a social learning model of animal mistreatment behaviours in which rates of animal abuse among children tends to be higher in cases where children have been brought up in households where abuse occurs. One study (Collins et al, 2018) found that several mothers perceived their child’s mistreatment of animals to be a modelled behaviour that the child acted out as a consequence of exposure to their partner’s mistreatment of animals. 

Research suggests that humane education can help to foster empathy and reduce the likelihood of abused children becoming perpetrators of abuse themselves. Intervention efforts tend to focus on providing animal-assisted therapy to help children process trauma associated with abuse and animal mistreatment and to help teach compassion. Measuring the longitudinal impact of humane education is, of course, challenging but one seminal study (Ascione and Weber, 1996) did find that the positive effects of humane education were maintained at least one year later.

Promoting humane education and encouraging empathy and respect for living beings is important for the personal development of all young people, and this is especially so for vulnerable or disadvantaged children.

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