"Animal Abuse in Childhood and Later
Support for Interpersonal Violence in Families"
Author of original article: Clifton P.
Originally published in Society and Animals
Volume 7, Number 2, 1999*
The author surveyed 267 college students at a public U.S.
university in 1997. Participants voluntarily completed an 18-page
questionnaire on their experiences with animal abuse, experiences
with and attitudes about family violence, and demographic
information. The questionnaire enabled the author to investigate
whether committing animal abuse during childhood was related to
approval of interpersonal violence against children and women in
families. It asked participants whether they had committed any of
several abuses-killed, tortured, touched sex parts, or had sex
with animals-and requested their levels of agreement or
disagreement with statements that "it is sometimes necessary to
discipline a child with a good, hard spanking" and that they could
"imagine a situation in which they would approve of a husband
slapping his wife."
In this questionnaire as in the U.S. generally, corporal
punishment received fairly strong support and a husband slapping a
wife very little, but respondents who had perpetrated animal abuse
during childhood had significantly more favorable attitudes toward
corporal punishment and toward a husband slapping his wife than
did those who had not perpetrated animal abuse in childhood. One
out of six respondents-one in three male respondents and one in 10
female respondents-had harmed or killed at least one animal-an
alarmingly high incidence of childhood animal abuse. Incidents
excluded socially sanctioned killing such as hunting, killing for
food, or mercy killing.
The author found his conclusion-committing animal abuse during
childhood is related to later approval of violence against
children and women in families-to be consistent with previous work
arguing that the social structure of childhood violence against
humans is related to approving interpersonal violence as an adult.
Based on research showing that parents who approve of corporal
punishment use it more frequently and are more likely to be
physically abusive to their children, he surmised that, if abusing
animals as a child leads to approval of spanking, it may also make
it easier to hit children as an adult. This should be cause for
concern due to potential negative results of spanking: antisocial
behavior, substance abuse, depression, and interpersonal violence.
Based on research indicating animal abuse may interfere with the
development of empathy in children, he points out that children
who abuse animals may be less troubled as young adults by parents
hitting children or husbands hitting wives. Therefore, they may
become such parents and husbands. The much higher incidence of
animal abuse by males is troubling since socialization of males
involves teaching dominance and aggression. The opportunity,
offered by animal abuse, to rehearse these against less powerful
beings may reinforce the beliefs that support dominance and
aggression, particularly if parents and society do not consider
animal abuse a serious offense. Thus, ending animal abuse will
have important consequences for women's and children's well-being,
in addition to the need to end innocent animals' suffering as a
contribution to a nonviolent society for all living beings.
*Available from Psychologists for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals, P.O. Box 1297, Washington Grove,
MD 20880-1297; 301-963-4751.
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