Characteristics of Juvenile Offenders
Admitting to Sexual Activity with Nonhuman Animals
William M. Fleming, Brian Jory,1
and David L. Burton
This study compared the family characteristics, victimization
histories, and number of perpetration offenses of juvenile offenders
who admitted to having had sex with animals to juvenile offenders
who did not. The study found that 96% of the juveniles who had
engaged in sex with nonhuman animals also admitted to sex offenses
against humans and reported more offenses against humans than
other sex offenders their same age and race. Those juveniles
who had engaged in sex with animals were similar to other sex
offenders in that they also came from families with less affirming
and more incendiary communication, lower attachment, less adaptability,
and less positive environments. Those juveniles who had engaged
in sex with animals reported victimization histories with more
emotional abuse and neglect and a higher number of victimization
events than other offenders. This would seem to indicate that
sex with animals may be an important indicator of potential
or co-occurring sex offenses against humans and may be a sign
of severe family dysfunction and abuse that should be addressed
in the arenas of psychological intervention, juvenile justice
programs, and public policy.
Sexual relations between humans and nonhuman animals, sometimes
referred to as bestiality, is perhaps the least understood of
all human/animal interactions. Studies of bestiality are difficult
to conduct since bestiality carries a social stigma and generally
is kept secret by those who have engaged in it. More than 50
years ago, Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin (1948) estimated that
between 10 and 20% of the general population of the United States
has engaged in bestiality, with a slightly higher prevalence
in rural settings and among poorly educated males. Although
Kinsey's sampling techniques are considered unscientific by
current standards, these high estimations suggested to some
that bestiality should be viewed as a "normal" practice
among some populations.
This raises questions about who engages in bestiality and whether
it should be considered "normal." The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (American
Psychiatric Association, 1994) classifies bestiality among the
paraphilic disorders - deviant, but essentially victimless,
forms of sexual gratification. According to Cerrone (1991),
this classification suggests that bestiality is not a psychiatric
problem in and of itself. Alvarez and Freinhar, (1991) found
that bestiality may be more prevalent among psychiatric patients
with major mental disorders than in the general population.
An alternative viewpoint on bestiality has emerged from the
criminal justice literature. Beirne (1997) has proposed the
notion of "interspecies sexual assault," arguing that
sexual relations with animals parallel sexual assault against
women and children, because in both instances there are issues
of coercion, pain, and lack of consent. Studies of adult sex
offenders appear to support the co-occurrence of sexual offenses
against humans and animals among some offenders, with increasing
numbers of incidents and animal victims occurring as offenders
age (Abel, Osborne, & Twig, 1993).
The purpose of this study was to shed light on the question
of who engages in sex with animals and whether it should be
considered normal. The study compares the family characteristics,
victimization histories, and number of perpetration offenses
of a group of juvenile offenders who admit to engaging in sex
with animals with juvenile offenders who do not admit to bestiality.
It was hypothesized that there would be no differences on these
three variables between those juveniles who had engaged in sex
with animals and those who had not. Although a study of juvenile
offenders may not yield direct information about bestiality
in the general population, we hoped that the study would yield
useful information about the developmental issues for juvenile
offenders. Previous studies of juvenile offenders have indicated
that their victimization histories and family characteristics
are valuable in understanding the etiology of their offending
behaviors (Blaske, Borduin, Henggeler, & Mann, 1989), and
case studies with juvenile offenders suggest that their offending
behavior can often be understood in the context of poor family
relationships and parental conflict (Duffield, Hassiotis, &
Vizard, 1998; Cerrone, 1991). In addition, we hoped that the
study might contribute knowledge about how to approach future
studies of bestiality in the general population.
Three hundred and eighty-one (381) institutionalized, adjudicated,
male youth offenders completed an anonymous self-report questionnaire.
Participants were residents of three institutions in a Midwestern
state that serve delinquent, high-risk youth, and their families.
These institutions are the state's largest training school,
the state's largest residential treatment center, and the state's
largest non-profit group home setting. There were no differences
between the youth in these three centers on any variables discussed
in this article. The average age of the participants was 16.9
years, (S.D. 1.47). Of the youth, 55 % were African American;
28%, white; 6%, Hispanic; and 11 % identified themselves as
from other ethnic identities, including Native American and
Recruitment & Selection
Because of the sensitive nature of the survey, elaborate steps
were followed in securing permission to conduct the study. The
Institutional Review Board of the University of Michigan reviewed
the project and gave it clearance. In each institution, administrators,
clinical teams, and on-line staff were consulted for approval
for each youth's participation. Across all three institutions,
14 youth were not approved because of clinical concerns (i.e.
asking the youth questions about trauma might upset clinical
work). Parental permission was sought for youths from the residential
treatment center and the group home. Youths from the training
school were wards of the state, and parental permission was
not deemed warranted or feasible.
Upon clearance by the institution, the youths were approached
following conventional research protocols regarding informed
consent. Because the questions were about personal and potentially
criminal behavior, youth were assured that their responses would
be anonymous and confidential. The youths were assured that
no individual responses would be shared with institutional personnel
or with personnel from the criminal justice system. The youths
were informed that aggregate data would be shared with institutions
in order for the institution to assess whether their programs
are addressing youth offender issues. There was no way to determine
differences between those who participated in the study and
those who were not allowed or did not wish to participate.
Administration of the Questionnaire
Trained research assistants and an on-site staff liaison facilitated
group administration of the surveys by residence halls. All
youth were administered identical survey instruments in a setting
that allowed for individual privacy. Administration of the survey
took approximately 2-3 hours, as youth were guided to stop after
sections of the survey were completed. Frequent breaks and refreshments
were provided at these breaks. A trained counselor was available
for any youth desiring counseling during or after completion
of the survey. Three youths used this service. As compensation,
the researchers sponsored a pizza party for participating and
non-participating youth two weeks after the survey.
Sexual Abuse Exposure Questionnaire (SAEQ). A modified version
of this 24-item instrument, originally designed by Ryan, Rodriguez,
Rowan and Foy (1992), was used to assess the sexual victimization
history of the juveniles. The instrument focuses on types of
sexual abuse experienced, the juvenile's relationship to the
perpetrator, and frequency of occurrence. Sexual victimization
behaviors range from exposure to being penetrated. The SAEQ
is superior to many instruments in that the juvenile is not
asked whether he or she has been "sexually abused"
but, rather, whether he or she has experienced a particular
sex act. In this way, interpretation does not depend on the
respondent's notion of sexual abuse but allows the researcher
to consider sexual abuse that includes non-contact behaviors,
contact behaviors, and penetration. If the juvenile answers
yes to any item, he or she is asked to supply details about
the incident (relationship to perpetrator, frequency, duration).
Examples of items include: "Has anyone ever shown you their
private parts or exposed themselves to you?" and "Has
anyone ever conned, or forced you, to let them put their penis
into your private parts?" If the respondent indicates no
to the question, he or she proceeds to the next question.
Self Report Sexual Aggression Scale (SERSAS).2 For purposes
of this study, the SAEQ was modified to inquire about acts of
perpetration the juvenile has committed. The majority of the
items in the SERSAS mirror those found in the SAEQ. Example
items include: "Have you ever shown your private parts
in front of a person or persons?" and, "Have you ever
conned, or forced anyone to let you put your penis into their
private parts?" The SERSAS includes a series of questions
asking the youths if they had ever done anything sexual to an
animal or animals, the nature of the activity, and their age
at the time of the incident(s).
Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ). The CTQ is a 53 item scale
that provides a brief screening for victimization experiences
in the juvenile's history, including child neglect and physical,
emotional, and sexual abuse (Bernstein, Ahluvalia, Pogge, &
Handelsman, 1997). The CTQ also has a scale for "positive
family environment." Juveniles responded with a Likert-type
response (strongly agree to strongly disagree) to the stem sentence,
"When I was growing up…," which was followed by specific
items such as, "Someone in my family hit me or beat me";
"There was someone in my family whom I could talk to about
my problems"; and "People in my family hit me so hard
that it left me with bruises or marks."
Family Attachment and Changeability Index 8 (FACI-8). The FACI-8
(McCubbin, Thompson, & Elver, 1995a) is designed to measure
family cohesion and adaptability in the juvenile's family-of-origin.
The juveniles responded to 16 items (strongly agree to strongly
disagree) including, "Our family tries new ways of dealing
with problems"; "Family members are afraid to say
what is on their minds"; and "Family members pair
up rather than do things as a total family."
Family Problem Solving and Communication Index (FPSCI). The
FPSCI was used to assess the prevalence of incendiary and affirming
styles of family communication (McCubbin, Thompson, & Elver,
1995b). Juveniles were asked to respond to the stem sentence,
"When our family struggles with problems or conflicts which
upset us, I would describe my family in the following way…."
The stem is followed by 10 specific items such as, "We
are respectful of each other's feelings"; "We yell
and scream at each other"; and "We make matters more
difficult by fighting and bringing up old matters."
Cronbach alphas for reliability and internal consistency were
conducted on all scales, and were within acceptable ranges (.76
Prevalence of Sex with Animals
The SERSAS asks the questions, "Have you ever done anything
sexual to an animal or animals (on your own without being conned
or forced to do so)?" and "Have you ever conned, or
forced anyone to let you put your penis into their private parts?"
Of the 381 juvenile offenders who completed the survey, 6% admitted
to having done something sexual with an animal (Animal Offenders,
n=24 ). The average age of these juveniles at the time of their
sex acts with an animal was 11.3 years old (S.D. 2.5). Forty-two
% admitted to offending sexually against humans, but not to
sex with animals (Sex offenders, n=161), and 51% admitted neither
to bestiality nor to any sexual offenses against humans (Non
Sex Offenders, n=196).
It is important to note that all 184 juvenile offenders (46%
of the total sample) who answered "yes" to the second
question essentially were admitting to some form of sexual assault
on a person. These figures can be understood in the context
of their adjudications, in that only 26% of the 381 total sample
had been previously adjudicated for sex offenses. This means
that 20% of the juveniles were admitting to offenses for which
they had not been adjudicated. This is not unusual, because
juvenile justice authorities estimate that the adjudication
rate for sex offenses is only a small percentage of the offenses
It is essential to recognize that 23 of the 24 juveniles who
admitted to bestiality also admitted to having sexually offended
against a human, although only 12 of the 24 had been adjudicated
for sex offenses. Given that 23 of the 24 Animal Offenders admitted
to sexual offenses against humans, the group of Animal Offenders
is essentially a sub-group of Sex Offenders, although only slightly
more than half had been adjudicated for sex offenses.
Description of Sex Acts with Animals
The nature of the sex acts with the animals was determined through
a series of follow-up questions. No information was solicited
from the juveniles that would explain what their relationships
were with these animalsC companion animals, stray animals, animals
on the farm, animals in the wildC or what the sex acts meant
to them at the time they committed these acts. However, Table
1 indicates that 14 of the 24 juveniles indicated they had,
"rubb[ed] my private parts against it," and 10 of
the 24 admitted to "putting my penis into its private parts."
Ostensibly, rubbing one's private parts against the animal or
inserting one's penis would be acts of self-gratification, involving
sexual intercourse with the animal or masturbation against it.
Two of the 24 juveniles indicated they had "inserted an
object into the animal," and six had "inserted a finger
into the animal." It is difficult to interpret what was
accomplished by inserting fingers or objects into the animal,
as these could be (a) acts of sexual curiosity (to see how the
animal would react), (b) sexual gratification for the juvenile,
(c) sexual sadism (by inflicting pain on the animal), or (d)
some combination of these. Ostensibly, "putting one's mouth
on the privates of the animal" would involve pleasuring
the animal, and only 4 of the 24 juveniles admitted to this.
Description of Sex Acts with Animals
|Mouth on Animal
Because the purpose of this study was to learn as much as possible
about the Animal Offenders, the researchers found it informative
to distinguish Animal Offenders from both the Non Sex Offenders
and the human-only Sex Offenders. Therefore, the data from the
three groups (Animal Offenders, human-only Sex Offenders, and
Non Sex Offenders) is separated out for comparison. Statistical
analysis revealed no differences between the three groups in
terms of age or racial composition, but analyses comparing the
family characteristics and victimization histories of these
three groups did find differences.
Table 2 indicates that both Animal Offenders and Sex Offenders
come from families in which there is less affirming communication
than in the families of Non Sex Offenders, F (1, 343) = 6.21
p< .01. The FPSCI has a possible range of 1-15 for affirming
communication, with 15 indicating the most affirming communication.
Mean scores on affirming communication for the three groups
were 6.55 for the Animal Offenders, 9.40 for the Sex Offenders,
and 10.23 for the Non-Sex Offenders. Post Hoc Scheffé analyses
indicate that these means also indicate statistical differences
between Sex Offenders and Animal Offenders in affirming communication
A=non-sex offender, B=sex offender, C=animal offender
* p<. 05, **p<.01, ***p<.001
Higher score represents higher levels of attachment, adaptability
and positive environment.
Table 2 indicates that Animal Offenders and Sex Offenders come
from families with more incendiary communication than the families
of Non Sex Offenders (p<.001). The FPSCI has a range of 0-15
for incendiary communication, with 15 indicating the most incendiary
communication. The means scores for the three groups were 6.37
for Non Sex Offenders, 7.85 for Sex Offenders, and 8.68 for
Animal Offenders. Post Hoc Scheffé analyses indicate no statistical
differences between the families of Animal Offenders and Sex
Offenders on incendiary communication.
Table 2 indicates that Animal Offenders and Sex Offenders come
from families in which attachment is lower than in families
of Non Sex Offenders F (1, 365) = 6.72 p< .001. The FACI-8
has a possible range of 8-40 with 40 indicating the highest
levels of family attachment. Mean scores for the three groups
were 25.05 for Animal Offenders, 27.78 for Sex Offenders, and
29.81 for Non Sex Offenders. Post Hoc Scheffé analyses indicate
no statistical difference between Sex Offenders and Animal Offenders
on family attachment.
Table 2 indicates that Sex Offenders and Animal Offenders come
from families that are less adaptable than families of Non Sex
Offenders F (1, 367) = 5.07 p< .01. The FACI-8 has a possible
range of 7-35 on family adaptability, with 35 indicating the
most adaptability. The mean scores for the three groups were
18.45 for Animal Offenders, 19.88 for Sex Offenders, and 22.05
for Non Sex Offenders. Post Hoc Scheffé analyses found no statistical
differences between the families of Sex Offenders and the Animal
Offenders on adaptability.
Table 2 indicates differences between all three groups on the
variable of positive family environments, as measured by the
CTQ, F (1, 334) = 13.29 p< .001. The positive family environment
scale on the CTQ has a possible range of 10-50, with 50 indicating
the most positive family environment. Animal Offenders come
from families with the least positive family environments (M=28.41),
with Sex Offenders coming from substantially more positive family
environments (M=36.13), and Non Sex Offenders indicating even
more positive family environments (m=39.74).
Victimization Histories and Perpetration Offenses
Table 3 exhibits the victimization and perpetration histories
of the three groups as measured on the CTQ. The data indicate
that both Animal Offenders and Sex Offenders have experienced
more emotional neglect F (1, 378) = 14.06 p< .001, more physical
abuse F (1, 378) = 12.88 p< .001, more emotional abuse F
(1, 378) = 21.48 p< .001, and more sexual abuse F (1, 378)
= 63.01 p< .001 than Non Sex Offenders. Post Hoc Scheffé
analyses indicate that Animal Offenders had not experienced
more physical or sexual abuse than Sex Offenders. However, they
had experienced more emotional abuse (p<.05) and more emotional
neglect (p.<.01) than Sex Offenders.
[Note: Table 3 is not available online.]
The SAEQ and SERSAS permit examination of the number of victimization
events for each juvenile along with the number of offending
events they committed as a perpetrator. Table 3 indicates differences
between all three groups, both in the number of victimization
events reported F (4, 217) = 28.52 p< .001, and the number
of offending events perpetrated against others F (4, 425) =244.45
p<.001. Animal offenders reported more sexual victimization
events (M=6.13) than either Sex Offenders (M=4.23) or Non Sex
Offenders (M=1.57). Animal Offenders also reported more offending
events against humans (M=6.86) than did Sex Offenders (M=5.10)(p<.01).
This study compared the family characteristics, victimization
histories, and number of perpetration offenses of three groups
of juvenile offenders: (a) those who admitted to sex with animals
(Animal Offenders), (b) those who admitted to sexual offenses
against humans but not to bestiality (Sex Offenders), and (c)
those who admitted to neither sex offenses against humans nor
sex with animals (Non Sex Offenders). These three groups were
identical in age and racial composition.
The data suggest that juvenile Animal Offenders should be considered
a sub-group of Sex Offenders in that 23 of 24 juveniles (96%)
who admitted to bestiality also admitted to sexual offenses
against humans. These figures are based on the juveniles' self
reports and almost double their actual adjudication rates for
sex offenses. This is not unusual in that the number of adjudicated
sex offenses in the general population falls far below the actual
number committed. It appears that Animal Abusers may be further
advanced than other juvenile sex offenders, in that they report
substantially more perpetration offenses against humans than
do other sex offenders (6.86 compared to 5.10, respectively).
Animal Offenders and Sex Offenders also shared a number of other
commonalities. Both come from families with less affirming communication,
more incendiary communication, lower attachment, less adaptability,
and less positive environments than juvenile offenders who admit
no sexual offenses. Also, the victimization histories of Animal
Offenders and other Sex Offenders are similar. Animal Offenders
and Sex Offenders had been victimized by more physical abuse,
more emotional abuse, more sexual abuse, and more emotional
neglect than Non Sex Offenders. They also had higher numbers
of "victimization events" than Non Sex Offenders.
The study found that Animal Offenders actually report more problems
than other Sex Offenders. Animal Offenders reported less affirming
communication and less positive environments in their families
than other Sex Offenders. Animal Offenders also reported more
emotional abuse and neglect than other Sex Offenders, though
not more physical and sexual abuse. The number of victimization
events was substantially higher for Animal Offenders than for
other Sex Offenders (6.13 compared to 4.23, respectively).
The purpose of this study was to shed light on the question
of who engages in bestiality and whether this behavior should
be considered "normal." It is difficult to assess
"normality" in a study where all 381 participants
were adjudicated juvenile offenders living in state facilities.
However, within this population, the data indicate that the
6% of juvenile offenders who admitted to bestiality reported
more problematic family characteristics and more traumatic victimization
histories. They also reported having committed more sex offenses
against humans than did other juvenile offenders. These findings
suggest that sex with animals should not be considered normal
or benign among the juvenile population.
The findings of this study would seem to support Beirne's (1997)
contention that bestiality actually is a form of "interspecies
sexual assault," at least among adjudicated juvenile offenders.
It is difficult to say whether the juveniles who had committed
sex acts with animals would consider their behavior as a sex
offense, but this would be a productive study to conduct in
the future. The current authors believe that most juveniles,
like adults, consider bestiality as deviant behavior, but not
necessarily as a form of sexual assault. Public education programs
might be necessary to bring this awareness to the general public.
An entire body of research in the last few years has shown that
those who engage in cruelty against animals are more likely
to engage in violence against humans (Ascione & Arkow, 1999;
Raupp, Barlow, & Oliver, 1997). The findings of the current
study suggest that this link might be extended to include sex
with animals, at least among some populations. The current study
is limited in making this as an absolute generalization, because
bestiality among populations other than male juvenile offenders
was not examined. Juvenile offenders are, by definition, adjudicated
for aggressive and violent offenses. It is possible that among
other populations (single women and their pets), sex acts with
animals might be performed out of love, the need for consolation,
or other motivations. In these and other populations, there
might not be any link whatsoever to offenses against humans.
It is difficult to understand how the humans in these situations
might view their own behaviors in terms of "mutual consent,"
or how they consider the pain, if any, to the animal participant,
but this would be a worthwhile topic for future study.
The findings of the current study have important implications
for violence intervention and prevention programs that are based
on the link between animal cruelty and human violence (Jory
& Randour, 2000; Flynn, 2000). These programs are postulated
on the idea that early detection of animal abuse opens the door
to psychological and social intervention, particularly among
juveniles and young adults. The current study suggests that
juveniles who engage in bestiality come from families with more
severe problems and more emotional abuse than the "average"
sex offender. This raises the questions of what neediness animal
offenders may be acting out. Perhaps they are trying to resolve
attachment conflicts and anger problems by turning to animals
for sexual gratification and release of tension. Further studies
should explore the precise links between abusive and problematic
family environments and sex acts with animals.
Few states have laws specifically prohibiting sexual contact
with animals. However, the current study suggests that juvenile
offenders who engage in bestiality are likely to be offending
against humans as well. Those who promote legislation to curb
social violence and protect the rights of animals might consider
seeking extension of animal cruelty laws to include bestiality.
Although the average age of the juveniles in the current study
at the time they first engaged in bestiality was only 11.3 years
old, rubbing one's private parts against an animal, or inserting
one's penis, fingers, or other objects into an animal's private
parts goes beyond mere child-like curiosity. It is difficult
to see how animals are capable of consenting to such sex acts,
and it is likely that pain and injury accrue to many of the
victims of these acts. Moreover, the finding that 23 of the
24 juveniles who engaged in bestiality in the current study
reported also sexually assaulting humans is alarming and suggests
that bestiality seldom occurs in isolation from other sex-offending
among this population. Further studies are warranted to determine
if bestiality in adolescence or pre-adolescence is a predictor
of sex-offending in adulthood.
As indicated, further studies are warranted before broader generalizations
can be made. However, this study offers analysis of a juvenile
population that has not previously been made and provides a
foundation for future empirical studies of bestiality in the
* William M. Fleming, PhD, University of Northern Iowa; Brian
Jory, PhD, Berry College; and David L. Burton, PhD, University
1Correspondence should be sent to Brian Jory, PhD, Box 5011,
Berry College, Mount Berry, GA 30149-5011. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
2Copies of the SERSAS can be obtained from Michael Fleming,
PhD, 217 Latham Hall, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls,
Iowa 50614-0332. E-mail to Michael.Fleming@uni.edu.
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